Undergraduate vs Postgraduate – what is the difference?


01st Jun 2018


Online study

So you’ve decided that higher education is for you – great decision! You’ve spent some time thinking about what course you’d like to study, and selected one that you’re interested in that factors into your future career goals. Awesome!

But there’s one more big decision to make – do you study at an undergraduate or postgraduate level? What’s the difference, and which is right for you?


Undergraduate degrees

Bachelors degrees have nothing to do with men, bachelor pads, or anything like that. They’re simply the name given to the qualification you attain if you study at an undergraduate level. Bachelors degrees 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 can become a Bachelor of Arts (BA), a Bachelor of Science (BSc) or a Bachelor of Laws (LLB). Our Bachelor courses tend to last around 48 months – although since it’s part-time learning, you can complete in as little as three years, or as many as seven.

That’s not the only type of qualification you can study at that 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. Practically speaking, the CertHE is equivalent to the first level of a Bachelors degree, meaning it’s super simple to move onto the full degree afterwards.


Entry requirements for undergraduate study

There are two different entry routes into 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 are still desperate to start studying? That’s where our CertHE comes in! For CertHE courses, we offer an Open Entry Route, meaning you don’t need any previous academic qualifications at all to start studying. And since you can progress onto the Bachelors programmes directly from your CertHE, this is a great foot in the door for those without a traditional academic background.

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 degrees

Postgraduate education take place after you’ve gained an undergraduate degree, which is why most postgraduate qualifications require a Bachelors degree as part of their entry requirements. The most popular type of postgraduate degrees is a Masters degree.

The topics available to attain a Masters in are more nuanced – you can be a Master of Arts (MA), Master of Science (MSc), Master of Business Administration (MBA), Master of Business Management (MBM), Master of Public Health (MPH), Master of Laws (LLM) or Master of Education (M.Ed. or MA).

Masters degrees are shorter than Bachelors, with an indicative duration of 24 months. However the work is at a higher and more complex level – studying at postgraduate level may be quicker, but it’s definitely not a shortcut.

Just like with undergraduate degrees, there are shorter options available for postgraduate students. You can start off on an 8-month Postgraduate Certificate (PG Cert) before progressing to Postgraduate Diploma (PG Dip) and finally the full Masters.


Entry requirements for postgraduate study

Just like with undergraduate degrees, you can use either the Academic Entry Route or the Work Experience Entry Route.

The Academic route means you need an undergraduate honours degree or relevant professional qualification. For most of our degrees, any standard of undergraduate degree is fine, but some courses require at least a 2:2.

But despite the name, you don’t actually need an undergraduate degree in order to study at the postgraduate level. The exact nature of the Work Experience route depends on the subject you’re studying, 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.

Unlike entry requirements for the CertHE courses, entry onto PG Cert and PG Dip programmes tend to match those for the associated Masters degree.


Which is right for me?

Typically if you have an undergraduate degree or have a wealth of knowledge about your field, you should study a postgraduate degree, whereas if you’re newer to your field and have never studied for a degree, you should be looking at undergraduate degrees.

If you have no academic qualifications and are looking to change field, CertHEs are a great way to get started, while 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.