Academic courses are more likely to demand essays and logical reasoning, whereas vocational courses are about practical hands-on training and learning tangible skills.
Most courses these days are designed to offer elements of both, to provide a well-rounded learning experience, but there will be some notable distinctions.
Here are five ways vocational courses are different to academic courses.
Well, the exact schedule of a vocational course will depend on a number of things, but you can expect to be in class attendance for a significant part of the week – if not every day.
Academic courses have fewer contact hours because you need time to go away to read and do research. Whereas vocational subjects take a more hands-on approach and might require specialist equipment you can’t access yourself. Plus, they’re designed to get you ready for specific employment, so are more likely to mirror a normal working week.
As Laura Murphy, who studied a postgraduate diploma in magazine journalism at Cardiff University, says: "It was a bit of a shock to begin with, especially compared to my undergraduate degree. I went from 12 contact hours a week to more than 35! But I soon settled into a routine."
When you study an academic course, you’ll end up looking at a wide range of topics alongside your specific subject; psychology also involves maths and biology, for example, while politics draws from history and economics. Plus, you’ll have the opportunity to produce a range of work from within your field of study.
Vocational courses are designed to set you up with one specific set of skills, and while the course may offer some variety, the subject will ultimately always be the same.
Academic courses usually involve attending lectures and seminars with dozens – if not hundreds – of other students, and while you may end up talking to the lecturer directly for one reason or another, it’s unlikely you’ll spend much one-on-one time together.
Students get a lot more hands-on training during vocational courses, and you’ll likely build a rapport with your lecturer – which will make it much harder to miss classes and deadlines!
Since academic postgraduate courses require a lot of non-contact time for reading and research, and often take a lecture/presentation format, it can be harder to get to know your fellow course mates (especially as the lure of the student bar isn’t as great as it was during your undergraduate years).
But vocational courses mean you’ll be spending a lot of time with your classmates and will be expected to work together on projects and exercises, so you may find yourselves socialising together to let off some steam!
Work experience is important for all students, regardless of the subject or type of course they study, but if you’re studying a vocational postgraduate qualification you may find that work experience is a mandatory part of your course, and because you’re learning practical skills the company you end up doing work experience with will probably have higher expectations of you than other candidates.
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