May 26, 2018 at 12:00am ET By Joanna Hughes

When many people think of continuing their studies beyond the undergraduate years, they think of master’s degrees. After all, this advanced qualification is the subsequent step. But it’s not the only step -- particularly if you’re short on time, money, or inclination. The good news if you find yourself unsure about whether a master’s degree is right for you? Postgraduate certificates (PGCerts) and postgraduate diplomas (PGDips) offer another appealing option.

Read on for a breakdown of the pros of these two options for expanding your knowledge and skills following your bachelor’s degree.

Why Pursue a Master’s Degree?

If your goal is to pursue an academic career, the master’s degree the natural next step. After all it, along with the PhD, is necessary for landing an academic position. However, master’s degrees offer value beyond the academia, as well.

For starters, you may have heard the expression, “The master’s degree is the next bachelor’s.” In today’s increasingly competitive job market, more and more employers view master’s degrees not only as a distinguishing factor among candidates, but also as a must-have. So even if you’re not yet sure whether you want to work in academia, a master’s degree can help position you for career success in any sector by giving you access to more jobs. If you’re already working in a certain field, a master’s degree can help you level up. If you’re thinking of changing careers, meanwhile, a master’s degree can facilitate the transition in the most advantageous way. In this sense, a master’s degree can be viewed as an investment in your future -- whatever that future may be.

Indeed, a master’s degree can be viewed as a means to an end, but it is also an opportunity in and of itself. If you have a personal interest in or passion for a topic, a master’s degree is all about engaging with the material in a more comprehensive way. In encouraging students to engage with a subject from multiple angles, the master’s degree also facilitates the acquisition of in-depth knowledge and sophisticated skills in the chosen area.

But a master’s degree isn’t just about what you can get out of it. It’s also about what you can give. As a master’s student, you not only become part of an elite chain of knowledge, but you become the next link with the chance to contribute to world knowledge through your own insights and discoveries. Of course, the credibility, recognition and sense of accomplishment that go along with the master’s degree should also be acknowledged.

Why Pursue a Postgraduate Qualification?

We’ve addressed the many reasons to get a master’s degree, but we haven’t discussed one major reason not to: Because you’re not sure what else to do. Advanced degrees are inherently purposeful, and that purpose originates with you. Without that purpose, the value of your degree declines.

The takeaway? Unless you’re absolutely certain that a master’s degree is right for you, other options may make more sense. Enter postgraduate qualifications. Both postgrad certificates and diplomas offer challenging content without requiring the dissertation.

In many cases, these qualifications can also be applied toward the master’s degree for students who wish to pursue it. Andy Lane, a professor at the Open University (OU), the UK’s largest academic institution and the world’s leading distance learning provider, told The Guardian, “The certificate is a third of a full master’s, then the diploma is two-thirds, and if you wish to top it up to the full master’s you do the dissertation.”

But it’s also important to recognize that postgraduate qualifications are very much self-standing in their own right.

Said UK university director of online studies Gail Miles of the popularity of postgrad certificates, “It’s driven by an increasingly competitive employment market that demands continued professional development and upskilling. It can be difficult to commit to a full degree program and there is greater need for students to see a return on investment from their education faster than ever before, allowing them to climb the career ladder, demonstrate standout performance and increase their job security.”

Postgraduate credentials are often more vocational in nature with studies in business, technology, science, and healthcare  particularly prepondant.

In addition to taking less time than master’s degrees, postgraduate qualifications are also celebrated for their flexibility. This makes them a manageable choice for students with jobs and families. Continued Miles, “We expect to see an increasing shift in the way that master’s education is delivered and consumed….We’re moving away from intensive reading and long theses, and towards practical education and the development of a mindset that is solution-oriented, and geared to problem solving.”

One last thing to keep in mind when deciding whether to opt for a master’s degree or a postgraduate qualification? While the routes may differ, both add up to an inside edge on the journey to reaching your goals.  


Joanna worked in higher education administration for many years at a leading research institution before becoming a full-time freelance writer. She lives in the beautiful White Mountains region of New Hampshire with her family.

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