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What Is a Postgraduate Degree?

A postgraduate degree is an advanced qualification pursued after completing an undergraduate degree. It encompasses various credentials, including master’s degrees, postgraduate diplomas and certificates, and PhDs.

Postgraduate degrees share the common characteristic of enabling students to delve deeper into a specialized subject. Most programs require an undergraduate degree as a prerequisite for admission. Individuals pursue postgraduate degrees for various reasons, such as entering academia and conducting research or specializing in a particular career path. Some individuals even opt for postgraduate degrees to switch fields of study or career paths entirely.

Postgraduate education involves several important aspects. If you are contemplating expanding your knowledge through a postgraduate degree, it’s crucial to understand the details. This guide aims to provide you with comprehensive information about postgraduate degrees.

Master’s Degree

A master’s degree is one of the most prevalent postgraduate programs pursued after completing undergraduate studies. This advanced qualification can take different forms, but they generally require an undergraduate degree for admission. Common types of master’s degrees include:

  • Master of Arts (MA)
  • Master of Science (MSc)
  • Master of Philosophy (MPhil)
  • Master of Research (MRes)
  • Master of Engineering (MEng)

Most master’s programs entail the completion of a thesis or dissertation in addition to coursework. In the UK, most master’s programs span a year, except for certain professional courses like Master of Architecture (MArch), which typically last two to three years. In the US, most master’s programs also take one year to complete, while in Europe, they often extend to two years.

MA, MSc, and MPhil

Master’s degrees are obtained through either taught or research-based programs. In a taught master’s program, students are awarded a Master of Arts (MA), Master of Science (MSc), or Master of Philosophy (MPhil). MA courses focus on arts and humanities subjects, while MSc degrees emphasize STEM subjects.

There may be variations across countries. For instance, in Scotland, students can pursue a Master of Letters (MLitt) in subjects like Creative Writing, History, and Theology.


Postgraduate degrees may also include a Master of Research (MRes), which is attained through research-based study. These degrees are awarded solely based on independent research conducted by the students. The specific designation of a master’s course is significant, as it can indicate the course’s emphasis. For instance, subjects like Anthropology can have courses with substantially different approaches based on the degree designation.

MArch and MEng

Some master’s programs, such as Master of Architecture (MArch) or Master of Engineering (MEng), are pursued after completing the relevant undergraduate course, with the long-term goal of becoming an architect or engineer. These programs are essential components of the qualification process, and aspiring architects or engineers must complete them to practice in their chosen fields.

Other master’s programs are geared toward specialization or focusing on specific career choices, particularly in the fields of law and medicine. There are also master’s programs designed for graduates who already possess a bachelor’s degree but wish to retrain in another subject, such as Town Planning or Journalism. For these programs, it is assumed that students possess a set of transferable academic skills from their previous degree.

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Last modified: 2023-06-05