It s not uncommon for professionals to pursue further study after spending some time in the workforce, upgrading or expanding their skill set or gaining the qualifications necessary for further career progression. If you ve begun your career without a qualification, the idea of starting from scratch with a bachelor degree can be disconcerting. While the traditional path is to enter postgraduate study once you have an undergraduate qualification, it s not the only option. We explore some of the alternative pathways below.
What can I study?
At postgraduate level, courses range from graduate certificates and graduate diplomas to masters and doctoral degrees. Graduate certificates and graduate diplomas are completed by coursework, where students attend classes and are assessed on exams and assignments (for the most part). Masters degrees can be completed by coursework or research, with students producing a thesis for assessment. At doctoral level, the most common degree is a research doctorate (PhD), although there are a small number of professional doctorates on offer for those looking for coursework options. There is also the opportunity to study a vocational graduate certificate or vocational graduate diploma in the Vocational Education and Training (VET) sector, although these courses are rare.
If you re looking to enter postgraduate study without an undergraduate degree, your options will generally be limited to coursework programs. That said, you may be able to progress to a research degree down the track once you ve completed a lower postgraduate qualification. The lower the qualification, the greater your chances of gaining entry without a prior qualification. See the Australian Qualifications Framework for more information.
What are the typical entry requirements and how can I meet them?
Postgraduate course entry usually involves completion of a lower qualification. For some programs, however, it is possible to gain entry through alternative arrangements such as professional experience. If you have significant work experience in the field, some institutions will acknowledge the skills and knowledge you ve gained in the workplace as being equal to those you would have gained in undergraduate study. Alternatively, a select number of programs (usually at graduate certificate or graduate diploma level) do not require applicants to have any background in the field academic or professional.
What other options are available?
Australia s education system is designed to allow easy progression between each qualification level. This means that no matter what your desired qualification, it s possible to gain entry using a lower qualification as a pathway. If masters study is on your radar, you may look at starting out with a graduate certificate or graduate diploma. Another option is to complete a bachelor degree with honours, which allows you to combine undergraduate study with research (in the form of a year-long project or minor thesis). An honours degree can also offer a direct pathway to a masters degree by research or a PhD in some fields.
If the length of a bachelor degree concerns you, a Vocational Education and Training (VET) qualification can also help you expand on your professional experience.
What are the next steps?
If you re thinking about postgraduate study, there a few things to consider before you take your next steps. Ask yourself the following questions:
- What type of qualification would you ultimately like to complete? Is it possible to enter this study level directly, or will you need to look at pathways?
- Would undergraduate or lower-level study provide you with the same benefits in terms of career progression and skill development?
- Are flexible study arrangements important? Is online or distance study an option?
- How much time are you willing and able to commit to your studies?
If you ve considered these questions, the next step is to start researching courses and institutions, including entry requirements, pathway options and alternative entry schemes. Once you have narrowed down to a few choices, it s a good idea to seek advice from an academic adviser or representative about your options.