Undergraduate or postgraduate study: 5 differences before you apply

Thu 17 Mar 2022

 If you’ve been thinking about furthering your education, you may find that you’re faced with the choice of studying either an undergraduate course, or a postgraduate course.

While both can provide useful lessons around your subject of interest, it’s important to understand the differences between them before starting on an application.

To help you navigate this decision, here are five key differences between undergraduate and postgraduate study:

1. Expected subject knowledge

You should apply for a course that aligns with your current level of expertise – enabling you to develop effectively to meet your career needs.

An undergraduate course is usually considered as the first level of advanced study for an individual looking to learn more about a specific field.

For many people, a Bachelor’s degree is the most recognisable kind of undergraduate qualification – of these, the most popular are the Bachelor of Arts (BA) and the Bachelor of Science (BSc).

A postgraduate course is seen as the next level of study for specialising in a field. As suggested by its name, it is typically taken by individuals who have ‘graduated’ past the level of education offered by an undergraduate course.

Postgraduate degrees also come in a variety of forms, with Master’s courses generally being the most sought after. Popular Master’s qualifications include the Master of Arts (MA), Master of Science (MSc) and Master of Business (MBA).

Why you should consider a masters in today's uncertain job market:

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2. Course duration

Undergraduate courses are usually a few years longer than postgraduate courses.

Durations can vary depending on your subject, and even the country you’re based in. It’s common for undergraduate programmes to be built around three to four years of full-time study, while a postgraduate programme such as a Master’s can take one to two years.

Of course, these times can change significantly if you study part time – and again, this will depend on your course’s specific structure.

At Falmouth Flexible, all of our online, part-time Master’s courses can be completed in just two years, and our Bachelor’s degrees can be earned in three.

3. Depth of study

An undergraduate programme will strive to give you a broad, working understanding of a subject – while postgraduate study will encourage you to focus on a specialisation.

Students of undergraduate courses can expect to explore a variety of different topics, each of which hold their own importance within the wider context of their field.

If you opt for an undergraduate programme, this can help you understand the different paths you could take in your career, so that you can find an area you’re particularly interested in.

On a postgraduate course, you’ll be encouraged to research your specialism in greater depth. For example, a creative course might challenge you with interrogating your practice so that you can view it from a new perspective or experiment with different approaches to hone your vision.

If you’re returning to education to help move to a new field, attaining this deep level of understanding is also a fantastic way to translate any relevant experience you hold to the new subject, giving you a distinct viewpoint and offering.

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4. Study skills

Both levels of study will except you to take initiative with your academic and professional development. However, a postgraduate course demands far more self-directed study.

The amount of support you’ll receive will vary from university to university. With Falmouth Flexible you’ll still have tutors to share insights, guide your research, and provide feedback on your output – regardless of whether your online course is at an undergraduate or postgraduate level.

It’s also good to keep in mind that, as a postgraduate student, your relationship with tutors will more closely resemble that of peers than of a teacher and pupil.

In fact, it could be helpful to think of them as more experienced colleagues. You can turn to them for help, as they may have more research or industry experience, but ultimately, you’re all researchers working towards the same goal: to learn more about the subject at hand.

5. Network building

Undergraduate courses typically consist of far more students, which is a great way to meet new people. However, this doesn’t mean you won’t make valuable connections as a postgraduate student.

As postgraduate courses are made up of smaller batches, you may find that you end up spending more time with each of your course mates. Whether you work in the creative sphere or communications, this can help you learn different ways of approaching challenges and topics.

Additionally, the people you meet on postgraduate courses are more likely to hold similar professional interests to you. Thanks to this, you can start building a rich network of like-minded professionals with whom you can share insights and opportunities after graduation as well. 

Ultimately, both undergraduate and postgraduate courses can be fantastic investments in your own development.

It’s also crucial to note here that while words like ‘undergraduate’ and ‘postgraduate’ suggest a certain amount of linearity when pursuing a higher education, this simply isn’t the case.

Depending on your course of interest, holding the right experience and enough dedication can help you get accepted onto a Master’s programme without ever earning a Bachelor’s – or even completing your secondary education! There’s no one path to realising your ambitions.

If you’re unsure about which type of course would be the next natural step for you, we’re here to assist you. Get in touch with our friendly Course Adviser team, who are experts on all of our online courses.

In addition to helping you understand what type of study you should take on, they’ll also be able to answer any questions you have about entry requirements, course content, tuition fees, and more. Complete the form below to get in touch:

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