Postgraduate conversion courses are often necessary if you are thinking of starting a career which your undergraduate degree didn't prepare you for.
Students often pick an undergraduate course for their interest in the subject – it is not always a career-motivated decision. This is especially common for arts and humanities subjects: however intellectually satisfying they may be, they do not necessarily prepare you for the job market. Conversion courses allow you to explore a vocational field and enhance your job prospects – or, if you have already started working, can help you make that career change. If you are worried that you're unprepared for the job you want, a postgraduate conversion course could be a real investment in your future.
What are postgraduate conversion courses?
While a conversion course normally implies a degree that will prepare you for a specific career path, many courses could be considered ‘conversion' in that you are taking up a new area of study that does not relate closely to your undergraduate degree. Postgraduate conversion degrees are usually year-long courses. However, depending on the qualification, some can last up to two years, or as little as nine months (for example for a professional certificate or diploma).
Entry requirements for postgraduate conversion courses
Entry onto postgraduate conversion courses in the UK is usually dependent on your results at undergraduate level: the bar is generally set at a second-class honours degree. If you are an international student, you will need to check the individual requirements of the university at which you want to study.
What can I convert to?
Not all courses are automatically defined as ‘conversion courses', so go to university course listings online to find out what is available in the discipline you'd like to study. Some of the most popular vocational postgraduate conversion courses include:
A CPE or GDL qualification in law
A surprisingly high number of solicitors and barristers don't study law at undergraduate level. They simply take advantage of a law conversion course, typically the CPE or GDL. These are a way of fast-tracking your progression onto the Bar professional training course or the legal practice course that law professionals need to complete.
Converting to property: the postgraduate qualifications
A postgraduate conversion course in property that’s accredited by RICS (the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors) will equip you with an all-round knowledge of the property sector, with a special focus on the business perspective. Options range from distance learning to full-time study.
Studying science and psychology at postgrad level
If you are considering a science conversion course you are likely to have studied science or mathematics as an undergraduate. However, there are science conversion courses in fields of study such as psychology and information science that are open to applicants of any discipline. Psychology masters courses are extremely popular with those who have studied marketing at undergraduate level and can be helpful for a career in the marketing industry.
A conversion course in IT
An IT conversion course can offer you practical computer skills and theory that you'll be able to transfer to a working environment. There are numerous universities offering conversion courses in IT; specialised knowledge of technology in combination with your undergraduate expertise can open up exciting new opportunities – as Professor Uday Reddy, Head of the School of Computer Science at Birmingham, explains: ‘Some students combine the expertise from their original discipline with the knowledge of IT gained in a conversion course to open up new career opportunities. A biology graduate may do an IT conversion course and specialise in bioinformatics; a social sciences graduate may combine IT knowledge to specialise in economic or financial modelling.'
Get into teaching: the postgrad route
A PGCE is an intensive teacher training course that will get you up to speed and ready to tackle the classroom. There is a range of funding options available as well as paid schemes that allow you to learn while you work (such as School Direct or Teach First). Applicants come from a wide range of disciplines and the qualification often leads straight to employment.
So, what's the next step?
Whether you want to study a philosophy course at St Andrew's because you have a keen interest in the subject or risk management at Nottingham because you want to pursue a career in insurance, it is important that you start to consider the career path you want to follow and how a conversion course will fit into that.
If you are considering a vocational course, do some research into what potential employers are looking for before you make a decision. You might also want to look into work experience opportunities to make sure you’re pursuing a career that’s right for you. See what training employers offer, too – note that some will sponsor you to complete a conversion course if it will benefit the business.