What Is a PGCert?

Updated 1 June 2020

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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.

What Is a PGCert?

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:

  • Most universities offer the opportunity to gain a PGCert by studying one-third of a wider master’s programme. Essentially, you’ll complete the first term of the course and, if successful, be awarded your Postgraduate Certificate. These are a popular choice with undergraduates looking to boost their CV with an advanced qualification.

  • Some PGCerts are designed specifically for professional training and are aimed at those pursuing a career in a regulated industry. These often take longer as they include periods of assessed work experience. The main example here is the PGCert Education (or PGCE). As a teacher training course, this postgraduate certificate involves around 12 weeks of classroom learning and a minimum of 18 weeks of work-based placements. Though still equivalent to 60 credits, the PGCert Education is therefore classed as a one-year course.

  • There are also vocational PGCerts offered as Continuing Professional Development courses (CPD). These are usually taken by working professionals looking to gain new skills, and many are designed as part-time distance learning programmes that can be studied alongside ongoing employment. Depending on the subject in question, these can take anything from six months to two years to complete.

How Does a PGCert Differ from a Master’s?

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.

Pros and Cons of Choosing to Study for a PGCert

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.

PGCert Pros

  • A PGCert is the shortest postgraduate qualification. A PGCert takes less time to complete than other postgraduate options, making it a good choice for those who cannot commit to an extensive period of study or are looking to upskill in a relatively short time frame.

    It’s also a good way to test the waters of postgraduate study without making a long-term commitment. It can be a big jump from undergraduate to master’s level, so if you’re not sure you’re ready, a PGCert could be a viable way to find out.

  • A PGCert can be upgraded. If you’re taking a PGCert that’s part of a wider master’s programme and your circumstances change during your course, most universities will allow you to continue with your studies. Taking an additional unit will upgrade your Postgraduate Certificate to a Postgraduate Diploma (PGDip) and completing the dissertation component will upgrade it to a full master’s degree.

    Even if you don’t wish to pursue further study at this stage, you have the option to upgrade your PGCert in the future.

  • A PGCert is often a cheaper option. The average cost of a full-time taught master’s degree in the UK currently stands at around £7,300, though this differs greatly across universities and individual courses. When you factor in the additional cost of living, this can be a financial stretch, particularly if taken straight after an undergraduate degree.

    A PGCert has an average cost of £3,000. Again, this can vary significantly, so be sure to keep fees in mind when choosing a course.

  • A PGCert can boost your career prospects. Whether taken to complement an undergraduate degree before embarking on a career or as a way to upskill in a current profession, a PGCert qualification can open new doors of employment.

    As an undergraduate, an additional three months of study can give you a competitive edge in a crowded job market. As a professional, a part-time PGCert can provide you with valuable vocational training as you continue to advance your career.

PGCert Cons

  • Tuition fee loans are not offered for PGCerts. Student Finance England only offers tuition fee loans to students undertaking a full degree. Since a PGCert is not classified as such, you’ll be liable for the upfront cost of your studies. However, you may be eligible for a bursary or have the chance to apply for a scholarship depending on your circumstances.

    So, while the overall cost may be lower, you’ll need to decide if a PGCert is a financially viable option. The exception here again is the PGCE, which falls under different funding regulations.

  • A PGCert is an intensive period of study. If taken full-time, a PGCert is generally three months of focused study at an advanced level. It may be shorter in duration, but it is still a big leap from undergraduate level and will not suit everyone.

    When considering postgraduate education, ask yourself if you’re ready for the academic challenge. If you found your undergraduate studies difficult to manage, it’s unlikely that you’re ready for the pressure of a PGCert and will probably progress better by entering a professional working environment.

  • There’s no self-led research in a PGCert. If you enjoyed the challenges of undergraduate life and are passionate about making an academic contribution to your field of study, you’d be better suited to a master’s degree than a PGCert.

    A PGCert does not include a dissertation component, which is essentially your chance to delve into a subject area of interest and produce an original piece of research. If this is something you hope to achieve, then a PGCert is not the right road to take.

What Is It like to Study for a PGCert?

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.

How Will My PGCert Be Assessed?

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:

  • A pass requires you to fall between 50 – 59
  • A merit requires you to fall between 60 – 69
  • A distinction requires you to achieve 70 or above

What Qualifications Do You Need to Take a PGCert?

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.

How to Apply for a PGCert

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:

  • A postgraduate personal statement – This will differ significantly from your undergraduate personal statement. It should draw on your academic achievements to date, detail your career ambitions and present a solid argument as to why you deserve a place on your chosen course. Generally speaking, this should be a one-page document. Some universities will set character limits so be sure to check the rules before you begin.

  • References – Usually two academic references will be required (or two professional references if you’ve been out of education for some time). These should be from individuals that know you well and can attest to your suitability for the course.

  • Academic transcripts – If you are applying for a PGCert while still on your undergraduate course, ask your university to provide a projected score in place of a final transcript.

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.

Final Thoughts

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.

Further Reading

You might also be interested in these other WikiJob articles:

What Is a Postgraduate Degree?

What's the Difference between a Bursary, Scholarship & Loan?

5 Key Differences between Postgrad and Undergrad Study

A Guide to Postgraduate/Master’s Personal Statements

What Is a PGDip?