In the UK, there are lots of different routes when it comes to education after secondary school, so it can be difficult to understand all of the options. In this article, we’ll explain the different types of qualifications available, and the difference between undergraduate and postgraduate degrees so you can better understand the right path for you.
What is Higher Education?
Also known as tertiary education, this refers to the third level of education which you undertake after leaving school. However, going to university isn’t the only option when it comes to post-secondary education. If you want to go to university, you will often take A Levels or BTEC qualifications, but here is the full list of recognised higher education qualifications that school leavers can pursue:
- Bachelors degrees
- Apprentice degrees
- Higher Technical Qualifications
- Foundation years/degrees
What Does Undergraduate Mean?
An undergraduate qualification is another term for a bachelor’s degree, which is the typical 3-year degree that you undertake when going to university for the first time. There are two types of undergraduate degrees: a Bachelor of Arts (BA) and a Bachelor of Science (BSc), which will depend on the subject in which you get your degree. At many universities, if you decide to complete a dissertation (typically in your third year), which is an extended research project, you will graduate with Honours.
Bachelor of Medicine
In the UK, to become a medical doctor, you apply for an undergraduate degree in medicine. These are fairly different from the typical undergraduate degree as they are five years long and include a lot of time on placement, which is where you get practical experience in the medical field. You graduate with a bachelor of medicine (MBBS) but can use the title “doctor”. This is the same for veterinary students.
The Different Types of Postgraduate Qualifications
Once you’ve completed your undergraduate degree, there are lots of options for further education doing what are called postgraduate qualifications. These degrees are more specialised and often require you to do independent research, which is not mandatory for most undergraduate degrees. Let’s explore the different types further and what’s required to gain them.
A postgraduate diploma (PgD/PgDip) or certificate (PgC/PgCert) is a more advanced qualification than an undergraduate and is on the same level as a Master’s degree. However, they are much shorter so a PgC is worth around 1/3 and a PgD around 2/3 of a full Master’s. You can do these in any subject that is offered at the Master’s level but it is one of the most common ways to get a teaching qualification in the UK.
A Master’s degree is the next level up from a Bachelor’s degree. There are a couple of different types: a taught Master’s degree, which is very similar to a Bachelor’s in structure and is offered as both Master’s of Arts (MA) and Master’s of Science (MSci) or a Master’s of Research (MRes). All of these are usually only 1 year long but are more specialised, so you will study a more focused topic rather than a broad subject like an undergraduate. For an MRes, you will do more independent research, working on a year-long project rather than taking more lectures and seminars with your professors. This route is usually taken by those hoping to do a PhD.
Masters of Philosophy (MPhil)
Technically classed as a Master’s degree, it’s actually a lot closer to a PhD. You are expected to do independent research into a very niche topic, which culminates in producing a thesis that is generally around 50,000 words but can vary from university to university. Often when you first start a PhD, you’ll be registered as an MPhil student and then assessed after your first year to see if you have the level of skill required to complete a PhD. If you pass, then your degree will be upgraded.
Doctorate of Philosophy (PhD)
A PhD is the highest level of academic achievement you can get. They typically take 3-4 years to complete, during which you do research into a niche topic of interest and have to present an original contribution to that field of study. Like an MPhil, you work towards a thesis, which is around 60-80,000 words long and have to defend your work against a panel of experts in a field – this is called a viva voce. Once you have graduated with your PhD, you can use the title “doctor” and are considered an expert in your field. PhDs are generally required for highly specialised fields of science, engineering, and technology, as well as for academic careers such as lecturers.
So, what is the difference between undergraduate and postgraduate?
An undergraduate degree typically refers to a Bachelor’s degree, while a postgraduate degree refers to the education that students pursue after completing their undergraduate degree. Postgraduate education includes Master’s and Doctoral programs and is designed to provide students with advanced knowledge and specialised skills in a particular field.
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