Undergraduate vs postgraduate – what is the difference?


19th May 2021


Online study


So, you’ve decided you want to study a higher education qualification – great decision! You’ve spent some time thinking about what you’d like to study and considered your future career goals. Awesome!

But there’s one big decision to make – do you study a qualification at undergraduate or postgraduate level? Read on to find out what’s the difference and which is right for you.


Undergraduate qualifications

Bachelors degrees is the name for undergraduate level degree qualifications. These can either be ‘ordinary degrees’ or ‘honours degrees’ – at University of Essex Online we only offer honours degrees.

Depending on the subject you’re studying, you could achieve a Bachelor of Arts (BA), a Bachelor of Science (BSc) or a Bachelor of Laws (LLB). The indicative study duration of our online Bachelors degrees is around 4 years – although since it’s part-time learning, you can complete your studies in as little as three years, or as many as seven years.

That’s not the only type of qualification you can study at undergraduate level though. If you’re interested in something shorter, or if you don’t meet the entry requirements for a full Bachelors degree, you can study a Certificate of Higher Education (CertHE) which takes just 16 months to complete. This is equivalent to the first level of a Bachelors degree, which means if you love studying your subject, you can easily progress onto the full degree afterwards.


Entry requirements for undergraduate study

There are two different entry routes onto our undergraduate degrees: the academic entry route, and the work experience entry route.

The academic route is probably the best-known option, as it’s similar to the entry requirements for a brick-and-mortar university. You need at least two A-levels (or equivalent), with no specification of what subject or grade they should be.

The work experience route opens up the world of higher education to those without A-levels. You need GCSE Maths and English (grade A-C), plus three years’ work experience that is relevant to the field you wish to study.

What if you don’t meet these requirements but you’re still keen to study? That’s where our CertHE comes in! These courses have an open entry route, which means you don’t need any previous academic qualifications to start studying. This is a great route for those without a traditional academic background to progress onto the Bachelors degree.

If English is not your first language, your English ability should be equivalent to IELTS (Academic) 6.0. But don’t worry if you don’t have an IELTS or equivalent qualification as we offer a free online English test.


Postgraduate qualifications

Postgraduate education also known as graduate studies takes place after you’ve gained an undergraduate degree. This is why most postgraduate qualifications require a Bachelors degree as part of their entry requirements.

The most popular type of postgraduate degrees is a taught Masters degree. There are a wide variety – you can attain a Master of Arts (MA), Master of Science (MSc), Master of Business Management (MBM), Master of Public Health (MPH), Master of Laws (LLM) or Master of Education (M.Ed. or MA).

Taught Masters degrees are shorter than Bachelors degrees. Studying at postgraduate level is quicker, but the work is at a higher and more complex level, so it’s definitely not a shortcut to gaining a degree!

Our online Masters degrees have an indicative study duration of 2 years and we also offer shorter courses at postgraduate level: an 8-month Postgraduate Certificate (PG Cert) and a 16-month Postgraduate Diploma (PG Dip). These are great standalone qualifications but you can also use them as stepping stone to progress onto the full Masters.


Entry requirements for postgraduate study

Just like with undergraduate degrees we offer two entry routes onto our postgraduate programmes: the academic entry route, and the work experience entry route.

The academic route requires an undergraduate honours degree or relevant professional qualification. For most programmes, any standard of undergraduate degree is fine, but some courses require at least a 2:2 or have other pre-requisites.

For the work experience route, it depends on the programme, but you usually need two to five years of work experience in a senior role that’s relevant to the subject you want to study. For example, for our M.Ed., you need at least two years’ teaching experience in a post-compulsory educational setting, while for our MBM, you need at least five years of relevant managerial experience.

As with our undergraduate courses, if English isn’t your first language, your English ability should be equivalent to IELTS (Academic) 6.5, and we offer a free online English test if you don’t have a suitable qualification.


Which is right for me?

Typically, if you have a Bachelors degree or have a wealth of knowledge about your field, you should study a postgraduate programme. Whereas if you have never studied a degree or you’re new to the field, you should be looking at undergraduate programmes.

If you have no academic qualifications and are looking to change field, CertHEs are a great way to get started. On the other hand, if you’re qualified to start a postgraduate course but don’t want to commit for as long, a PG Cert may be the way to go.


There’s no one-size-fits-all answer, so the easiest way to work out which course to study is by chatting to our knowledgeable and friendly Admissions team. They know our courses inside out and will be able to recommend the right one for you.