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A postgraduate diploma is an advanced academic qualification. Depending on the particular institution and country, this type of diploma can also be called a graduate diploma, post-baccalaureate or advanced diploma. All of these equate to about the same level of study, though some programs may take longer to complete than others. A bachelor's degree is the most common prerequisite for acceptance into this kind of program.
Universities in the U.S. don't normally offer postgraduate diplomas. They are quite prevalent in many other countries, however, including much of Europe, Asia, South America and most member states of the Commonwealth of Nations. This type of academic path can offer specialization or concentration in a subject previously studied at the bachelor's level. In other cases, it may be possible to study toward a postgraduate diploma in a subject unrelated to one's first degree studies. Doing so can serve as a bridge either onto a new career path or into master's level studies.
Advanced diplomas often attract candidates who want to distinguish themselves with a higher level of study, or to pursue an interest area in greater depth while avoiding some of the perceived drawbacks of other postgraduate qualifications. A postgraduate diploma usually costs less and takes less time to attain than a master's degree or doctorate. It also does not commonly require the writing and defense of a thesis.
Another reason some students prefer to pursue this kind of academic qualification is that many of these programs are seen as having a less theoretical and more market-oriented curriculum. As well, other forms of postgraduate study frequently require a great deal of independent research from the student, whereas postgraduate diplomas are usually based mainly on coursework. For students wanting an even shorter program of advanced study that tends to be lighter on research and theory, postgraduate certificates are becoming increasingly common.
It is not always necessary to choose between a postgraduate diploma and a master's degree. Many universities will permit the transfer of credits from a postgraduate diploma program into a related master's program for students who decide to continue their studies. Some universities even guarantee direct entry into their master's programs for students who have successfully attained particular advanced diplomas. There are also master's programs that offer the option of opting out of the full-length program once enough credits have been earned to be granted a diploma in the subject instead of a master's degree.