Updated 1 June 2020
There are numerous options when it comes to postgraduate education, including postgraduate certificates and diplomas, master’s degrees and PhDs.
This article focuses on the Poostgraduate Certificate, otherwise known as a PGCert. It should be noted that certain universities may use different abbreviations to describe a postgraduate certificate, including PgC and PGC.
A Postgraduate Certificate is an advanced academic qualification studied at master’s level, but for a shorter duration and without the need to complete a dissertation project.
Typically taking a single academic term to complete when studied full-time, a PGCert accounts for 60 credits. In simple terms, this makes it the equivalent of one-third of a master’s, which holds a value of 180 credits.
This is the most basic definition of a Postgraduate Certificate. However, there are variations in how a PGCert can be studied:
The main difference between a PGCert and a master’s degree is the course duration and the credits awarded. A master’s is generally structured into three units; one for each academic term. Two of these are taught units and together account for 120 credits. The final unit is a research-based dissertation project. This makes up the remaining 60 of the 180 credits awarded for a full master’s.
A full-time PGCert usually consists of one unit of study taken across a single term and, as mentioned, is equivalent to 60 credits. For this reason, a PGCert if often referred to as a ‘mini master’s’.
Another distinction to note between a PGCert and a master’s is the subject areas in which the former are most commonly taken. Whilst academic programmes are available, PGCerts are more widely associated with vocational training and professional development, often taken in areas such as healthcare, engineering and business.
Finally, a PGCert is a fully taught programme. You’ll be guided with lectures and seminars and set specific assignments, essays or practical assessments.
A master’s is two parts taught and one part self-guided, the latter being the required dissertation component. This makes a PGCert qualification ideal for those who do not wish to complete an academic research project.
When considering whether a Postgraduate Certificate is the right move for you, it’s important to take into account both the advantages and disadvantages of this level of study.
A PGCert may be of a shorter duration than other postgraduate courses but it is still a level seven qualification (or level 11 if you’re in Scotland). This means the course content will be more complex and you’ll be expected to demonstrate a higher level of understanding compared to your undergraduate degree.
As a PGCert is essentially the first term of a master’s in the same subject, the structure will likely be the same as that of the wider degree programme. This will vary from course to course but, generally speaking, you’ll study two individual modules, with course content delivered through seminars and lectures, combined with private study and practical assessments.
As a general rule, the UK’s national qualification framework states that 10 hours of study are required for each credit point awarded on a master’s level course. Since a PGCert qualification is worth 60 credits and takes one full term to complete, this equates to an average time commitment of 600 hours over 15 weeks.
This will usually include around 225 contact hours, where you’ll attend taught sessions, with the rest dedicated to individual study.
Depending on the specific course you have chosen to study, your PGCert will typically be assessed through coursework and essays. These will be assigned as part of each module and your marks will combine to form your overall pass grade. Exams are not a common requirement for a PGCert qualification.
If studying on a professional development programme, you’ll likely be tasked with completing practical assessments that demonstrate your abilities in the key competencies required for accreditation. This is particularly true of the PGCE, which involves assessed work placements.
Your overall classification will be awarded on one of three levels, a pass, merit or distinction. This will depend on which score bracket your achievements fall into:
If your chosen PGCert forms part of a wider master’s degree programme, the entry requirements will be the same for both. For most courses, this is usually a 2:1 Bachelor’s degree or above in a relevant discipline, though some universities do accept a 2:2 classification.
If you do not have an undergraduate degree but are a professional looking to boost your career prospects, you may be considered eligible for entry if you have a demonstrable record of extensive work experience, so be sure to contact the relevant university for guidance on their qualifying criteria.
Applying for a PGCert is much the same process as applying for a master’s degree. Unlike undergraduate applications, which are completed via UCAS, most PGCert applications are made directly through your chosen university.
PGCEs have a separate application process through the UCAS Teacher Training site.
Each university will have its own process but most will have an online system, through which you’ll create an account and complete each required section. As a general guideline, you’ll typically need to upload your most recent CV, along with the following:
Depending on the nature of the course and the admissions process of the university in question, you may also need to provide a portfolio, sit an entrance exam or attend an interview.
Whatever the application process, it’s important to start early as many universities take a first-come, first-served approach. Check the deadlines on the university website and aim to start your application as far in advance as you can.
You’ll need sufficient time to gather your references and produce a strong personal statement, so get the ball rolling on these straight away to avoid delays.
PGCerts can be taken in a variety of subjects, with most universities offering Postgraduate Certificates in many of their master’s degree options. They are a popular choice with undergraduates and working professionals looking to boost their academic credentials or gain new skills, without having to commit to a full year of additional study.
However, they are also a big commitment of both time and money and should only be undertaken if you’re fully prepared to dedicate yourself to the challenge.
You can find more advice on other options for postgraduate study in the articles below, as well as guidance on how to produce a strong application, how to secure funding for your study and what to expect from postgraduate life.
You might also be interested in these other WikiJob articles: