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Key Differences Between Undergraduate & Postgraduate Studies

    When considering a postgraduate degree there are notable differences between studying at an undergraduate level and what is expected at the postgraduate level. The main difference between undergraduate and postgraduate studies is essentially the increased focus and specialisation that a postgraduate course will have on a specific subject or field of study. Below are some of the other key differences you should keep in mind. 

    Level of Expertise 

    The experiences that students are generally expected to bring to a postgraduate course will vary with the subject but majority of courses normally expect everyone to have completed an undergraduate degree. Many postgrad students will also have a wealth of real work experience to draw on. Students should come away from a postgraduate course with a deeper understanding of the relevant issues of a particular subject area because a postgraduate course will be a much deeper analysis and include detailed study of the subject and not just the broader themes that an undergraduate degree would cover. Postgraduates can be considered to be an expert or specialist in that field. 

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    Learning Experience 

    As postgraduate courses are at a much deeper and more intensive level, students are expected to undertake more individual study and not everyone on the course will be focussing on the same areas. During tutorials students participate in conversations and engage more than perhaps was done at the undergraduate level. If the postgraduate course is entirely taught, there will still be a great deal of independent learning to compliment the lectures and classes. 

    Length of Time 

    Rather than the usual three or four years of an undergraduate degree a postgraduate course might be as short as a year (however it is much longer if you are studying for a PhD). Students are obviously expected to already be able to read and write at an experienced academic level and most courses do not allow for the spare time present during most undergraduate degrees. Many postgraduate courses are quite intensive as most students may have taken time away from their work to complete the course or already settled on their future career paths

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    At the undergraduate level most students find an essay of two or three thousand words a challenging and time consuming task but postgraduates are generally expected to write at length with in-depth analysis of their subject. Most thesis at the postgraduate level require up to 30,000 words as well. Postgrads are also often challenged to produce short and concise works explaining a complex topic in fewer words. Compared to an undergraduate degree a postgraduate degree will have different essay lengths much longer overall to develop  students’ communication skills further

    Contact with Academic Staff 

    Once students move into postgraduate study, their relationship with lecturers and other academic staff change slightly to look like that of colleagues. If students are continuing at the same university, then it is expected that they have got to know their teachers. Academic staff mostly available to help students to explore a subject that they love at a deeper level and this creates a different relationship compared to the experience as an undergraduate. 


    Many postgraduate courses have higher yearly tuition fees than undergraduate courses. However, it can be a lot cheaper to study a subject for one year rather than three or four, although postgraduate students don’t tend to have the spare time work part time and earn some money while studying. There are many courses with additional areas of funding including places that are fully funded for many students and this also means funding and finances are not as simple at the postgraduate level as they are at the undergraduate level.

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