I'm Brazilian and am currently trying to apply to this scholarship in New Zealand. However, when asked which "level of study" I will apply for, I see the following list:

  • PhD
  • Masters course
  • Masters thesis
  • Post-Graduate Diploma
  • Post-Graduate Certificate

I only understand what a PhD is. To me, both masters sound like the same thing (in Brazil we have a masters course that you conclude when you present the thesis), and I haven't the faintest idea of what is the difference between a post-graduate diploma and a certificate.

So what's the difference between these four categories and are they known as such throughout every English speaking country or are they specific terms used only in NZ?

(also I'm not sure which tags to use here, so correct me if necessary)

3 Answers 3

  • A Phd is a three or four year degree awarded following research and a thesis.

  • A Masters course is a taught postgraduate degree usually of one or two years duration.

  • A Masters thesis is a research degree of one or two years duration awarded following research and a thesis.

  • A Post-Graduate Diploma is usually two-thirds of a taught masters and is awarded to someone who did the examination component but did not complete a dissertation.

  • A Post-graduate Certificate is usually one-third of a taught masters and is awarded to someone who left after completing half of the course credits.

These terms would be used in areas based on the British University system, but all have analogues in the Bologna Process.


In the specific context you're asking about these refer to qualifications at different levels of the New Zealand Qualifications Framework, which are documented in detail (PDF). The short answer, though, is to pick the name of the qualification that matches what you're planning to enrol in. The institution will list it with one of those terms specifically; if you don't know what you're going to enrol in yet, the first thing to do is figure that out.

The two "Postgraduate X" qualifications are the least widespread terms and do have some New Zealand-specific subtleties in terms of how they're offered. A Postgraduate Certificate requires 60 credits at level 8, and represents half a year of full-time tertiary study at an advanced level. A Postgraduate Diploma is 120 credits of same, representing a full year. These are defined on pages 17 & 18. Note that these are different (at a higher level) than the similarly-named "Graduate Certificate/Diploma" qualifications.

Both Certificates and Diplomas can be separate qualifications that you enrol in deliberately, commonly at polytechnics and non-degree-granting institutions. They're also often exit points for people who leave part-way through a longer qualification. These will require an undergraduate degree as prerequisite.

A Master's Degree by coursework (which ought to be what the form says, but "Masters course" is a plausible error) is:

at least 120 to 240 credits and is achieved through coursework consisting of courses, project work and research in varying combinations. It may build on undergraduate study in the same academic field, or it may build on the more generic graduate attributes of an undergraduate degree in other fields, or in some cases on relevant professional experience

There is no thesis in a coursework Master's. 240 credits is two years of full-time study.

A Master's degree not further specified (in context here, with "by coursework" as a separate category) is either:

  • a 90- to 120-point thesis following a postgraduate diploma or Honours degree (one year); or
  • a 240-point qualification involving both coursework and a thesis, essentially the postgraduate diploma immediately followed by the thesis (two years, commonly officially "MSc part 1" and "MSc part 2").

All forms of Master's degree are defined on page 18.

A PhD is a 360-credit thesis, representing three years of full-time research (pages 20-21). It will generally require a Master's or Honours degree as prerequisite.

All of these are different qualifications that will be offered specifically by universities. You should pick the one that matches what you're planning to enrol in, which will be named directly as one of these categories.

  • Did you mean "masters thesis" when you talked about the two options of either 90- to 120-points thesis or the 240-point qualification?
    – bruxabruxa
    Jan 28, 2017 at 2:57
  • Yes. I'm not sure what other kind of thesis they could be. They are theses in Master's degrees. Jan 28, 2017 at 3:01
  • I think I don't understand your question. In both of the thesis cases, the thesis is what makes it a Master's degree; the distinction is whether the relevant coursework has already been completed as part of another qualification or not. Jan 28, 2017 at 3:31
  • Oh, I see now. I'm sorry, I was confused.
    – bruxabruxa
    Jan 28, 2017 at 3:46

They are asking how long you want to stay and what type of degree you plan to pursue.

You probably have a lot of thinking to do about these questions before you apply: it looks like there is a lot of information and resources on that website to help you, and if you are unclear on anything I would suggest contacting them for more information.

My assumption, though it isn't immediately clear, is that there would be a separate application process for the institution you will actually be visiting, though I could be wrong and maybe there is just a very streamlined process.

These are all fairly standard terms, the last two are the only ones that seem atypical to me, but it is clear they are completed after a bachelors but are less than a masters.

A PhD is a doctoral degree, doutorado. My assumption, though it might be wrong, is that "masters course" means you are coming just to take a course, "masters thesis" means you plan to do your research for your masters in NZ.

(edit: I'll keep this answer here for now, but Brian Thompsett's answer has a much better clarification of the specific meanings of each)

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