What is postgraduate study?

Postgraduate study is a level above undergraduate study, and consequently places serious academic demands on you as a student. There are essentially two different types of postgraduate study: taught programmes and research degrees.

The majority of taught postgraduate programmes at Exeter are Masters degrees. These normally combine advanced level tuition with the completion of a dissertation under the guidance of an individual member of staff. Many of our taught degrees follow a flexible modular format whereby you can choose from a range of specialist pathways or combine modules from a range of areas so that you can tailor your programme to your own interests.

MA, MSc, MRes

We offer the Master of Arts (MA), Master of Science (MSc) and the Master of Research (MRes). The MRes degree, highly valued by employers, combines advanced subject-specific tuition with advanced level training in the methodological, analytic and research skills which are vital for the undertaking of further research. Also on offer are other specialist taught postgraduate degrees, such as the Master of Business Administration (MBA) and the Master of Laws (LLM).

Several of our subjects also offer the opportunity to study a Masters by Research, giving you the opportunity to gain a Masters degree by carrying out an independent research project in a specific subject under the supervision of an academic expert, rather than via scheduled tuition. For full details see our website:

Part-time study and distance learning

Most Masters programmes are 11-12 months full-time, with many programmes also available for part-time study and lasting roughly twice as long. Please note that international students are subject to visa regulations which normally prevent part-time study. Increasingly we offer distance-learning programmes which require little or no attendance at our campuses and enable you to study for a postgraduate qualification from Exeter, anywhere in the world. Some programmes are delivered via ‘block teaching’; intensive 1-2 week bursts of on-campus lectures, seminars, and activities, which can fit more easily around your working life.

PgCert and PgDip

Some of our Masters degrees can be taken in a shorter form, which omit the dissertation or some of the taught modules. Whereas a Masters programme represents 180 credits, Postgraduate Diplomas (120 credits) and Postgraduate Certificates (60 credits) covering only taught modules are also available in a number of subject areas. We also offer Graduate Diplomas; pre-Master’s programmes for international students which enhance your subject knowledge, study skills, and English ability.

Contact hours

Contact hours vary between programmes: science courses can involve an almost 9-5 schedule of lectures, meetings, and lab sessions; whilst humanities degrees may feature only a few hours of timetabled classes a week, but will require you to undertake a substantial amount of reading and research outside of official teaching hours. If you are studying full-time, expect to be working approximately 40 hours per week towards your degree.

A research degree involves carrying out an extended in-depth study of a particular topic.

At the University of Exeter we offer a range of research degrees: MA or MSc by Research; Master of Philosophy (MPhil); Doctor of Philosophy (PhD); Engineering doctorate (EngD); Doctor of Medicine (MD); Master of Surgery (MS); and professional doctorates.

Follow the links below for further information:

Masters by Research (MScby Res; MAbyRes)
Master of Philosophy (MPhil)
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Engineering doctorate (EngD)
Doctor of Medicine / Master of Surgery (MD/MS)
Professional doctorates

You may also be interested in our frequently asked questions about research degrees.

Masters by Research (MScby Res; MAbyRes)

The MA or MSc by Research offers the opportunity to obtain a research degree, without the commitment of a longer-term PhD. Not to be confused with the taught MRes degree, it is ideal for those in employment interested in pursuing a specific shorter-term research project. Students who are interested in extending their studies have the option to apply to transfer registration to an MPhil or PhD.

Master of Philosophy (MPhil) and Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Research degrees involve an extensive investigation of a particular topic. The MPhil, although a qualification in its own right, is often used as a route to the longer PhD. The latter is only awarded when the results make an original contribution to knowledge in the field, which is normally assessed by a written thesis and oral examination. If you already have a portfolio of suitable quality published work which demonstrates a coherent research direction, you may be eligible for the PhD by Publication. This option reduces the study duration and you will work with a supervisor to produce an integrating chapter explaining how the publications form a coherent whole.

A research degree usually involves the completion of a written thesis, however alternatives to this may be allowed where it is deemed suitable, this may include the presentation of part or all of the thesis in an alternative format, eg as a multimedia document or by means such as a piece of art, or a record of professional practice in the form of a series of case-studies, which must be accompanied by a commentary. If you might be interested in completing a thesis by alternative submission please contact the appropriate department to discuss whether this would be appropriate during the application process. If you publish research you have undertaken during your studies, it may also be possible to include such work in its published form in your thesis.

There are opportunities to study for a University of Exeter PhD without residing locally: in some circumstances it may be appropriate for you to study with us whilst registered as a distance-based student, or if you have access to appropriate academic facilities, as a split-site student. All off-campus students receive supervision and support from our staff and are normally expected to attend the University for limited periods.

A PhD is the highest qualification that a university can award and offers a challenging and exciting opportunity to work at the cutting-edge of research: if you have these qualities we can offer a very supportive environment in which to pursue research. At Exeter, students are also given support through our Researcher Development Programme.

Engineering doctorate (EngD)

An EngD is a four year research degree awarded for industrially relevant research. The degree provides a more vocationally oriented approach to obtaining a doctorate in engineering commensurate with that of a PhD. You can find out more about the EngD degrees we offer on our College of Engineering, Mathematics and Physical Sciences webpages.

Doctor of Medicine (MD) / Master of Surgery (MS)

These professional degrees contain no taught element and like a PhD, are only awarded if an original contribution to knowledge is made. The degrees are normally completed in 2-3 years full-time (4-5 years part-time), and require a clinical degree or equivalent. Please see our Medical School webpages for further information.

Professional doctorates

Professional doctorates combine a significant taught element with production of a research thesis, and are designed to help members of specific professions develop both their academic and professional knowledge (eg educational psychologists, clinical psychologists, teachers and lecturers).

The life of an MA student is busy. When I applied I was aware there would be a step up, but the levels of commitment demanded from you are pretty large. Not so large that they’re unmanageable, but you do have to dedicate a lot of your life to organisation and reading.

That said, this has undoubtedly been the best six months of my life. I can’t wait to begin my dissertation in April.
Tom Oberst, MA Classics and Ancient History

If you're unsure about the difference between undergraduate and postgraduate study, consult our simple explanation table, which lays out the different timeframes, tuition fees, and qualification levels across undergraduate, postgraduate taught, and postgraduate research.