6 Differences between Undergraduate and Postgraduate Degrees

So you’ve finished your undergraduate studies, you’ve enjoyed them, something’s peaked your interest, or maybe a master’s degree is essential for your chosen career path. Whatever your reason for considering postgraduate study, we know it can seem a little daunting.

Graduation at the cathedral

Take it from me, I’ve been there. So what should you expect? Is it really that different to your undergraduate degree? Well the answer is yes, and no. Helpful right? Don’t worry, I’m about to break it down…

#1. Contact Time

One of the major preconceptions about a master’s degree is either that you will spend much more of your time in lectures, or much less. Neither of these are wholly true. In actual fact this depends on the subject you choose, and what the norms are in those fields. In some subjects you may well spend a little more time in lectures, or a little less in lectures and a little more in labs, but in others you may notice next to no difference. As a general rule of thumb, if your postgraduate degree is in the same field as your undergraduate one, you shouldn’t notice too much difference in terms of contact time, although you will be encouraged to learn more independently.

#2. Choice

You may have had optional modules as part of your undergraduate degree already, but you’re far more likely to have them in a masters programme. The point of a postgraduate degree is to allow you to explore the avenues that you are most interested in. In fact, even if you find your postgraduate degree doesn’t have optional modules, you’ll either find it’s incredibly focused towards a specific area of your field, or that assignment briefs are deliberately far more open, allowing you a greater influence over what you study.

#3. Word Counts

Everyone’s favourite thing! If you’re anything like me, when you first started studying as an undergraduate student, the idea of a 2000 word essay was enough to strike fear into your heart for weeks. No matter how early I started an assignment reaching that elusive 2000 words seemed impossible. But, by the time I reached the end of my degree, I had to cut over 6000 words out of my dissertation to get it below the 10,000 word limit. The good news is, in a postgraduate degree, whilst you may find some modules, and of course your dissertation, have extended word counts to enable you to write in greater depth, this won’t be the same across the board. Some assignments will be set with deliberately low limits to get you to practice communicating complex ideas in a concise manner. Sounds clever when you think of it like that, right?

#4. Specialism

We’ve touched on this already, but it’s worth mentioning again. Probably the key difference between undergraduate study and postgraduate study is that when you’re studying for a postgraduate qualification, the subject and the content will be a lot more specialized. This should give you chance to explore topics you really care about in a lot more detail – these could be things you touched on in your undergraduate studies, and got you to really think, or it could even be related to your dissertation topic in your previous degree.

#5. Collaboration

One massive difference I did notice between undergraduate and postgraduate study was the way you interact with staff. You are still a student, but you’re actively encouraged to further engage with professionals both within and outside of academic contexts – that means at uni, and in the world of work. And you’ll be encouraged to interact with these people as peers. This creates a culture of collaboration, with students and staff often working together on real world research projects. It’s about taking the right opportunities, but the collaborative aspects to postgraduate study are a far cry from your group work nightmares that still keep you up at night from your very first year here.

#6. Finance

I think another common myth about postgraduate study is that it’s unaffordable, and that finance works totally differently. Finance does work slightly differently, but it’s not miles apart, and postgraduate study is definitely affordable if you’re smart with your money. We’ve covered this in more detail in our blog post ‘How can I afford to do a masters?‘. But student loans are now available too, and these work in the same way your undergraduate loans do, meaning repayments are determined by income, and you’ll only repay them a small amount at a time. What’s more, Coventry is offering a £1000 fee discount to all Coventry University graduates who stay on to study at postgraduate level.

So there you are. Postgraduate study doesn’t sound that scary after all. So if you’re still finding unanswered questions, missing studies, or wanting to take your career further or in a new direction, what are you waiting for?

With postgraduate courses available to start in January, May and September, you may not have to wait as long as you think!