Postgraduate course options: MA, MSc, MRes, PhD...

If you're at a crossroads between employment and further study, take the time to consider the huge variety of postgraduate courses on offer.

From one-year taught courses to three year research PhDs, choosing the right postgraduate course can give you the edge in a job-market already crowded with first degree holders. Find out what's available, what's involved and which type of course will best suit your needs. When weighing up the pros and cons of going into work or further study remember that you need not limit yourself to just one of the two.

Take a look at the lists below to find a qualification and a study method that works around you...and your career. Once you've short-listed your favourites, it's a very good idea to have a chat with potential employers to find out how they view the qualification, or even the university, you are considering. Your main options are:

Taught courses

Master of arts (MA) or Master of science (MSc)

  • Taught courses most commonly come in the form of a masters degree
  • One to two years full time
  • Two to three years part time
  • Includes seminars, lectures, tutorials, project work, oral work, some research, a thesis/dissertation and exams. The balance between these varies
  • You may also have the option of leaving out the dissertation/thesis and gaining a Postgraduate Diploma (PG Dip), useful if you want to specialise in a certain area.

Research degrees

Doctorates (PhDs)

  • PhDs can be started immediately after your first degree or a masters course. They involve research into a chosen topic under the supervision of an experienced academic
  • Three to four years full time
  • Five to six years part time
  • Considered very intellectually challenging
  • Includes a thesis of around 100,000 words and usually an oral presentation.

Masters programmes by research (including MSc, MPhil, MRes)

Put simply, these are masters programmes that rely a on your own private research, supervised by an experienced academic, as opposed to a taught programme.

  • One to two years full time
  • Two to four years part time
  • Similar in structure to a doctorate, only shorter
  • Includes the production of a thesis and usually an oral presentation. 

Find out more about taking a postgraduate course