Considering postgraduate study - taught programmes

Taught postgraduate programmes such as Master's (including MA, MSc, MRes etc) and PGCE are life-changing, career-directing experiences. They allow you to explore your academic passions and continue your immersion in study, giving you an opportunity to better understand your route forward. They can also come with a lot of questions and unknowns.

Many of these will be addressed within this section, including resources to explore your options and seek advice. But if you would like to discuss your options in person, please do book in to see a Careers Consultant.

Our guide to taught postgraduate study:

  • What is postgraduate study?
  • What factors should I consider?
  • When should I do this?
  • How do I choose the right postgraduate course?
  • How do I find a course of study?
  • Studying outside the UK
  • Applying for postgraduate study
  • Funding postgraduate study
  • What happens after a postgraduate taught degree

What is postgraduate taught study?

A course of intensive further study lasting 1-2 years, depending where in the world you choose to study. It typically comprises a series of taught lecture modules, with a larger research or written assignment toward the end (the dissertation). It is therefore known as a postgraduate taught (PGT) course.

The range of courses available is vast – The University of Manchester alone offers over 200 such courses. These range from Accounting and Actuarial Science to Urban Regeneration and Visual Anthropology. The style and length of course can also vary, and can include:

Master’s Degrees

  • MA & MSc (Master of Arts, Science) are the most common Master’s qualifications.
  • MRes (Master of research) is a research-intensive Master’s course, generally considered good preparation for a PhD.
  • MBA (Master of Business Administration) courses typically ask for candidates with one or more years of professional experience.

Some of these courses can be taken part-time. This allows more flexibility to study around employment, but will usually double the length of the course.

Note: Taught postgraduate masters are not the same as undergraduate masters such as MEng, MChem, MPhys etc

Postgraduate Diplomas & Certificates (PGDip, PGCert)

Both of these courses allow you to expand your subject knowledge without committing to the intensity of a Master’s degree. There are also specific postgraduate qualifications for entering particular professions, for example

  • Postgraduate Certificate in Education (PGCE) for Teaching
  • Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL) or Master of Laws (LLM) for Law

What factors should I consider?

A postgraduate taught course can be a chance to specialise or to diversify, depending on your needs. Some pursue this out of a love of their subject, and a desire to continue in study. Some use it as a means to gain a competitive edge in their job search by enhancing their undergradute study area, while others look to take their skills in an entirely new direction. To help you choose, consider some of the following questions:

  • Do you want to explore your subject in greater detail? Or explore an entirely new one?
  • Are you happy to spend a further 12 months in full-time study?
  • Do you want to try more project-based, independent learning?
  • Is the course required for the profession or career you are interested in? For some careers, particular postgraduate courses confer professional accreditation. In others a postgraduate level of training may be needed to gain chartered status.
  • Is it a conversion course? Usually a 1 year postgraduate course that brings you to the same level as a graduate of that subject e.g. law, IT or psychology.
  • Does it give you specialist knowledge that cannot usually be gained at undergraduate level?
  • Are you interested in academia or research? A PhD is likely to be required.
  • Do employers value the course? Is it mentioned in job specifications as desirable?
  • Is it a course that an employer would be unlikely to put you through as part of your training?
  • Can you afford the course? If not, can you do the course part-time?
  • Could you study overseas?

If you are saying ‘I don’t know’ to a lot of these questions, or you have no idea what you want to do at the end of a postgraduate course, it would be worth dedicating some time to exploring the answers. A postgraduate course is a significant commitment of time and money, so you should ideally go into it knowing why it is important to you, and what you want to achieve.

Finally, give careful thought to what you will take away from your postgraduate studies. In brief, your new advanced subject knowledge can be supplemented by:

  • A more nuanced approach to problem solving
  • Project and time management ability
  • Research skills
  • A self-driven approach to learning

These skills may not be obvious to those you later approach for jobs or PhDs, and it will be up to you to point out the benefits of your studies. This is covered in more detail in the section for current Taught Postgraduate students.

When should I do this?

Many postgraduate taught students take up their course immediately after their undergraduate studies, while they are still in the habit of studying full-time. While there is an advantage to this, others may wish to enter the workplace straight away. After a period of professional experience, they may then choose to return to a taught course with a better sense of which course to choose and why. They may also consider studying a part-time course around their professional commitments (this will typically be twice the length of a full-time course). There are merits to all these approaches, and your preferred route will depend greatly on your circumstances.

A full-time postgraduate course typically stretches for 12 months, beginning in September. For the UK graduate recruitment cycle, the start of a course falls at the same time as applications open for jobs and/or PhDs, as employers and academics looks to recruit a year in advance.

Because of this timeframe, you may need to begin applying for your next role (graduate position, PhD) as soon as you begin your postgraduate course. Be prepared for this, as you may also need to adjust to a new study regime, new location, even a new country at the same time.

How do I choose the right postgraduate course?

Your choice of postgraduate course should be considered carefully – it can help to gain first-hand opinions from course graduates where possible. Some institutions will direct you on this when you apply, but also consider using LinkedIn or the Manchester Network as a means of finding those who have graduated from specific postgraduate degrees.

In addition, consider the following when choosing a course:

  • Enquire if the course has been evaluated by external sources, look at surveys, and check if the course is accredited by a professional body.
  • Evaluate the institution’s resources (teaching staff, library, IT, International Student Support etc).
  • If you are intending to study for a vocational degree such as medicine, dentistry or pharmacy, investigate which countries you are qualified to practice in after graduation (professional bodies can provide this information).
  • Ask the department or school what other graduates have gone on to do, how many get related jobs
  • Is the course taught by industry professionals? Are there any opportunities to get industrial experience through projects or work?

How do I find a course of study?

There is no central admissions system for most postgraduate programmes - candidates submit an application directly to the university. You can apply for as many courses as you wish, but be aware that some institutions charge an application fee per course.

Resources for searching postgraduate courses:

  • Attend university Open Days to gain a better appreciation of your options.
  • The Postgraduate Study Fair is a great opportunity to find out more about courses and funding at different institutions in the UK and overseas.
  • Search for UK postgraduate courses: www.prospects.ac.uk or www.postgrad.com
  • Search for Master’s Courses: www.findamasters.com
  • 4icu.org (4 International Colleges & Universities): International higher education directory featuring reviews and web rankings of Universities and Colleges in 200 countries. Includes a search for English speaking universities. www.4icu.org

Applying for postgraduate study

In most cases there are no official closing dates for applications (with the exception of dentistry, medicine, law and teacher training). However, many popular courses fill up quickly so it is important to submit the application as early as possible in your final year of undergraduate study.

Conversely, if you are also applying for scholarship funding there are strict deadlines for applications. So ideally begin researching your options 12 months in advance and start applying 6 – 12 months before the course begins.

While application requirements may vary, the core requirements include:

  • Online application form
  • Academic CV
  • Personal statement and/or research statement
  • Academic transcript of your grades
  • Reference letters/Contact details of referees

It is worth checking which of these are required, and at which stage in the application. Referees’ details, for example, are easy to supply, but a completed reference document can take longer to secure.

What happens after a postgraduate taught course?

You may want to apply for jobs as soon as you start your postgraduate study. This is especially important if you are interested in applying for graduate schemes. Many UK graduate employers and PhD providers open their applications in October/November for the following autumn starting dates. Managing your time in order to make these applications is an important part of your postgraduate experience. How you go about this, and how you communicate the benefits of your course in future applications, are covered in more detail in the section for current Taught Postgraduate students.