Choosing Between A Postgraduate Diploma Honours Degree What You Need To Know

Starting on the journey of postgraduate education is an important step – any further study beyond undergraduate will open doors to advanced knowledge, give you specialised skills, and improve your career opportunities. The challenge is knowing what kind of further study to pursue; postgraduate diploma vs honours degree?

What is a postgraduate diploma?

A postgraduate diploma (PGD) is a higher education qualification that provides a deeper understanding of a specific field or profession, without the research component of an honours degree. It's a bridge between undergraduate and postgraduate studies.

  • Duration: A postgraduate diploma can generally be completed in one year of full-time study. Part-time options, including online options, are often available for those with jobs.
  • Structure: The curriculum is coursework-focused, with an emphasis on practical application and real-world scenarios. Assessment methods may include assignments, projects and exams. Typically, a postgraduate diploma does not involve a research component.
  • Fields and specialisations: Postgraduate diplomas are available across a wide array of disciplines, from business and technology to healthcare and humanities. They generally offer specialised knowledge and skills appropriate for the demands of specific industries.

Read our full article on postgraduate diplomas and if you need one.

What is an honours degree?

An honours degree is a postgraduate qualification that follows on from a standard bachelor's degree. The term “honours” signifies a higher level of academic achievement and often involves an independent research project, which can potentially lead to a master’s degree.

  • Duration: Typically, an honours degree takes one year full-time, or could be offered part-time or online, over two years.
  • Structure: The typical honours degree involves both coursework and a research component. The research project allows students to focus on a topic of their choice and aims to develop independent critical thinking.
  • Academic requirements: It usually requires the completion of a relevant three-year bachelor's degree. The specific entry requirements may vary depending on the university and the discipline, but a minimum average mark between 60% and 70%, is generally expected. Some programmes may have additional prerequisites, such as specific courses taken during undergraduate studies.
  • Fields and specialisations: An honours degree offers the opportunity to specialise further in your area of interest.

Key differences and similarities

Academic demands:

  • Postgraduate diplomas focus on coursework, practical application and skills development. They are designed to deepen knowledge without an extensive research component.
  • An honours degree can comprise a research project or both coursework and a research project. The emphasis is on critical thinking and academic research skills.

Duration of study:

  • Both are typically completed in one year of full-time study, with part-time options available.


  • Both qualifications are widely recognized but the level of recognition may vary.

What are the career prospects and advancement of each?

Job opportunities:

  • Postgraduate diplomas open doors to specialised roles in various industries, emphasising practical skills and application.
  • Honours degrees provide a strong foundation for research-oriented roles, academia, and positions requiring a deeper understanding of a specific field.

What does industry prefer?

  • The preference may depend on the industry and specific job requirements. Some industries value the practical skills gained through a postgraduate diploma, while others may consider the research and analytical skills gained during an honours degree a priority.

Continuing educational opportunities

  • Both qualifications can serve as stepping stones to further education, for example, a master's degree.
  • The costs involved depend on where you chose to study rather than whether you are studying an honours degree or a postgraduate diploma.
  • Financial assistance or scholarships are available for both postgraduate diplomas and honours degrees.

Both postgraduate diplomas and honours degrees are generally recognised globally, although it may depend on academic institution and the particular industry. It’s a good idea to investigate whether the credits earned during your postgraduate diploma or honours degree are transferable to other institutions, whether at home or abroad. At the same time, think about how your prospective qualification aligns with local and global job market demands. The more information you gather, the easier your final choice will be.

About The IIE’s Varsity College

The Independent Institute of Education (The IIE) of which Varsity College is a brand, is South Africa’s largest registered and accredited private provider of higher education. At Varsity College we understand that no two students are the same or learn the same. That’s why we make sure a student’s education is shaped around them; how they like to learn, what they are passionate about, what makes them tick, and what makes them thrive. Our Education by Design approach allows students to grow into their best, and creates a space where they can live, learn and play – their way.