While some choices in university affect a few years of your life -- like which major to take while doing your undergrad -- the choice between an undergraduate degree and a postgraduate diploma isn’t one of them. You can’t get a postgraduate diploma without first completing an undergraduate degree. A postgraduate diploma is also shorter and more focused than an undergraduate diploma, which must come first.

Undergraduate Degrees

Undergraduate degrees are the first step in a university or college career. Most people enter into their undergrad directly from or immediately following high school, though this is by no means true of all undergraduate students. A bachelor's degree is usually broad, with some specific knowledge in your major and general knowledge in the discipline. For example, a Bachelor of Arts with a specialization in English literature gives you specific knowledge of literature and a broad arts degree. A Bachelor of Science in chemistry will give you specific knowledge of chemistry and a broad understanding of science.

Length of Undergraduate Programs

Most undergraduate programs take four years to complete, though there are exceptions to this general rule. Typically, the first two years of study are consumed by broad courses and electives while you feel out university or college and get a sense of your interests. The third and fourth year of study deals with the meat of your major, with the bulk of courses required to fulfill your major and the high-level classes in your discipline. These years are when you acquire the specific knowledge that makes you an expert in a field, whatever your chosen field may be. Some undergraduate programs may also have work-study semesters or semesters abroad where you can pick up a new language or valuable work experience.

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Postgraduate Diplomas

After you’ve graduated from your undergrad program, you’ll be eligible for graduate level study at your university or college or at another post-secondary institution. Postgraduate diplomas take less time to complete than a master’s degree and focus intensely on one area of study. Most students pursue a postgraduate diploma in the same field as their undergrad, though this isn’t always required. These diploma programs usually take one year to complete.

Why Pursue a Postgraduate Diploma?

According to Prospects, a job finding service and post-secondary education review organization in the United Kingdom, a postgraduate diploma serves two distinct purposes. These diplomas demonstrate that a student has additional, deep knowledge in their field, which lead to better job prospects. Additionally, a postgraduate diploma can prepare students for further academic work and act as a springboard from which to pursue a master’s degree (which adds a thesis to the postgraduate diploma) or a Ph.D.

About the Author

Living in Canada, Andrew Aarons has been writing professionally since 2003. He holds a Bachelor of Arts in English literature from the University of Ottawa, where he served as a writer and editor for the university newspaper. Aarons is also a certified computer-support technician.