What Is a Postgraduate Degree in Australia?

“Postgraduate” or “post graduate” literally means after you graduate. So you might think a postgraduate degree in Australia is a degree for university graduates, such as a masters or doctorate. That is essentially correct.

A postgraduate degree in Australia is a honours degree, a master’s degree, or a doctorate. They are the only three kinds of university degrees which may be considered post graduate.

Postgraduate degrees differ from associate and bachelor degrees. The latter are undergraduate – that is, open to recent school leavers. Honorary degrees are also not considered postgraduate. They’re based on outstanding contributions to society rather than educational achievement.

Some people also refer to graduate certificates or graduate diplomas as postgraduate degrees, but that’s not right. While they’re postgraduate qualifications for sure, they’re literally postgraduate certificates or diplomas, not degrees.

Another thing to be aware of is that postgraduate education is not just open to university graduates. Graduate certificates, graduate diplomas and even master’s degrees may be available to experienced workers without an undergraduate degree.

Let’s further explore the meaning of a postgraduate degree in Australia, along with the different study options and postgraduate qualifications.

Undergraduate and Postgraduate Meaning

Young psychology graduate

In Australia, “undergraduate” refers to a student who is studying for a bachelor’s degree or other undergraduate degree, such as an associate degree or foundation degree. These programs typically take three to four years to complete and are the first level of university study. They are open to recent school leavers.

“Postgraduate” refers to a student who is studying for a graduate certificate, graduate diploma, master’s degree, PhD, or other advanced qualification. Any postgraduate course is designed for students who have already completed an undergraduate degree. In some cases, they may also be open to mature professionals.

The classification of an honours degree is a bit unclear. “Honours” is typically an extension year to a bachelor degree and is only available to the top students. You might consider it part of an undergraduate degree or, since you complete it after graduating, that it’s genuine post-graduate study. Either way, it’s not what people normally think of when using the terms undergraduate or postgraduate.

Postgraduate Study Examples

If you’re doing postgraduate study or are a postgraduate student, these are examples of courses you could be enrolled in:

  • Bachelor of Arts (Honours)
  • Bachelor of Business (Honours)
  • Bachelor of Science (Honours)
  • Graduate Certificate in Education
  • Graduate Certificate in Project Management
  • Graduate Diploma in Cyber Security
  • Graduate Diploma of Psychology
  • Master of Arts
  • Master of Science
  • Master of Business Administration
  • Master of Education
  • Master of Engineering
  • Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in Arts
  • Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in Science

Earning any postgraduate qualification places you on a higher footing than a straight bachelor-degree holder. Under the Australian Qualifications Framework, bachelor degrees are at level 7 while honours degrees, graduate certificates, and graduate diplomas are at level 8. A masters degree is at level 9 and doctorates are at level 10.

Postgraduate Degree Examples

To show exactly what a postgraduate degree is, here are a dozen examples of degrees widely available in Australia.

  • Bachelor of Arts (Honours)
  • Bachelor of Science (Honours)
  • Doctor of Dental Medicine (DDM)
  • Doctor of Medicine (MD)
  • Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
  • Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM)
  • Master of Arts (MA)
  • Master of Business Administration (MBA)
  • Master of Education (MEd)
  • Master of Engineering (MEng)
  • Master of Laws (LLM)
  • Master of Science (MSc)

Postgraduate Study Without a Degree

Female STEM students

Postgraduate courses, including master’s degrees, may be open to you even if you lack a university degree. While different pathways are available, the most common way is to qualify for a graduate certificate course based on experience and other factors.

Completing a graduate certificate may enable you to then enroll in certain graduate diploma or master’s programs. Master’s programs usually do not allow direct entry without a degree, but often allow entry via graduate certificate pathways. After graduating with a masters, you could go even on to do a doctorate.

So how do you qualify for a graduate certificate course? Each course may have different entry requirements and some may not allow entry without a degree. However, some programs admit students with significant relevant work experience. For example, a graduate certificate in project management may admit applicants with several years of experience in project management roles.

You may also gain entry to some graduate certificate courses if you’ve completed other qualifications, such as a diploma or advanced diploma in a related field. Work histories, portfolios of work, and personal statements are other factors that may be considered. Faculty members may use discretion to ultimately decide who gets admitted.

Honours Degree

Nursing postgraduate course online

In Australia, an honours degree typically requires an additional year of study beyond a bachelor’s degree. To be eligible for an honours program, you need to complete a bachelor’s degree in a related field and achieve good grades.

An honours degree is only available in limited circumstances and only to degree-holders. Normally, in Australia, honours programs are only accessible by invitation or, if you make a request to the faculty, via special entry.

Typically, the university invites the top performing students in their 3-year bachelor-degree programs to do a fourth year of study in the discipline. Graduates from other universities may also apply to be considered for the program. Honours graduates earn both a bachelor degree and an honours degree after four years of university study.

Research normally features more in honours-level study compared to undergraduate courses. For example, students may be required to complete four traditional academic subjects in the first half of the year. For the second half, they may be asked to write a dissertation under the personal supervision of a professor.

Some people might consider an honours degree to be another form of undergraduate study. But, in Australia at least, you typically need to complete your bachelor studies to be eligible, making the degree post graduate. “Honours” doesn’t just mean that you achieved highly during your studies. You must also normally do further study (post graduate study) after earning an undergraduate degree.

Graduate Certificate

A graduate certificate is a postgraduate course usually taken some time after completing a bachelor’s degree. It involves a short program of study in a specific area. The course may provide students with introductory or advanced knowledge and skills. In many countries, the program and qualification are instead known as a postgraduate certificate.

In Australia, graduate certificate programs are widely offered by universities and other higher education institutions. They usually take one semester of full-time study to complete, or the equivalent part-time. Four subjects is the usual length.

Graduate certificate courses are shorter than master’s degree programs, and are often a good option for students who want to develop specialist skills. You avoid committing to a full master’s program but usually have the option of putting any completed subjects towards a master’s degree.

Graduate certificates are offered in numerous subjects, including disciplines within the fields of business, education, health sciences, engineering, and more.

Graduate Diploma

A graduate diploma is a postgraduate qualification that’s similar to a graduate certificate. A “grad dip” involves a more in-depth program of study and typically consists of eight subjects. Programs usually take a year of full-time study to complete, or the equivalent part-time.

Note that the alternative term postgraduate diploma is commonly used abroad. “Postgraduate diplomas” are qualifications that are similar in level and structure to masters degrees, but usually without a major research component.

In Australia, graduate diplomas are more comprehensive than graduate certificates and generally cover more advanced material. They are often seen as a stepping stone to a master’s degree. Students gain a deeper understanding of a subject area, while receiving credit toward a master’s degree if they decide to continue their studies.

In general, graduate diplomas are more intensive and require more coursework than graduate certificates. However, the specific requirements for each program can vary, so it’s a good idea to check the details of the program you are interested in with the institution offering it. Entry requirements for graduate diplomas are often similar to related master’s degrees.

Master’s Degree

Master of Commerce students

A master’s degree is a postgraduate degree that requires one or two years of full-time study to complete in Australia. It is a higher level of education than a bachelor’s degree and is typically pursued by mature students who want to specialise in a particular subject or area of study.

A masters degree can be either course-based or research-based. They may be awarded in a variety of academic fields, including business, education, science, engineering, and the arts.

To be eligible to enroll, students typically need to have completed a bachelor’s degree in a related field or have earned a relevant postgraduate qualification.

Students must also meet any other requirements set by the institution offering the program. For example, Master of Business Administration (MBA) programs almost always require students to have multiple years of management or supervisory experience.


A doctorate is the most advanced kind of postgraduate degree. Rules around admission and completion requirements vary greatly depending on the field. Entry is usually reserved for university graduates with a good honours degree, either first class (1) or second class upper division (2a), or to master’s degree holders.

Doctoral degrees are usually highly research based, requiring completion of a large thesis. Clinical experience is also important in fields such as medicine, psychology, and dentistry. The most common doctoral degree is a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD): a research degree awarded to students who have completed a program of advanced study and research in a particular field or discipline.

One thought on “What Is a Postgraduate Degree in Australia?

  1. Independent research is a feature of most postgraduate degrees (masters by coursework being the main exception). This can be a rewarding and challenging experience. Your ability to work alone for long periods is tested.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *