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Types of Postgraduate Course | The Careers Service Types of Postgraduate Course – Oxford University Careers Service
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Taught Courses

Masters courses

Most masters courses are taught in modules, and last one year full-time. Some last two years. Flexible part-time options are available at some institutions. A masters course can allow you to extend your knowledge of specific area of interest, or to explore new topics unrelated to your first degree.

The masters degrees you will most commonly come across are:

  • MA – generally arts, social sciences or business
  • MSt – generally arts, social sciences or business, common at Oxford
  • MSc – science and technology disciplines (MS in the USA)
  • MRes – research techniques, often as a precursor to a PhD/DPhil programme
  • MBA – management and business, usually after a few years of business experience
  • MPhil – includes a substantial piece of individual research
  • Subject-specific degree titles such as MEd, MEng

Professional qualifications

Some postgraduate courses lead directly to a professional qualification required for entry into a particular career. Examples include the PGCE for teaching and the GDL for law. However, there are a whole series of other further study options which could be classified as vocational, ranging from six-week courses in computer skills through to the PhD or DPhil in Clinical Psychology, necessary to work as a Clinical Psychologist.

Find out more about study routes into specific career areas in sectors and occupations.

Research Degrees

Doctoral degrees

A PhD (known as a DPhil in Oxford) usually requires three or more years’ full-time research, involving in-depth study of a specific field, the results of which are presented as a thesis of 50,000+ words. In some countries, including the USA, doctoral students begin their course with a programme of taught modules before beginning doctoral research in year 2 or 3, making the overall length of a PhD much longer than the 3-4 year average in the UK. Examples of typical PhD lengths in countries often applied to by Oxford students: UK 3-4 years, USA 5-7 years, Canada 4-5 years, France & Germany 3-4 years (post-masters), Netherlands 4 years (post-masters).

Most PhD students join an existing research group in a university department under the guidance of one or more supervisors. In the UK there are a growing number of Doctoral Training Centres (DTCs, also known as Doctoral Training Programmes) funded by UK research councils and offering four year programmes with a focus on interdisciplinary topics and formal training in research methods.

Undertaking a PhD needs to be given careful thought, as it is a completely different experience from a taught course. You need to ask yourself a number of questions before coming to a decision:

  • Can you direct your own work and manage your time?
  • Can you sustain your motivation regardless of the quality of your results?
  • Do you mind spending a great deal of time working on your own in the library?
  • Are you able to put up with carrying out basic, repetitive research techniques to get a series of results?
  • Have you talked to any postgraduate students to find out their experiences?


Research masters

Many taught masters courses contain an element of research via an extended dissertation on a specific topic. Research masters courses offering training in research methods and the opportunity to explore a topic in depth are also available at some institutions. The most common of these degree titles are MRes and MPhil, and these are often seen as a precursor to more extended doctoral level research.

External Resources
This information was last updated on 14 August 2018.
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Recent blogs about Types of Postgraduate Course

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Are you interested in a career in journalism but don’t know where to start? Do you want to hear about writing opportunities across all forms of media and get sector specific tips on your CV?

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Researchers@ the Oxford Careers Fair: 13:30 on Saturday 13th October, Exam Schools
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Laidlaw Scholars Programme – open afternoon

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See the Laidlaw Scholars Programme webpages for more information. Register your interest in the Laidlaw Programme on CareerConnect to make sure you don’t miss out on future Laidlaw updates. The closing date for applications is Monday 7 January 2019.

“The programme provides an amazing opportunity to gain an insight into leadership in your chosen field anywhere in the world. Go for it!”
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