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Types of study

Types of study

Types of study

Masters programmes

A Masters degree can help you further your knowledge of a particular subject related to your undergraduate studies, or enable you to gain knowledge in a completely different area. They usually take twelve months of full time study, but some can be taken part time over a longer period. There are two main methods of study:

  • Research based Masters courses provide a blend of research and taught elements of study.  The focus of assessment is on a single dissertation or project and, depending on the research required, they can take longer than the standard twelve months. Often the research can form the basis of a Doctorate.
  • Taught Course Masters are delivered through lectures, seminars, laboratory work, placements, etc. They have a number of core modules which you must take and pass in order to gain the qualification. Assessment includes exams, group or course work and assessed projects.

Both types of Masters are offered in the same subject area, although the approach to the subject will be different.  It is important to choose the right Masters for your career plans.


A PhD involves researching into a chosen topic under the supervision of an experienced academic.  It will require the production of a thesis of around 50,000 to 60,000 words which contributes new knowledge and is worthy of publication. There may be some taught units on research methods, but the PhD is awarded mainly on the quality of the final thesis. They take three to four years to complete full time or five to seven years part time.

A PhD is essential to a career in academia, and is highly valued by employers for roles within research and development.

Entry onto PhD courses is usually through a Research Masters course, although some exceptional students may be able to start their PhD directly after their undergraduate studies.

Postgraduate Certificates and Diplomas

These courses can be academic or vocational. They are delivered through a combination of lectures, seminars, projects and often include placements.  They can usually be taken either full-time or part-time, and some can be delivered via distance learning.

For some careers, a vocational qualification is essential and you need to have it before starting work in the field. The most popular of these is the Postgraduate Certificate in Education (PGCE), the essential requirement for teaching in UK schools.

Some courses include an option to turn the qualification into a Masters by submitting a dissertation.

Professional or Vocational Qualifications

These qualifications are usually undertaken whilst in employment.  Most sectors of work have industry-specific qualifications which can help you gain professional recognition and help you progress in your career.

The length of time each qualification can take varies.  Most can be taken part-time and many are delivered via distance or e-learning, to help you combine your studies with your employment.  The Chartered Certification in Accountancy, etc can take several years to complete; whilst an NVQ can take as little as three months.