Skip to main content
Solent Unviersity Southampton logo
Solent Unviersity Southampton logo

Undergraduate vs postgraduate - which do I want?


Most undergraduate students will have completed further education studies in the form of A-levels, BTECs or equivalent qualifications.

You're an undergraduate student if you are studying for your first degree - usually a Bachelor of Arts (BA) or Bachelor of Science (BSc). Undergraduate degrees provide a grounding in a subject and typically last for three years, however it's also possible to study for an accelerated degree over two years, which includes a mandatory paid work placement.

Find out more about the different types of degrees.

If you don’t have the grades for your chosen degree, or if you’re not sure what you’d like to study, a foundation year gives you an alternative route into studying for an undergraduate degree.

This is an extra year that gives you the opportunity to learn more about the subject before moving on to the full degree. It’s a direct path on to an undergraduate degree and will provide you with the necessary skills for the course.

Find out more about our foundation years.

Applications to enrol on an undergraduate degree are made through UCAS.


Postgraduate courses cover higher-level study, including master's degrees, doctorates (PhDs) and postgraduate diplomas. These typically require you to have completed an undergraduate degree, often with 2:2 honours or higher, before you can study them.

Types of master’s degree include:

  • MSc (Master of Science)
  • MA (Master of Arts)
  • MEd (Master of Education)
  • LLM (Master of Law)
  • LLM (Master of Law) Top-up
  • MBA (Master of Business Administration)
  • MRes (Masters by Research)
  • PGDip (Postgraduate Diploma)
  • MPhil (Master of Philosophy)
  • PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)

What is a master’s degree?

A master’s degree is the most common type of academic postgraduate qualification following an undergraduate degree. Depending on the subject and study content, it can be classified in a variety of ways including as an MA, MSc, MBA, MRes, or LLM. It can be taught, research based (MRes) or a combination of the two. Some programmes are studied ‘in person’, others may be via distance-learning. All are designed to enable the development of in-depth knowledge and expertise in a particular subject. Most, though not all, master’s courses require you to write an in-depth thesis, or conduct a personal research project. Master’s qualifications are often studied full-time over 12 months, but some can be studied part-time over two years. Undertaking a master’s generally requires more independent study and personal commitment than studying an undergraduate programme.

What is a postgraduate diploma?

A postgraduate diploma, sometimes written as a PGDip, PgDIP, or PG Dip, is at the same academic level as a master’s degree, but is a third shorter. This is because it generally doesn’t include the final research project required by a master’s. Postgraduate diplomas are suitable for those wanting something straight after their undergraduate studies and for professionals seeking to enhance their skills or move into a particular profession. Because it is shorter than a master’s degree, it can be an excellent option for those who don’t have the financial means to pay for a master’s.

What is a postgraduate top-up?

If you decide to pursue a short postgraduate qualification such as a PGDip and then to continue your studies, you may achieve a master’s qualification by studying an academic postgraduate ‘top up’. Usually a full-time semester-long qualification, successful completion can lead to a full master’s qualification (if you pass all the necessary academic requirements).

What is postgraduate research?

An MPhil or PhD are typically undertaken after studying a master’s degree. An MPhil is an advanced master's based on research, taking from 18 months to four years. An MPhil can be a standalone qualification or be used to continue onto a PhD. PhDs can take from three to four years full-time or seven years part-time. They require students to conduct independent research in their specialist subject area, which will be considered as original research, worthy of publication in an academic journal or book.

You do not have to study for a postgraduate qualification immediately after finishing your bachelor's degree. Many people opt for further study after they have begun working in their chosen field, particularly if it could enhance their career prospects, or if they wish to move into or specialise in a particular area of work.

All applications to enrol on postgraduate courses are made directly to the University. Links to apply can be found on each individual postgraduate course page.