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MSc, PgDip, PgCert and PGA: Key differences

If you’re considering postgraduate study, you’ll see that there are various qualifications available and, understandably, you want to choose the course that’s right for you. 


Below, we explain the differences between a master’s, postgraduate diploma, postgraduate certificate and postgraduate award, taking you through each option in more detail. So… 

What are the differences between an MSc, PgDip, PgCert and PGA? 

Essentially, the main differences between the postgraduate options available are the duration of the course – in other words, the time it takes to study – and the difficulty or level of understanding required.


As with an undergraduate course, each module you study carries a number of credits, though these are master’s level, and the greater the qualification, the more credits you must achieve to succeed. The higher the qualification, the more you’ll also be expected to direct, debate and discuss your studies. 


All postgraduate qualifications allow you to explore your chosen subject in more depth, but the depth of knowledge and specialisation builds incrementally from a postgraduate award (PGA) to a postgraduate certificate (PgCert), then a postgraduate diploma (PgDip) and finally a master’s (MA/MSc).


This is why you can sometimes study one qualification at a time, accruing credit and exiting with interim awards until you achieve your master’s qualification.  




Postgraduate Award 

Postgraduate Certificate 

Postgraduate Diploma 

Master of Arts or Science 


PGA, PG Award 

PgCert, PG Cert, PGC, PgC 

PgDip, PGDip 

MA or MSc 







15 weeks (part-time) 

1 year (part-time) 

Up to 2 years (part-time) 

2 years (part-time) 


Do you know the key differences between undergraduate and postgraduate study?



What is a Postgraduate Award? (PGA / PG Award) 

A postgraduate award is an academic award granted by a higher education establishment for a short course – typically one module – which is taken as a stand-alone master’s level programme of study.


It not only provides an excellent taster to see if the course is right for you, but is also a sought-after qualification in its own right. You can use the credits you accrue upon successful completion to progress to a longer postgraduate course with the same institution.


We offer a 15-week People Analytics PG Award which offers guaranteed progression and a 30-credit exemption for the full online MSc. 

What is a Postgraduate Certificate? (PgCert / PG Cert / PGC / PgC) 

A postgraduate certificate is the first level of master’s education and the shortest taught postgraduate award available. The length of the course, which takes around one year to study part-time, is half that of the postgraduate diploma and a third of the time it takes to complete a full master’s.


This makes it a convenient option for those who are are constrained, either by time or finances. On these programmes, you will learn more about your specific subject area, completing 60 master’s level credits. However, you are not required to complete a dissertation or final project. 

What is a Postgraduate Diploma? (PGDip / PG Dip) 

A postgraduate diploma is the second level of master’s education. Another great option for those looking for career advancement, a PgDip allows you to explore your subject in much more depth, typically studying the same taught content as a full master’s degree but without the dissertation or final project.


These courses take up to two years to complete part-time and require completion of 120 master’s level credits, offering a shorter, cheaper alternative to achieve the specialist training of a full master’s degree. 

What is a Master’s? (MA or MSc) 

As with an undergraduate Bachelor’s degree, depending on the content of your course, your master’s qualification will be classed as being of the ‘Arts’ or ‘Science’. A master’s degree requires the successful completion of 180 academic credits and includes a final dissertation or major research/consultancy project.


You’ll develop advanced knowledge of a specific field of study or area of professional practice, alongside higher-level skills in analysis, critical evaluation, creative thinking and problem-solving.  


Statistics show time and time again that people with a postgraduate qualification are more likely to be employed and earn substantially more than both their graduate and non-graduate counterparts.


According to the UK’s Labour Force Survey, for example, 88.2% of postgraduates were employed in 2021, compared to 86.7% graduates and 70.2% non-graduates. Their annual median salaries were £41,500, £34,500 and £26,000 respectively. 


A master’s degree is an internationally-recognised qualification which proves to employers that you are a committed, self-motivated learner who can manage your time effectively, working on multiple projects and solving complex problems. 

Let us help you achieve your goals 

At the University of Hull Online, we currently offer postgraduate courses in the following subjects: 


For general advice on postgraduate qualifications or to find out more about a course that interests you and how to apply, contact our Course Adviser Team by telephoning +44 (0)1482 235569, sending a WhatsApp message to +44 (0)1482 235570, emailing

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