If you already have a degree and want to pursue further study, two options are a postgraduate diploma and a Master of Business Administration, or MBA. These are both offered at the graduate level and they help students develop practical skills, expand knowledge in a specific field and significantly improve career prospects. However, they have many notable differences that you should consider before taking the plunge into further study.

Postgraduate Diploma Program

A postgraduate diploma is a program of study available to graduates who have a bachelor’s degree. While the U.K., Canada and Australia offer a wide range of postgraduate diploma programs, in the United States, the closest equivalent is the postgraduate certification. In other countries, the program may be called an advanced diploma or postbaccalaureate. A postgraduate diploma may be an academic course or a vocational course, such as a legal practice course or a nursing course.

MBA Postgraduate Degree

With over 2,500 postgraduate MBA programs offered across the world, it is the most popular professional degree program available. Unlike the postgraduate diploma, the MBA is very much an American institution, first introduced to students at U.S. universities at the beginning of the 20th century. Some of the world's top entrepreneurs have MBAs on their resumes, including Walmart CEO Doug McMillon and Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg.

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If you're wondering about the difference between the MBA and a master's degree, the MBA is simply a more specific designation of the degree you're pursuing at the master's level. An MBA focuses on skills necessary for careers in business and management. Other master's degrees are available in a wide range of subjects, from fine art to criminal justice.

Length of Course

The length of a postgraduate diploma varies from six months to two years, typically consisting of two to three semesters of work. The traditional MBA postgraduate degree program in the U.S. takes two years, but one-year programs are now offered by many institutions. The MBA may also be studied online or on a part-time basis, which suits anyone who is not able or willing to commit to an extended period of study.

Part-time executive MBA (EMBA) programs are designed for professionals with more managerial experience than traditional MBA candidates.

Course Content and Assessment

The postgraduate diploma program focuses on hands-on, practical training for a specific job market, while the MBA involves more theoretical learning. Most MBA programs are based on a core curriculum of subjects such as accounting, business ethics, economics, marketing and management but also includes elective courses to let students pursue what interests them the most. MBA students may be given the option of taking part in an international exchange program.

One of the biggest differences between an MBA and a postgraduate diploma is that the postgraduate diploma does not include a dissertation or thesis. Instead, you are assessed by exams, assignments, coursework or a combination of all three. Traditionally, the MBA is assessed by a thesis.

The framework and length varies depending on the institution and the line of research you undertake. Some institutions offer MBA students the opportunity to pursue other forms of research instead of a thesis. Some MBA programs don't require a thesis at all, while others require students to successfully defend their thesis in order to pass.

Academic and Other Admission Requirements

For a postgraduate diploma, a bachelor's degree or an advanced certificate in a relevant area is required. If you've been working instead of studying, you may be accepted into the program with significant relevant professional experience, for example, working at the management level in marketing for a marketing diploma.

For an MBA, candidates generally need to have at least a few years of professional work experience under their belts. Applicants must also submit Graduate Management Admission Test scores or Graduate Record Examination scores, academic transcripts, letters of reference and an essay or statement of purpose explaining why they want to pursue an MBA.

Non-native English speakers usually have to submit Test of English as a Foreign Language scores or International English Language Testing System scores to prove adequate English skills.

Cost of Course

A postgraduate diploma or certificate costs less than an MBA. For example, the cost for a UCLA Extension certificate in business administration is $12,450, while an MBA degree from UCLA costs $97,110. If you pursue an MBA at Harvard or another top business school in the U.S., be prepared to pay as much as $100,000 or more in tuition and fees.

The cost of both a postgraduate diploma and an MBA can vary greatly. It depends on the program you choose and the availability of scholarships and other types of financial aid. You should also consider the income you may miss from not working and how much you will need to spend on housing, commuting and the necessary books and equipment.

Many schools offer aid programs for students who can demonstrate financial need. Visit the school website or contact the financial aid office to find out more. Scholarships, grants, fellowships and employer sponsorship are also available to candidates who meet certain eligibility criteria. The U.S. Department of State for Education's College Affordability and Transparency Center has an online calculator to let prospective students determine the cost of studying at a particular school.

How to Choose

When deciding whether to pursue a postgraduate diploma or an MBA, you should take several factors into account. For many students, the high cost of an MBA is prohibitive. However, if finances are not an issue, a good place to start is to think about what you want to achieve from further study.

A vocational postgraduate diploma might be the right choice if you have a specific career goal in mind, such as law, marketing or teaching. This type of program often includes a practical element, such as work experience or residential courses, which may lead to paid employment after the course. The postgraduate diploma is ideal if you want to move into an area that is linked to your undergraduate course, such as a diploma in education. Because the postgraduate diploma is a shorter course, it’s easier than an MBA to fit around existing employment or during a career break.

A postgraduate diploma may also be the right path for you if you're not sure about going into academia or don't want to study to the extent an MBA requires. On the other hand, if an in-depth, research-based program appeals to you, then the MBA is for you. An MBA is designed for people wishing to pursue a career in business and management, whether in the public sector, private industry or government. Some schools require that MBA candidates complete an internship at a company or organization, which can lead to concrete job opportunities after the program.

Pursuing the Postgraduate Diploma and MBA

Choosing between a postgraduate diploma or certificate and an MBA doesn't need to be an either-or decision. Some students pursue both a postgraduate diploma and an MBA. Many postgraduate diploma programs offer direct entry into MBA programs at partner universities. If you are already enrolled in an MBA program but your situation changes, such as if you have too many other commitments, it may be possible to graduate with a postgraduate diploma and pursue an MBA at a later date.

About the Author

Claire Gillespie has been writing and editing for 18 years. She has written about high school and higher education for private clients and various websites, including SheKnows and Reader's Digest.