Introduction to taught postgraduate study

Postgraduate study in the UK

This guide aims to help anyone thinking about taught postgraduate study.

Higher education in the UK spans broadly three levels:

  • Undergraduate degrees. Qualifications at this level provide a grounding in a subject. They usually run for three to four years.
  • Postgraduate taught degrees. These are higher-level qualifications which allow more specialisation and independent learning. They usually run for up to a year.
  • Postgraduate research degrees. Students at this level will develop their understanding through longer periods of independent research.

Universities and some further education colleges offer flexible forms of taught postgraduate study. Students can pursue their studies part-time or full-time. They can study on campus, at a distance or combine the two (called blended learning).

Course providers award credits for each course, including postgraduate. Course credits (such as the CATS (Credit Accumulation and Transfer Scheme)) reflect the study time required to complete the course and the complexity and depth of learning you can expect.

Note, this guide does not provide information about postgraduate research degrees. Vitae – an independent charity which helps researchers reach their potential - provides information about doctoral study.

What are the main types of taught postgraduate study?


Courses at taught masters level:

  • lead to qualifications such as Master of Science, Master of Arts or Master of Letters
  • are generally 12 months long in the UK and contain 180 CATS credits
  • can be specialist and career-related (for example the Master of Business Studies or Masters in Business Administration)
  • in some cases 'integrate' with an undergraduate degree to form a single course on which students gradually specialise.

Postgraduate diplomas and certificates

These courses are as academically challenging as a taught masters but are generally shorter and contain fewer CATS credits (120 for a diploma, 60 for a certificate).

Professional or vocational qualifications

These courses improve or develop the skills required for a specific job. For example, a Legal Practice Course can lead to graduates becoming qualified solicitors.

What are UK taught postgraduate courses like?

Students can complete most full-time UK masters courses in a year, but have the option to complete them part-time over a longer period. In other countries, full-time courses are often spread over two or more years.

Courses require considerable independent study and interaction with other students and teaching staff.

Students are encouraged to participate actively in laboratories, work groups and teaching sessions. They will challenge each other’s ideas and those of course tutors, as well as put forward their own.

Students aiming for a particular career outside the UK should speak with key employers, or a professional body, in the relevant country to ensure that a UK qualification is recognised.

The entry requirements for a course will make it clear what level of written and spoken English will be needed. Many institutions offer courses in academic writing to support students whose first language is not English.

What is life like as a postgraduate?

Compared with undergraduate courses, full-time postgraduate courses in the UK are focussed, challenging and intensive. They also vary a lot. Before you apply, you might want to:

Once you have started a course, induction programmes help you to meet other students and find your way around a new campus. Inductions are likely to be more in-depth for international students.

UK course providers often offer a lot of support to international students. Students unions can also offer information and support.

Ideas to try: Ask the institution you are considering if you can contact any current postgraduate students from your own country to learn about their experiences.


Why choose taught postgraduate study?