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Preparing for postgraduate study

Postgraduate study at The Open University is challenging, stimulating and rewarding.

Learn what skills you’ll need, how long your studies will take and how your previous studies could count towards your qualification.

Get ready to study

What study skills will I need?

To study successfully at postgraduate level, you’ll need to be able to:

  • find and read research material that has been written for experts rather than students
  • critically analyse findings – including statistical analysis
  • follow academic convention when presenting findings and ideas, references and bibliographies
  • carry out reflective practice (relating others’ theories to your own studies).

An undergraduate degree or equivalent is the ideal preparation for postgraduate study – although other qualifications, university-level study or professional experience may also be appropriate. You’ll find detailed information about entry requirements in the qualification descriptions, which also include:

  • other knowledge and skills you might need (such as level of English if it’s not your first language)
  • requirements relating to the context of your study (for example, education students may need access to a group of learners; healthcare students may need access to a healthcare setting)
  • diagnostic quizzes to help you decide if you’re ready
  • advice about routes through the qualification
  • time limits for completion.

Find out more about skills for postgraduate study.

The study materials were written in such a way that a musician like myself with no formal business background could make sense of everything.

Barry D’Souza, MBA

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The support system at the OU is very good, for example support for study skills (which after twenty years out of education I found useful) and the careers service.

Sophie Hearn, MA in History

How long will it take?

The time it takes to complete a qualification depends on the number of credits you study in a year. Most postgraduate students study part time, at the rate of 60 credits a year – which requires studying for about 16 hours a week. The table below gives you an idea of how long it will take to complete a qualification. These are just typical examples, so please check qualification descriptions for the most accurate information. It may be possible to study for some qualifications at a faster rate, but most people find this too intense, especially if they’re working at the same time.

Time required to complete typical postgraduate qualifications

QualificationCreditsTime required
Masters degree1803 years part-time study
Postgraduate diploma1202 years part-time study
Postgraduate certificate601 year part-time study

The Open University is the only university in the UK dedicated to distance learning. You can study as you work, study at your own pace, and take your studies with you as you move.

The real joy of it is the flexibility and being able to squeeze those study hours into my normal working week and not having to stop work to do it.

Arwen Bailey, MSc in Systems Thinking in Practice

Credit transfer

If you’ve successfully completed some postgraduate study elsewhere, you may be able to count it towards your OU postgraduate qualification – reducing the number of modules you need to study. You need to apply for credit transfer as soon as possible, and certainly before you register for your first module. For more information, visit our credit transfer website.

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