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What to study

Find out what each type of postgraduate qualification involves, what the entry requirements are, how much it might cost, and where to find out more.
Relevant to
When you search for postgraduate courses, make sure you carefully check the entry requirements, because as well as specific undergraduate qualifications, some courses require specific A levels or work experience too.
  • Taught master's

    What are they called?

    Usually, MA (Master of Arts) or MSc (Master of Science), although there are others: Mmus (Master of Music), MOrth (Master of Orthodontics), or LLM (Master of Laws).

    What do they involve?

    A taught master’s degree will include some research but the emphasis will be on learning by teaching.

    The content, structure, and assessment of taught master’s courses with the same names can vary from one university to the next – please check course descriptions carefully. The teaching can be through lectures, classes, or supervised group work, and assessments can include examinations, essays, dissertations, or team activities.

    What does it give you?

    • Enhanced employability.
    • Intellectual reward.
    • Preparation for a PhD.
    • Potential to study a new subject.

    How long is the course?

    Full-time courses are normally one year, or two years part-time, although some master's degrees can be longer.

    What are the entry requirements?

    • A qualification comparable to a UK undergraduate degree, normally to 2:1 standard or above.
    • Enthusiasm, skill, and knowledge of your discipline.
    • Possibly relevant work experience, particularly if your first degree is in another subject.

    When does the course start?

    Usually in September.

    What are the yearly tuition fees?

    • UK/EU students: full-time, around £5,000 – £19,000; part-time, around £2,750 – £10,000. The highest fees are for very specialist courses in high-ranking universities that assist top paid careers, for example, in global finance. Fees of between £5,000 – £7,000 are average.
    • Students from rest of the world: full-time, around £15,000 – £16,000; part time, around £2,750 – £11,000.

    Fees depend on course subject and university ranking.

    Study this type of course if… you like learning through classes and seminars.

  • Master's by research

    What are they called?

    Usually known as MRes programmes or sometimes MSc by Research, MA by Research, or Master of Philosphy (MPhil), depending on your chosen subject.

    What does it involve?

    You’ll be trained in research methods and expected to do a substantial research project  a large piece of work that requires skill in setting objectives, fact finding, analysis, and interpretation. Your work should add something special to the body of thought and knowledge of your specialist subject.

    What does it give you?

    A master's by research is good preparation for a PhD. In fact, you may not get funding for a PhD if you don’t have one. Also, an MRes is favoured by some employers who want researchers but not necessarily PhD students.

    What are the entry requirements?

    Most universities want a good first degree (grade 2:1 or higher), often in a relevant area. 

    How long is the course?

    Full-time programmes usually last 18 months, but they can be to up to three years full-time. You can also study for longer part-time.

    When does the course start?

    Usually in September.

    What are the yearly tuition fees?

    Because there are fewer teaching costs, fees for master's by research are usually lower than for a taught master's. Expect to pay around an average of £4,000 per year for a full-time course and about half that for a part-time course. Laboratory-based courses will be more expensive. Fees for international students are normally in excess of £13,000.

    Fees depend on course subject and university ranking.

    How will you be assessed?

    Assessment is by academic judgement of your research and an oral exam.

    Study this type of course if… you enjoy independent study.

  • Postgraduate certificates and diplomas

    What do they involve?

    • A certificate usually involves fewer academic hours of study than a diploma, and a diploma involves fewer than a master’s course.
    • Diplomas and certificates are taught and resemble taught master’s degrees in structure and approach.
    • They are often professional qualifications connected with career development. Please see below for further information on professional qualifications.

    What do they give you?

    • Enhanced employability.
    • Intellectual reward.
    • Preparation for studying a master's degree.
    • Potential to study a new subject.

    What are the entry requirements?

    Usually an undergraduate degree.

    How long is the course?

    This varies  some certificates can be completed in months if you study full-time. Diplomas may take a year part-time, particularly if they are part of professional development or accreditation by an industrial body.

    When does the course start?

    This depends on the course. Many certificates and diplomas are studied through distance or online learning and can start any time of year.

    What are the yearly tuition fees?

    The fees depend on the nature of the course. Some certificates and diplomas may not have yearly or termly fees, but charge fees for each module of study instead.

    How will you be assessed?

    Often by essay or research project.

    Study this type of course if… you enjoy study but don’t want to do a master’s degree right now.

  • PhD (or doctorate)

    What does PhD stand for?

    PhD stands for Doctor of Philosophy.

    What does it involve?

    A PhD – also known as a doctorate – is more demanding than a master's by research (MRes), but otherwise the demands are the same. You’ll create a lengthy, in-depth, unique, and important piece of research that draws upon all your abilities in setting objectives, fact finding, analysis, and interpretation. The end result will be a thesis of around 100,000 words, worthy of inclusion in an academic journal.

    What does it give you?

    Intellectual credibility at a high level and the potential to have a research-based career.

    What are the entry requirements?

    A good undergraduate degree in a relevant area. A good master’s degree is often a requirement too. 

    How long is the course?

    Full-time courses usually last three years. A part-time PhD lasts six years. 

    When does the course start?

    Universities have a variety of start dates for PhDs, e.g. October, January, and May. Other start dates may be possible and you should discuss this with your potential supervisor.

    What are the yearly tuition fees?

    • The average annual tuition fees for a PhD are between £3,000 – £6,000 for students from the UK and EU.
    • However, for students from the rest of the world, fees can be in excess of £20,000 for a laboratory-based research programme.
    • Scholarships and loans are available. For further information see our section on postgraduate fees and funding
    • Fees depend on course subject and university ranking.

    How will you be assessed?

    Assessment is by academic judgment of your research and by an oral exam.

    Study this type of course if… you enjoy independent study.

  • MBA

    What does it involve?

    A Master's in Business Administration (MBA) is designed to give you first-rate skills and knowledge of business management practice. MBAs are divided into:

    • general courses 
    • those which are combined with other academic disciplines, e.g. accounting
    • those geared to a particular industry, e.g. energy

    The reputation of the business school’s staff and their links with industry will be a key factor in choosing an MBA.

    Your current career, future plans, and business experience may affect whether full-time, part-time, or distance learning would suit you best.

    What does it give you?

    • Skills and theory in leadership and management.
    • Very useful networks.
    • A chance to focus on personal ambitions.
    • Additional prestige.

    What are the entry requirements?

    • A 2:1 at undergraduate level (some schools accept a 2:2 or students without a degree, plus lots of great work experience and professional qualifications).
    • Three to five years' work experience and experience as a manager.
    • The Graduate Management Admissions Test (GMAT) taken online with a score in excess of 550.

    How long is the course?

    Full-time courses are usually one to two years. A part-time MBA can last two to five years. 

    When does the course start?

    Universities have a variety of start dates for MBAs, e.g. October, February, and May.

    What are the yearly tuition fees?

    Fees vary hugely depending upon the course provider, from around £12,500 (UK/EU students), or £14,000 (non-EU students) for a part-time, three-year course, to over £60,000 for two years’ study at a high ranking business school.

    How will you be assessed?

    Assessment methods can include:

    • essays and reports
    • dissertation
    • examination
    • group work

    Study this type of course if… you enjoy business management theory and practice, and a challenge.

  • Professional qualifications

    What do they involve?

    Professional courses help you with your career. They can be divided into two main groups:

    • professions for which by law you need to be properly qualified to practice, e.g. medicine, dentistry, law, and social work
    • those which are seen as highly desirable or the norm within the profession, and which bring professional status and accreditation, open the most doors in terms of employment prospects, and increase the potential for additional pay

    Engineering is a good example of the latter. In the UK, the name 'engineer' is not protected by law so anyone can call themselves an engineer, professional engineer, or even registered engineer. But they will be in unskilled or semi-skilled trades – firms will not employ you as a skilled engineer unless you are qualified and probably a member of a recognised and respected professional body such as Institute of Mechanical Engineers (IMechE). Titles which show professional accreditation are protected by law, e.g. it is illegal to use IMechE as part of your job title unless you are a member of that institute – and IMechE won’t admit you unless you are qualified.  

    Some professions take a harder line than others. For example, usually you need to be a qualified journalist to be a newspaper reporter, but it's still possible to work as a magazine journalist with plenty of experience but without professional qualifications.

    In some industries, it is common for people to start their career with experience only, but then to qualify later – PR is one such profession.

    A variety of courses

    Entry requirements, course descriptions, duration, fees, and assessment methods will vary. Some professional postgraduate qualifications are at master’s level, whereas others can be taken as certificates or diplomas. For example, you can take a Certificate in Flood and Coastal Risk Management, a Certificate in the Food and Grocery Industry, or a Diploma in Career Guidance.

    You may also find our subject area guides useful.

  • Law qualifications

    What do they involve?

    Professional legal vocational training involves the first stages of qualifying as a solicitor or as a barrister, and the study of specific areas of law, as well as skills and procedures such as drafting, revising legal documentation, and spoken advocacy on behalf of a client.

    The Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL) is a one-year diploma specifically for non-law students and provides the foundation for study of the barrister’s training course (Bar Professional Training Course or BPTC) and the solicitor’s training course (Legal Practice Course or LPC, or the Diploma in Professional Legal Practice/DPLP in Scotland). If you have an undergraduate degree in law, you can study for an LPC or a BPTC without taking a GDL.

    GDL course fees range from £6,000 to £10,000. Start dates are normally in September. Applications for the GDL are via Central Applications Board. The process starts in November and closes in February. 

    The LPC

    Stage one covers:

    • business law and practice
    • civil litigation
    • criminal litigation
    • property law
    • advising and advocacy
    • interviewing
    • legal research
    • drafting and writing
    • regulation and professional conduct
    • solicitors' accounts
    • taxation
    • wills and administration of estates

    For stage two, you study up to three electives. These can include:

    • mergers and acquisitions
    • public companies
    • banking and debt
    • commercial property
    • commercial law
    • employment
    • family and welfare
    • immigration

    Other things you need to know about the LPC

    • Traditionally, the duration of the course is ten months full-time or two years part-time. 
    • Many law schools have three start dates for the ten-month LPC, e.g January, August, and September.  
    • A new Accelerated LPC lasting seven months is now available and caters for city law firms. Please visit course providers’ websites for details of which firms are involved in the programme. Start dates for the Accelerated LPC are normally January and July. 
    • The legal vocational training market is going through a period of innovation so new options are becoming available, for example, being able to combine an LPC with an MA in Business.
    • Fees for the LPC depend on where you study and whether you take the course as a whole or in two stages. For example, you might pay around £10,000 for both stages or around £9,000 for stage one and £3,000 for stage two. There may be additional charges of over £1,000 for each of the three electives.
    • You also have to pay the Solicitors Regulation Authority's LPC registration fee of £120.
    • Over 40 big commercial law firms sponsor students to study the LPC and most also offer a grant to cover living costs while on your GDL or LPC. The most generous grants are from what’s known as the Magic Circle (five largest UK firms operating globally) and US firms with London offices, with bursaries of £6,000 to £7,000 or more available.  

    You need to apply via the Central Applications Board.

    Diploma in Professional Legal Practice (DPLP) – Scotland

    To become a solicitor in Scotland, you need to complete the following three stages:

    • the LLB in Scots Law at undergraduate level at one of ten universities in Scotland
    • the one-year, full-time Diploma in Professional Legal Practice at postgraduate level at one of six universities. This is also known as PEAT1 (Professional Education and Training) – a two-year part-time option is available
    • a two-year traineeship with a Scottish law firm (also known as PEAT 2)

    Academic fees are around £6,300 plus materials costs of £400. DPLP students can apply through Student Awards Agency for Scotland for a tuition fee loan up to a maximum of £3,400. Some universities also make a number of educational grants available to law students.

    Apply direct to the university. Currently the following run the DPLP:

    • University of Aberdeen
    • University of Dundee
    • University of Edinburgh
    • The University of Glasgow
    • Robert Gordon University
    • The University of Strathclyde

    Facts about the BPTC

    • One year full-time or two years' part-time study. Some full-time, ten-month courses are available
    • To be accepted for a place on the BPTC, you’ll need to take the Bar Course Aptitude Test (BCAT) between November and August  it costs £150 to take.
    • You’ll learn the following skills: case work, legal research, opinion writing and general writing, interpersonal skills, conference skills, and advocacy. You’ll also be taught civil and criminal litigation, professional evidence, and how ethics work. You will need to choose two 'elective' course modules from a potential six.
    • Some of the course will be very practical – such as learning how to cross-examine witnesses and make submissions to a judge.
    • Course fees range from just over £13,000 for a full-time course to around £18,000, depending on the university and location. Courses in London are more expensive.
    • Most courses start in September.
    • Applications open in November and are made through the Bar Student Application Service.

    Master's of Law (LLM)

    An LLM offers advanced studies in very specific areas of law and is for law undergraduates who are looking for further academic study, or for lawyers wanting to increase their knowledge. It is also taken by smaller numbers of recent graduates who study it as well as an LPC. It does not guarantee a boost to your prospects of securing a training contract.

    It can be studied full-time over two years, or part-time. Course fees are between £5,000 and £10,000.

  • Teacher training

    There a number of ways in which you can train to be a teacher at postgraduate level. Not all of these options involve staying on at university. In order to understand more, you’ll need to become familiar with the jargon…

    • First of all, you’ll need to undertake what’s known as Initial Teacher Training (ITT), which will give you Qualified Teacher Status (QTS).
    • You are then also a Newly Qualified Teacher (NQT) and will do one year’s induction in a school.

    In Scotland and Northern Ireland, all ITT happens in universities or colleges. That’s mostly true in Wales, however there are some school-based places via the Graduate Teacher Programme

    In England, the situation is different. Broadly, the ITT can take two forms: university or college-based, which means studying for a Postgraduate Certificate in Education (PGCE). The other routes are school-based, which means that you are employed by a school and trained simultaneously.  

    To teach in state maintained schools, you’ll need QTS. That isn’t the case with academies and independent schools although, in practice, most teachers in those establishments are fully qualified.

    For further information about entry requirements and training, please see our teacher training section.

  • Performing arts

    These are master's and postgraduate diploma courses in performance-based music, dance, and drama. These courses are studied at a conservatoire, and taken either after an undergraduate performing arts course or an equivalent level of experience.