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Articles > Money January, 16, 2013

Is it worth doing a postgraduate degree?

Joanna Hemingway
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Now that I’m in my final year of my undergraduate degree, one of the questions I’ve had to ask myself is whether I want to apply for a Masters.

Is it worth doing a postgraduate degree?

Photo by Suzanne Walker

I’ve always thought that one of the reasons that postgraduate study is so attractive to final years is because we have been on what I like to describe as an ‘educational conveyer belt’.

For the last seventeen years, we have been on this conveyer belt of education. We’ve had the opportunity to drop off at 16 and 18, but we’ve chosen to stay on. Sure, it doesn’t necessarily stop you from having a part-time/summer job but education has been somewhat of a paramount structure for the overwhelming majority of our lives.

The idea of ‘falling off’ that conveyor belt can seem pretty scary, particularly for those that have very little experience of the 9 to 5 working world. And yet, the fact that the benefits of postgraduate are generally less clear-cut compared to A-Levels/undergraduate study, as well as the costs and lack of funding opportunities, it can be a terribly risky investment.

I have thought long and hard about whether postgraduate study would benefit me and, given my personal circumstances, I would prefer to jump straight into a job if I can. However, I thought I would share what I consider to be the key questions that anyone considering postgraduate study should ask themselves:

Is it going to enhance your career prospects?

Not all vocations require a postgraduate degree, and some recruiters may in fact see you as ‘overqualified.’ Some companies may see it as a bonus and others will treat you the same as a candidate with just an undergraduate degree. This will vary between career paths and between companies.

In terms of trying to find out the benefits of postgraduate study, it may be useful to search for the LinkedIn profiles of those with the degree you’re thinking about studying. The scope is limited and it’s probably skewed towards those who are in a decent job, but it’s a start to see what kind of positions that the degree can set you up for. Similarly, you could also use LinkedIn to find those in roles which you are interested in order to look at their education background.

It may also be worth finding job advertisements for positions of interest and considering if the skills/knowledge you would gain in postgraduate study would allow you to better match the person specification for these roles. After all, general skills like teamworking and independent research are already ticked off by the time you’ve completed your undergraduate, so the emphasis can be on more practical skills or in-depth knowledge of a subject area.

Have you looked into part-time/distance learning?

Just because you’re not on campus doesn’t mean you should ever stop learning. Part-time or distance learning courses can be a great way to supplement your education whilst you’re earning. Postgraduate qualifications range from Certificates (PGCert), Diplomas (PGDip) and Masters degrees (MA/MSc). Don’t think you’re restricted to universities either, Chartered Institutes such as the Chartered Institute of Marketing (CIM) also offer their own qualifications that are widely recognised by employers.

Plus, there are plenty of free courses if you just want to brush up your education in your spare time. For a taste of what’s out there, have a look at Coursera, iTunes U and Lifehacker U.

Would it be more beneficial to revisit it in future?

By thinking of the educational conveyor belt, you can see how there may be a pressure to sign up for a postgraduate degree immediately after finishing your undergraduate. Yet, even if you have a desire to do postgraduate study, it may be more beneficial to revisit this plan several years down the line.

Firstly, you may benefit from being in a better position both financially and experience-wise, which can make postgraduate study less of a gamble. Also, for some degrees having relevant professional experience is even beneficial in the application process and it will allow you to apply skills gained from employment to your studies.

An employer put it to me once “universities are always going to take your money”. In short, opportunities for postgraduate study are always going to be there. Given the current economic climate, graduate job opportunities tend to be harder to come by.

You know it’s not an extension of your undergrad, right?

Going back again to the education conveyor belt, it’s very easy to think that a postgraduate degree would just be more of the same. As fun as your student years are, the reality is that postgraduate study isn’t going to be another chance of being a fresher as the workload is likely to be more intense.
Unless you plan on doing a PhD after, you’re only delaying the inevitable ending of the education conveyer belt and you may in fact be limiting your opportunities in the process.

In summary, postgraduate study isn’t for everyone. If you’re unsure, scope out those in the jobs you want, consider non-campus based options and remember to get advice from a variety of sources (academics, careers services and postgraduates are generally good places to start). If you’re still on the fence, you may find taking some time out can actually benefit your experience, so don’t feel pressured to sign up for a course right away.

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  1. Lynn Yu

    Thanks for sharing. I’ll definitely consider these questions and make a judgement on whether to continue. I see actuary as my ideal career, but it requires many exams after Uni. My plan is to work as a trainee while study for exams. I’ll do a master after few years of work, one is to save up some money and second is, the experience I’ll gain from the profession would benefit the course.

  2. Alice

    Very good article.

    For the job I want to go into I need a masters. I’d never even be considered for a job in my chosen field without one. Nevertheless I am very glad I didn’t go straight from undergrad to postgrad, I took a year out and worked in France, which gave me a) experience of the outside world, b) skills that are coming in very useful in my degree, and c) time to think things through and decide that a masters really was what I wanted to do.

    Not all jobs require a masters though, and it’s the other skills that you don’t learn at uni that are often more important.

    I would definitely recommend anyone who’s not sure to take a year out to decide, (and maybe save up some money too). Think about working abroad as well, such as teaching English, as it will look very attractive on your application if you do decide to do a masters. And if you decide after a year that it’s not for you then you haven’t lost anything.

  3. Jay N

    This is a very good article and raises some important points.

    I think the main reason we attend any courses is better our skills and knowledge resulting in getting a good job. Good jobs are increasingly competitive to comeby especially in the current climate and having a good under-graduate degree is definitely not enough.

    There is research to suggest employers don’t actually understand what the value of Post-graduate qualification is and this is not helped by the graduates inability to identify what their transferable skills are having completed post-graduate study.

    In addition, you will find that there is great variance in post-graduate courses into what they actually provide in terms of skills as this is left to the faculty.

    I forsee that Universities will gradually raise the cost of Post-graduate study to fall in line with the cost of Undergraduate study eventually.

  4. Ravi Chavda

    Yes very nice article.

    I don’t think studying a postgraduate degree will enhance an individual because if a undergraduate degree didn’t help in getting a job I just don’t see what a postgraduate degree will do.

    A postgraduate degree would look nice but I don’t feel it will be enough to get the extra attention of employers over other candidates applying for the same job. These days its more about who you know in the company than what your CV contains.

    For some people doing a postgraduate degree is only the right option because finding a job after doing a undergraduate degree has been hard therefore they want to fill the gap in their life.

  5. Nice article!

    I can’t help thinking that some I know are going on to do a Masters because they feel the need to stay on the ‘conveyor belt’. I came to study my undergraduate degree at the age of 27 after leaving college at 18, it’s been a much more fulfilling and rewarding experience than I feel it would have been if I’d have started at 18.

    The only reason I can think I’d like to do a Masters at this point is just to say I’ve got one, it’s a person achievement I’d like to accomplish, and one I’m sure others would choose to add to their list. I think I’ll be doing this a few years down the line, at a distance, and when I can afford it.

    I read one article about postgrad funding recently, and even for someone who is no stranger to managing money it was a little scary. Maybe it’s easy to stay on the conveyor belt when comprehension of said money maters is not as ingrained.

    Karl.