What is a Postgraduate Degree: The Complete Guide

What is a Postgraduate Degree?

A degree or course completed after an undergraduate degree is called a postgraduate degree. The term postgraduate is often used interchangeably with the term graduate. Postgraduate qualifications include a wide range of degrees like master’s degrees, postgraduate diplomas and certificates, and PhDs.

Pursuing postgraduation is possible only if you have an undergraduate degree. In a postgraduate course, you are allowed to study a specialised subject. Although postgraduate education is not necessary to get a job, people choose to specialise in a subject for better opportunities or to build a different career path.

There are different aspects and opportunities involved in a postgraduate program. So, before choosing a course for yourself, you should understand the details. Here is a complete guide to postgraduate degrees.

The postgraduate degrees are broadly classified into Masters degrees, PhD, Postgraduate Diploma, and Postgraduate Certificate. Let us look into each of them in detail.

  1. Masters Degree

After an undergraduate degree, a Master’s degree remains one of the favourite options among the students. However, it is mandatory to have an undergraduate degree to gain entry into any of the master’s degree courses. In addition to the coursework, you have to submit a dissertation or thesis to graduate from the Masters course.

Some forms of postgraduate degree include:

  • MA – Masters of Arts
  • MSc – Masters of Science
  • MPhil – Masters of Philosophy
  • MRes – Masters of Research
  • MEng – Masters of Engineering

The postgraduate course is of one-year length in most countries including the UK, the US, etc. However, some courses like MArch have a length of two to three years. It should be noted that many masters courses in Europe are two years in length.

  • MA, MSc and MPhil

There are two types of masters courses: taught and research courses. Masters of Arts (MA), Masters of Science (MSc), and Master of Philosophy (MPhil) come under the taught masters category. While MA deals with arts and humanities subjects, MSc degrees focus on Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics subject areas.

  • MRes

Masters of Research (MRes) is a research-based postgraduate course that is awarded entirely based on your independent research. The designation of the postgraduate degree is important because some of the courses have radically different approaches depending on it.

  • MArch and MEng

Postgraduate degrees like MArch and MEng can only be completed after finishing the relevant undergraduate degree since these degrees qualify you as an architect or engineer. Such masters degrees are essential parts of the qualification routes and help you build a successful career.

While a majority of the masters courses are about advanced studies or about specialising or focussing on a career choice, some courses help you retrain in a totally new subject. For example, a Masters in Town Planning or Journalism can be opted by a student whose academic skills can be transferred to a new subject.

  • PhD

A Doctorate of Philosophy or PhD is the highest postgraduate degree one can study. It is a balance between research and working at an institution during the course. PhD is pursued if you wish to have further specialisation in your subject.

You have to complete a masters course to pursue a PhD. It is to be noted that you should do a PhD only if you are interested in academic research or teaching.

  • Postgraduate Diploma

Postgraduate diplomas have the same level of study as a masters degree. It is completed over a short period and doesn’t require any thesis or dissertation submission. If you are unsure about whether you want to complete a full masters course, you can complete a postgraduate diploma to specialise in your knowledge and skills.

  • Postgraduate Certificate

Similar to postgraduate diplomas, postgraduate certificate courses also don’t require any thesis or dissertation submission. Postgraduate certificate courses allow students to gain specialised knowledge in their chosen area. It is one of the shortest postgraduate courses, and the course length is shorter than a postgraduate diploma.

Qualifications for Postgraduate Courses

The educational qualifications required to join a postgraduate course depend on the course you join. It is also influenced by the level of qualification and your choice of an educational institution. However, the majority of the postgraduate courses require an undergraduate degree to be qualified for the course.

Courses like PhD require you to have both an undergraduate and postgraduate degree to apply for joining the course. It is important to check the required qualifications before joining a course.


From the above discussion, we could easily say that a postgraduate degree can help you gain deeper knowledge, specialise and develop new skills in the field of your study. Being shorter than undergraduate degrees, postgraduate degrees help you polish the basic academic skills you gained and acquire advanced skills in the subject.

A postgraduate degree will help you build a credible academic portfolio and allow learning and gaining a deep understanding of your chosen subject. It will also help you have a successful career path since a postgraduate qualification indicates that you have an interest in the chosen subject and are qualified to continue future ventures in the same area.

About Sunstone

Sunstone is a leading higher education services provider that works with academic institutions in upskilling students for employability. Sunstone offers career-oriented training interventions for undergraduate and postgraduate students at 40+ institutions across 30+ cities.

Sunstone’s training programs are industry-endorsed to enhance employability. These programs are designed for hybrid delivery with an unparalleled focus on soft skills and personality development. Sunstone’s focus is to provide students with a holistic educational experience.