Postgraduate Certificates (PGCert) and Postgraduate Diplomas (PGDip) – A Guide |
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Postgraduate Certificates (PGCert) and Postgraduate Diplomas (PGDip) – A Guide

Written by Mark Bennett

Looking for a shorter postgraduate study option, without a dissertation? A Postgraduate Certificate (PGCert) or Postgraduate Diploma (PGDip) could be perfect for you.

These programmes include Masters-level content and are available in a wide range of subjects. However, they are much more flexible and can usually be completed in only one or two terms of study.

Here you can read a detailed guide to PGCert and PGDip programmes, including information on how long they take, what their entry requirements are and who should consider studying one.

For advice on other courses, take a look at our full guide to postgraduate qualifications.

What are Postgraduate Certificates and Diplomas?

Postgraduate Certificates and Diplomas (PGCerts and PGDips) are shorter taught postgraduate courses. They include Masters-level content, but take less time to complete.

Many universities offer PGCert and PGDip qualifications as options within a full Masters programme. This can allow you to complete a specific part of a Masters and still come away with a postgraduate qualification.

Other Postgraduate Certificates and Diplomas are more vocational:

  • They may be designed as Continuing Professional Development (CPD) courses, providing new skills and training for people in particular jobs.
  • Or they may be specific professional training or conversion courses, designed for applicants entering regulated professions such as education or law.

The PGCert and PGDip courses described on this page are most common in the UK higher education system. Other countries offer similar types of shorter postgraduate course.

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 in UK, 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 .

What is a Postgraduate Certificate (PGCert)?

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.

Postgraduate Certificate (PGCert)
Type Taught / Professional
Subjects All
Qualification Level 7 (NQF) / Second Cycle (Bologna)
Length 1 term
Credit Value 60 CATS / 30 ECTS
Availability Primarily UK

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 Postgraduate Diploma can therefore be a great option if you just want to study taught content at the same level of study as a Masters, without having to complete a research project.

Postgraduate Diploma (PGDip)
Type Taught / Professional
Subjects All
Qualification Level 7 (NQF) / Second Cycle (Bologna)
Length 2 terms
Credit Value 120 CATS / 60 ECTS
Availability Primarily UK

What are the differences between PGCerts, PGDips and Masters degrees?

PGCerts and PGDips involve material that is just as challenging as what you'd study during a Masters degree, but are shorter and worth fewer credits.

PGCert and PGDip qualifications are often available as options within full Masters programmes and are therefore ‘equivalent’ to part of a Masters degree.

The following table makes this clearer:

PGCert PGDip Masters Degree
Terms 1 2 3 (2 + Thesis)
Credits (CATS) 60 120 180
Thesis No No Yes

Transferring between PGDip, PGCert and Masters programmes

It’s often possible to switch between postgraduate qualifications within the same degree programme. For example, you might enrol for a Postgraduate Diploma and then ‘upgrade’ to a Masters by completing a dissertation. Alternatively, you may be able to exit a Masters programme early, but still earn a PGCert or PGDip for the work you’ve completed.

How much does a Postgraduate Certificate or Diploma cost?

A PGCert or PGDip will normally cost less than a full Masters, reflecting their shorter length.

The average cost of a classroom-based, taught Masters in the UK is £9,465. Using that figure, you can extrapolate the following averages based on the credit value of a PGCert or PGDip compared to a Masters:

  • PGCert – £3,155
  • PGDip – £6,310

These are only intended as ballpark figures, however – there is a great deal of variation when it comes to tuition fees for PGCerts and PGDips. You may find that some PGDips cost more than certain Masters, especially if they are intended for Continuing Professional Development (CPD) purposes and likely to be sponsored by employers.

A Postgraduate Certificate or Diploma could therefore offer you a more affordable postgraduate study option, particularly if you are studying with a clear professional or career goal in mind.

If so, a PGCert or PGDip could provide a quicker route into work, whilst still picking up some advanced skills and training!

Though they’re often cheaper than a Masters, a PGCert or PGDip may not be eligible for the same funding. Scholarships are often intended for full Masters degrees. This also applies to English and Welsh postgraduate loans, which aren’t available for Postgraduate Certificates and Diplomas.

However, Northern Irish postgraduate loans are available for PGDips and PGCerts, while Scottish loans are available for PGDips.

International recognition of Postgraduate Certificates and Diplomas

The PGCert and PGDip qualifications are internationally recognised and compatible with frameworks such as the European ECTS credit system. Other short courses may sometimes need to be accredited – particularly if you wish to use them as the basis for further study or employment abroad.

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.

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.

It’s not just fresh graduates who should consider a Postgraduate Certificate or Diploma. If you’re already in work, but looking to ‘upskill’ yourself, a shorter postgraduate course could be ideal.

Whether you should study a PGDip, PGCert or full Masters depends on what you want from postgraduate study. If you’re preparing for a specific job and know that a shorter course will do, there’s little point committing to a full Masters. But if you want to carry out your own independent scholarship, a PGDip or PGCert may not satisfy you.

What’s it like to study a Postgraduate Certificate or Diploma?

In most cases a PGCert or PGDip will be a lot like a Masters in the same subject. (Particularly if your course forms part of a wider degree programme).

You’ll study for a shorter period, but your course content will be organised in the same way as a taught Masters and the material you study will be at the same level.

In most cases you’ll complete separate modules, each with their own assessments.

As a rule of thumb you can expect a PGCert to include two modules over one semester, whilst a PGDip will probably include four over two. This may vary slightly, depending on the credit weighting for modules on your course.

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?

A PGCert or PGDip is graded using the same scale as Masters grades.

In the UK qualifications will be awarded with Pass, Merit or Distinction depending on the final mark for your PGcert / PGDip:

Overall Mark PGCert / PGDip Grade
70+ Distinction
60-69 Merit
50-59 Pass

Search for a PGCert or PGDip now

Ready to start looking for a shorter postgraduate course? Search for your ideal PGCert or PGDip now.

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Last updated: 25 July 2023