Types of Postgraduate Studies

Not all postgraduate courses are the same! ‘Postgraduate study’ is an umbrella term for any formal education you undertake after achieving your undergraduate degree. Here are the different kinds of postgraduate study you can explore.
Jacie Tan
Writer, postgradasia.com

1) Postgraduate certificate / diplomas

These are taught programmes delivered through lectures, seminars, coursework and projects. These programmes allow graduates to build upon the knowledge and skills learned in their first degree, or venture into a new field for a career change. They usually last an average of a year if pursued full-time, although postgraduate certificates are known to be less extensive than a postgraduate diploma.

How are these postgraduate qualifications different from a masters? 

  1. They are less research-based than a masters.
  2. A student on a postgraduate certificate or diploma course is not required to produce a dissertation.
  3. Some have an academic focus similar to the content of a masters, whereas others are more vocational and include work placements.

2) Master’s degree 

In postgraduate hierarchy, a masters is one step above an undergraduate degree but below a doctorate. It is the most popular choice among those who are looking to take up a postgraduate qualification. The most common reasons for pursuing a masters are to have a more in-depth study of a particular field, to take the first step in an academic career or to contribute towards their career advancement.

A typical taught master’s programme requires 12 months to complete while a full research master’s programme may take 18 to 36 months. Master’s degrees vary greatly from the type of course you are on and your mode of study.

3) Doctoral degree

Doctorates of philosophy are lengthy research programmes that are available in virtually any field. They are usually the terminal degree for most fields, especially those pertaining to research. Unlike other postgraduate qualifications which have a variety of study modes, the PhD only allows for research. 

Minimal entry requirements in most higher education institutions:

  • A master’s degree
  • Undergraduates who graduated with high distinction for some institutions.

A typical PhD may take between three to five years to complete on a full-time mode and twice as long through a part-time programme. 


Professional qualifications

Professional qualifications are titles awarded by professional bodies specifically related to a certain industry or profession. Traditionally, you will need to have completed an undergraduate degree in the relevant field in order to take this qualification.

Some careers require you to have the relevant official qualification in order to progress or even begin as a professional in that field. Due to the vocational nature of the qualification, work experience alongside or after your study for this qualification is usually a mandatory requirement.  

Examples of professional qualifications are the Certificate of Legal Practice (CLP) for Malaysian lawyers and those offered by accounting bodies (eg ACCA, CIMA, ICAEW) to be recognised as a chartered accountant. 

Conversion courses

These are programmes for those wanting to pursue their higher studies or career in a field that is vastly different from their background study at undergraduate level. They can act as a stepping-stone in a postgraduate degree journey or they can be valued by employers as stand-alone qualifications. However, conversion courses are still more popular in countries such as the UK and have yet to gain much momentum in Malaysia.

Common conversion courses include those in the areas of law, psychology, IT, medicine, education, accountancy and business. The length of the programme varies according to the type of course and whether it is done full-time or part-time.