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Graduate Certificate, Master’s degree, or Doctorate: Which degree is right for me?

Nerizza Aborde

Freelance Writer
Choosing the right postgraduate degree type is important. Your decision should be informed by what you want to do after you finish studying.

At some point, you may find yourself torn between starting your career or further study. But why not taking a chance on completing a postgraduate course?

The first step you need to do is choosing the right course. But with so many postgraduate study options on offer, this can be a difficult decision. You may consider taking a course which could be your stepping stone in enhancing your professional expertise and skills. Further, it could also help you stand out in an increasingly competitive job market already crowded with first-degree holders.

Find below lists of postgraduate programmes offered in most higher education institutions and decide which qualification and study method best suit you and your career.

Australia is recognized as one of the leading providers of higher education and training programs globally.  This is reflected in a large number of international students who choose to complete their postgraduate studies in Australia.

There are thousands of university postgraduate courses to choose from.

Courses and qualifications

Postgraduate programs are offered by universities and private colleges. Some fields are only available in universities, such as medicine and architecture. Entry into most higher education courses in Australia is highly competitive, and a high level of English proficiency is usually only one of many requirements to be accepted into a postgraduate degree. Each educational provider will have varying entrance requirements, therefore it’s best to contact them individually to check.

Below are the main types of postgraduate degrees offered in most higher education institutions:

Graduate certificate/diploma

These qualifications are commonly designed for specific vocational purposes — either to further develop skills and knowledge already gained in an undergraduate degree or to develop career competency in a new professional area. It usually takes six months to a year of full-time study for the Graduate certificate and one to two years full-time study for the Graduate diploma. Entry normally requires a Bachelor’s Degree or Advanced Diploma which takes six months full-time study or part-time equivalent.

Master’s degree

The completion of a Master’s degrees provide the student with a mastery of a field of study or area of professional practice. It usually takes one to two years of full-time study. The Master’s degree may be offered in three formats:

  • Master's degree (coursework): These courses comprise of coursework, project work and research in varying combinations. Entry usually requires a Bachelor degree, a Bachelor degree (honours) or a Graduate certificate or diploma.
  • Master's degree (research): These courses are dominated by research work and include a dissertation or research project. Entry usually requires a Bachelor degree (honours) or Master's preliminary year.
  • Master's degree (extended): These may comprise of a work-based project. Entry requires a relevant qualification and professional experience.

Doctoral degree

Doctorates are considered the highest degree an individual can earn in a given field of study. It is recognised through an original contribution to a given field in the form of new knowledge or the adaptation, application and interpretation of existing knowledge. They are usually completed over three or four years of full-time study. The doctoral degree may be offered in two formats:

  • Research doctorate (PhD): These programs require candidates to develop an original thesis or dissertation and present a portfolio of the research project that will be assessed externally. Entry requires a Master's degree by research or a Bachelor degree (honours).
  • Professional doctorate: These include advanced study and research in a given professional field. Entry typically requires a Master's degree by research or a Bachelor degree (honours). In addition, an extensive professional experience is required either before or during the course.