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The basics
Study abroad : Subject Guides

Which study level is for you?

Don’t know which study level you should be applying to? Undergraduate, postgraduate or vocational... it can be a bit confusing. Let us explain which you should be applying to and what you can expect...

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We know that researching universities and colleges can be confusing and overwhelming at times, with so many options, it can feel dizzying. That’s why we’ve looked into the different study levels to help you navigate your way through. So, if you’re considering an undergraduate, postgraduate, PhD or vocational course, you’ve come to the right place to find out the distinction between them. Consider the following factors to put yourself in the best possible position when it comes to applying for one of these courses.


What qualifications do I currently have?

Your highest qualification which you’ve achieved up to now will impact what you can study at a higher education level. Universities have basic entry requirements for their courses. For some programs, it’s likely you’ll need to have gained a satisfactory grade in one or more related subjects at high school level; this is to ensure you have a basic knowledge of the area and can transition into higher education study quickly.


Depending on the university, this high school grade required to study on a course will vary so check this carefully. If you do not have a strong academic record in a particular area, then any relevant work experience and additional, short courses you’ve studied can also be used as evidence.



What do I want to do? (or where do I want to get to?)

What career do you have in mind? More competitive fields will require students to have a postgraduate qualification, so an undergraduate degree alone may not be enough on its own. Similarly, if you’ve always wanted to study at postgraduate level, you will need to have an undergraduate degree first (normally in a relevant area of study). Alternatively, you might be able to secure your dream job with a vocational qualification (this will depend on what you want to do).


And if you don't quite have the required skills for a course...


You do have options available to get you to where you need to be! You can study pathways courses (like a pre-masters course) to bridge any gaps in knowledge to study a particular course. Or if your English isn’t quite where it needs to be, you can take a pre-sessional English course. These courses can strengthen your English skills in order to study at a higher level (usually English language requirements will be higher at postgraduate level, especially in particular subjects where a good level of English is vital).



What study levels are there?



Undergraduate education is normally the first higher education course which most students undertake. The most common degree studied at undergraduate level is an honours degree which is studied for 3-4 years depending on the country where it is studied and if you decide to go part-time or full-time.


A program at this level will be either a Bachelor of Arts (BA) or a Bachelor of Science (BSc). To reach undergraduate level, you need to have A-levels or equivalent. At least one subject should be relevant to the degree you want to apply for particularly for degrees like medicine where you will be required to have a science background.



Postgraduate education usually follows an honours degree taken at undergraduate education. Postgraduate education allows you to focus on a more specific area which you may have covered briefly at undergraduate level, as well as work on an original piece of research (which may be published). A master’s degree, lasts one to two years depending on whether you choose full-time or part-time. This can then be followed by a doctorate (or PhD), which takes 3-4 years to complete.



The highest level of academia, a PhD or Doctor of Philosophy, takes 3-4 years to complete if studied on a full-time basis. Most institutions will require you to have a masters in order to enrol onto a PhD course. At this level of study, you will be required to conduct independent and original research in a particular subject area. During your final year you will write what is known as a ‘thesis’ where you will sit an oral exam, explaining and defending your research to an examiner.



Vocational education focuses on providing practical experience which will lead students to careers in particular trades and careers. Whereas undergraduate and postgraduate education may be more theoretical, vocational education teaches the hands-on skills and techniques for a variety of careers, ranging from accountancy and nursing to engineering and law. A vocational qualification may be a BTEC, diploma or NVQ. These courses are ideal for people who prefer to learn in a more practical setting, gaining skills ready for the workplace.


Now that you know which study level you should be searching for, start looking for a course now with our course matcher tool.


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