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What's the difference between a PGCert/PGDip/MSc?

We offer a wide variety of postgraduate programmes, including MSc, PGDip and PGCert degrees. But what's the difference between each of them? And which one is for you?

The MSc, PGDip and PGCert explained

Flexibility is key for busy professionals and over the years, online programmes have adapted to reflect this need.

Nowadays you can choose between full-time or part-time commitments, or online programmes with an on-campus element - the choice is yours. Furthermore, many online programmes offer different qualifications depending on how much time you want to spend studying. Three of the most common options available are PGCert, PGDip and MSc degrees.

But what's the difference between them and what benefits do they offer? 

online learning student sat at laptop with headset

In the blog post below, we explain the difference between a Masters, PGDip and PGCert qualification, as well as highlighting the pros and cons of each option. 

We've also included some extra options for postgraduate study at the bottom of the post, just in case you want even more choice when it comes to boosting your CV credentials. 

 

MSc - what is it and who is it for?

An MSc or Masters degree is a postgraduate qualification which typically requires you to write a thesis in your final year (although some of our online programmes do not have this requirement). Masters courses are designed to give you in-depth knowledge and expertise in a particular field of specialisation. Masters students learn in a number of different ways, and courses are usually delivered via a combination of lectures, tutorials, discussion groups, group work and presentations.

At the College of Medicine and Veterinary Medicine, we encourage a collaborative learning environment with opportunities to learn from other students often working in a variety of different contexts.

I loved the opportunity to interact regularly with vets, lab workers and animal health specialists worldwide. The opportunity to hear directly from an international cohort about the unique problems and everyday procedures involved in animal health work in their countries was absolutely invaluable.

Caroline RobinsonMSc International Animal Health

If you want to seriously enhance your career opportunities and gain in-depth, specialist knowledge of a particular subject area then a Masters degree could be the right choice for you.

You can study for a Masters degree either online or on-campus, depending on whether you'd like to take a year out to study full-time in Edinburgh, or work towards the MSc around a job or family commitments. Whichever method of learning you prefer, all of our students have access to exactly the same resources, including the University of Edinburgh's academic library, Information Services helpline, student support services and much, much more. 

Masters by Research (MScR)

Please note that we also offer a number of Masters by Research (MScR) programmes. These are research degrees which give the student a greater degree of freedom to pursue a pre-approved research project in a lab. An MScR degree is also regularly thought of as a 'stepping stone' towards a PhD.

Research Masters programmes are different from 'taught' MSc degrees, which are structured around lectures and tutorials rather than independent research projects. We'll be looking at MScR degrees in further detail in a separate post, so stay tuned! In the meantime, FindAPhD has an excellent blog post explaining the difference between the two.

The difference between a Taught Masters and a Research Masters

 

How long does it take to study for a Masters?

The length of a taught Masters degree varies depending on whether you choose to study full-time on-campus or online. An on-campus Masters usually takes 12 months to complete full-time, with some programmes giving you the opportunity to study over 2 years part-time. 

students in lecture theatre listening to tutor

Online MSc degrees generally take 3 years to complete, but some online programmes offer the chance to study over a longer period of time too. See the 'Part Time Intermittent Study' section below for more information on online modes of study.

Part-time Intermittent Study (online learning)

Part-time intermittent study allows you to study an online degree for the length of time that best suits your needs. 

Students are expected to complete each level of the programme within a 24 month period, and the Postgraduate Certificate, Postgraduate Diploma and MSc awards are given at the point of exit from the programme.

Study options for online learning

 

Which subjects are currently available to study at Masters level?

We currently offer online and on-campus Masters degrees in the following subjects:

Advanced Clinical Practice

Animal Biosciences

Applied Animal Behaviour and Animal Welfare

Applied Conservation Genetics with Wildlife Forensics

Applied Poultry Science

Biodiversity, Wildlife and Ecosystem Health

Clinical Animal Behaviour

Clinical Education

Clinical Management of Pain

Clinical Microbiology and Infectious Diseases

Clinical Trials

Conservation Medicine 

Critical Care

Family Medicine

Equine Science

Food Safety

Global Food Security and Nutrition

Global Health and Infectious Diseases

Human Anatomy

Imaging

Internal Medicine

International Animal Health

International Animal Welfare, Ethics and Law

Neuroimaging for Research

One Health

Paediatric Emergency Medicine

Patient Safety and Clinical Human Factors

Primary Care Ophthalmology

Public Health

Public Health (Online Learning)

Restorative Dentistry

Science Communication and Public Engagement

Science Communication and Public Engagement (Online Learning)

Stem Cells and Translational Neurology

Surgical Sciences

Veterinary Anaesthesia and Analgesia

Veterinary Epidemiology

 

PGDip - what is it and who is it for?

'PGDip' stands for Postgraduate Diploma. You may also see it abbreviated down to the following forms: PgDip, PG Dip. 

A PGDip is a shorter vocational postgraduate degree which provides specialist training in a specific area of medicine or life sciences. It is especially well-suited to health professionals who are interested in career development and want to enhance their CV in a shorter space of time compared to a full Masters programme. This is also a great option if you don't have the financial ability to pay for an MSc.

However, if you complete the PGDip and decide that you'd like to continue your studies, you will have the option to take an extra year to earn yourself a Masters degree (as long as you pass all of the necessary academic requirements). 

online learning student sat at laptop

Many of our PGDip degrees are offered via online learning, meaning that you can study part-time while continuing to work full-time if necessary. In fact, our qualifications are designed in such a way that you'll often be able to apply what you are learning directly to your day-to-day work. Many of our online programmes also boast thriving communities of global online learners, meaning that you can discuss live case studies or other work-related questions with your coursemates - many of whom will be professionals working in a variety of different contexts. 

For more information on online learning and how it works, visit the University's Online Learning home page.

University of Edinburgh Online Learning home page

 

How long does it take to study for a PGDip?

Completion times can vary for individual programmes so you should check the 'Programme Structure' section of the relevant degree finder page for exact information. However, most PGDip qualifications take around 2 years (24 months) to complete. 

 

Which subjects are currently available to study at PGDip level?

We currently offer PGDip qualifications in the subjects listed below. Please be aware that due to the many options of study available within some of these programmes, your chosen subject area may refer to itself solely as an 'MSc' for ease of reference. You may also be required to register as an MSc student and change your intended qualification once you have started.

Advanced Clinical Practice (Online)

Anatomical Sciences

Applied Conservation Genetics

Applied Poultry Science

Biodiversity, Wildlife and Ecosystem Health

Clinical Animal Behaviour

Clinical Education

Clinical Microbiology and Infectious Diseases

Clinical Trials

Conservation Medicine

Critical Care

Equine Science

Food Safety

Global Food Security and Nutrition

Global Health and Infectious Diseases

Imaging

Internal Medicine

International Animal Health

International Animal Welfare, Ethics and Law

Neuroimaging for Research

One Health

Paediatric Emergency Medicine

Patient Safety and Clinical Human Factors

Public Health (Online)

Restorative Dentistry

Science Communication and Public Engagement

Stem Cells and Translational Neurology

Veterinary Anaesthesia and Analgesia

Veterinary Epidemiology

 

PGCert - what is it and who is it for?

'PGCert' stands for Postgraduate Certificate. You may also see it abbreviated down to the following forms: PgCert, PG Cert, PGC or PgC. 

A PGCert is a shorter taught postgraduate award which provides Masters level training in a specific area of medicine or life sciences but takes less time for a student to complete. It takes around half the time of a PGDip to complete, and is therefore ideal for anyone who wishes to learn more about a subject without having to go on and complete a dissertation. It is also suitable for anyone who cannot commit financially to a full Masters degree.

The PGCert can also be used to work towards a PGDip, and eventually a Masters course, if you decide that you'd like to continue your studies and meet the necessary requirements. 

 

man studying online degree at laptop

 

How long does it take to study for a PGCert?

Completion times can vary for individual programmes so you should always check the 'Programme Structure' section of the relevant degree finder page for exact information. However, most PGCert qualifications take 12 months to complete. 

See the 'Part Time Intermittent study' section at the bottom of the article for more information on how you can structure an online PGCert degree.

 

Which subjects are currently available to study at PGCert level? 

We currently offer postgraduate certification in the subject areas listed below. Please be aware that due to the many options of study available within some of these programmes, your chosen subject area may refer to itself solely as an 'MSc' for ease of reference. You may also be required to register as an MSc student and change your intended qualification once you have started.

Advanced Clinical Practice 

Anatomical Sciences

Applied Conservation Genetics with Wildlife Forensics

Applied Medical Image Analysis

Applied Poultry Science

Biodiversity, Wildlife and Ecosystem Health

Clinical Animal Behaviour

Clinical Education

Clinical Microbiology and Infectious Diseases

Clinical Trials

Conservation Medicine

Critical Care

Dental Sedation and Anxiety Management

Equine Science

Food Safety

Global Food Security and Nutrition

Global Health and Infectious Diseases

Global Health Challenges

Global Health Studies

Imaging 

Internal Medicine

International Animal Health 

International Animal Welfare, Ethics and Law

Molecular Pathology and Genomic Medicine

Neuroimaging for Research

One Health

Paediatric Emergency Medicine

Patient Safety and Clinical Human Factors

PET-MR Principles and Applications

Public Health

Restorative Dentistry

Science Communication and Public Engagement

Stem Cells and Translational Neurology

Veterinary Anaesthesia and Analgesia

Veterinary Epidemiology 

 

What other options do I have to enhance my CV?

Online postgraduate study at the College of Medicine and Veterinary Medicine (CMVM) is extremely varied and offers a wide variety of courses tailored to your specific needs.

For more information on all of our online programmes visit our web page below. 

Online learning programmes web page

Postgraduate Professional Development

A number of our programmes also offer PPD (Postgraduate Professional Development) certificates for health professionals who don't have the time or money to commit to a full PGCert, PGDip or Masters course. PPD schemes involve taking a certain number of credits over two years, which leads to a University of Edinburgh postgraduate award of academic credit. This award takes the form of a transcript. If you decide that you would like to continue studying, you can choose to transfer your credits and study towards one of our postgraduate degrees. 

Please check the relevant degree finder page for the course you are interested in as not all of our programmes offer this option. 

 

Related Links

CMVM Postgraduate Study home page

Online Learning - how lonely is it?

Online Learning - is an online degree a 'real' degree?