Postgraduate Certificates and Postgraduate Diplomas

What is a Postgraduate Certificate?
A Postgraduate Certificate (PGCert) is the shortest commonly available postgraduate qualification. You can earn one after a single term (roughly 15 weeks) of full-time study.
What is a Postgraduate Diploma?
A Postgraduate Diploma (PGDip) is a slightly longer postgraduate course. You can earn one after completing two terms (roughly 30 weeks) of full-time study.
This usually means completing everything in a Masters degree except the final dissertation. A PGDip can therefore be a great option if you just want to study taught content at Masters level, without having to complete a research project.

PGCert vs PGDip

Who should study a Postgraduate Certificate or Diploma?
PGCert and PGDip courses are ideal for anyone interested in postgraduate study, but unable to commit to the time required for a full Masters degree.
They’re also perfect for people who aren’t interested in academic research. A Postgraduate Certificate or Diploma gives you the opportunity to learn more about a subject, without having to go on and complete a dissertation.
Remember that a PGCert or PGDip may offer the option to upgrade to a full Masters degree – perfect if your interests or circumstances change after completing your course.

Where can you study a PGCert or PGDip?
As in the UK, they may be designed for students who wish to study for a shorter period. Or they may be slightly different.
In Europe, where a Masters often takes two or more years of full-time study, an alternative qualification may be awarded to students who only complete the first year of a course. This will be broadly equivalent to a Postgraduate Certificate or Diploma, but may have a different name.
In countries with newer higher education systems, alternative postgraduate courses may be offered by universities that do not have the power to award full Masters degrees. Again, these may be referred to as certificates or diplomas, but won’t necessarily be equivalent to the British PGCert or PGDip.
Which subjects award Postgraduate Certificates and Diplomas?
You can earn a PGCert or PGDip in any subject. If a university awards a Masters degree in a particular subject, it will normally offer associated PGCert and PGDip options.
Some qualifications are more subject-specific, however. As a general rule, you can dive these courses into three types:
  • Academic programmes – These are available alongside full Masters degrees in most subject areas. Completing one or two terms of study will earn you a PGCert or PGDip (respectively). Continuing to complete a dissertation will earn you an MA or MSc (depending on the programme).
  • Vocational programmes – These offer development opportunities for working professionals. The shorter length of a PGCert or PGDip allows time for training and skill acquisition, but won’t require you to complete a research component.
  • Professional training programmes - Some postgraduate courses can allow you to enter regulated professions. These are usually Certificate- or Diploma-level qualifications, rather than full degrees. Common examples include the Postgraduate Certificate in Education (PGCE) and conversion courses such as the Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL). Such courses may be longer than academic PGCert and PGDip programmes but they do not include full dissertations or award a Masters.

How are Postgraduate Certificates and Diplomas assessed?

Academic PGCert and PGDip programmes will be assessed in much the same way as an equivalent Masters degree.
You’ll complete coursework essays or other assignments for each module and these will collectively determine your grade. Exams are unlikely and you won’t have to produce a dissertation.
Professional programmes may include more practical assessments and tests of your competency in key skills or proficiencies.
How are Postgraduate Certificates and Diplomas graded?
Your Postgraduate Certificate or Diploma will normally be graded in the same way as a Masters degree.
In the UK qualifications will be awarded with Pass, Merit or Distinction depending on the final mark for your course: