Postgraduate studies

You’re legally required to study until you’re 18 but anything after that is totally up to you. So why on earth would anyone want to prolong the pain of exams and deadlines beyond the three extra years that most people spend in uni? For starters, it makes you super employable. Read on to find out more about postgraduate studies.

A young woman is looking at a phone. She is considering postgraduate studies. This is a wide-angle image.

What are postgraduate studies?

Essentially it’s any studying at a higher level than an undergraduate degree. It’s worth noting that a postgraduate degree, meaning a degree that you study once you finish minimum three years at uni, covers a range of options. You can choose to do a postgraduate taught course or taught masters. This includes a postgraduate diploma, an MA or MSc, or a research degree like a PhD.

Should I do a masters degree?

This is a question most undergraduates will ask themselves at some point; usually when reality sets in that they’re graduating in 6 months and have no clue what’s next. Scary as that thought may be, it’s not a good enough reason to plunge yourself into postgrad study on its own.

“A few of my friends are going on to masters degree courses. But it seems like they’re only doing it because they don’t know what else to do with themselves,” says Olivia. “I think if you’ve got a proper career plan lined up and a postgrad course will help you get there, fair enough. But I don’t understand the number of people who want to do it just for the sake of it and basically procrastinate starting work.”

How to decide if a postgraduate taught degree is for you

Saiyada Smith, a Careers Advisor at the Careers Group, says: “You need to think about whether this is a viable option for you. Will doing postgraduate studies improve your career prospects and help you stand out from the crowd?”

If you’re finding it hard to answer these questions, your first stop should be the careers library at university. Certain careers undoubtedly benefit from a CV crammed with qualifications. You can tell which ones these are by looking at data that tracks the destinations of higher education leavers. This will show you where candidates in different sectors are ending up, and whether postgraduate study is a popular choice in your chosen industry. The next step would be to start writing up your CV which you can find tips on here.

“A common misconception is that having postgraduate qualifications is like a golden ticket to an industry or career, which isn’t necessarily the case,” adds Saiyada. “The best way to decide is to do as much research as possible. That means talking to employers who recruit in your industry to see if they have any entry requirements or a preference for postgraduate study.”

In other words, although some careers may want evidence of postgrad studies, it isn’t enough on it’s own. Becoming a master of science, a master of philosophy or a master of arts won’t necessarily mean you can walk right into your chosen career.

The difference between undergraduate and postgraduate study

The first thing to get straight in your head is that postgrad is in a completely different league to undergraduate – in terms of how you study and yes, how you socialise. Most of your mates will have started job-hunting, travelling or earning money. Plus there’ll still be undergrad students on your campus slagging off work to remind you of the good ol’ days.

“It’s very different,” Saiyada agrees. “The first big difference is that, unsurprisingly, it’s very much research based. Students often find that, unlike undergrad, where they had quite a bit of structure, postgrad often boils down to coming up with a thesis or dissertation and managing your own time. A lot of people do find this very rewarding and enjoy honing in on a specific area of interest, but others will find it stifling. Talk to the programme provider to find out about what’s actually covered. That way you’ll be able to see if it’s the right fit for you. And make sure you visit open days to get a feel for the place as well.

The good news is that if you fancy postgraduate study but don’t feel ready yet, you can always go back after a few years – or even decades. It’s important to note that a career isn’t the only reason to take on postgrad studying, it can also be really rewarding simply learning about something you’re passionate about, but this does come with a price tag.

Postgraduate degrees tuition fees

If you’ve got this far into the article and you’re still interested, the next big stumbling block is funding. Your degree has probably racked up a fair bit of debt already, so are you prepared to take on more? Postgrad tuition fees can vary and SFE doesn’t normally fund postgraduate degrees meaning you’re pretty much on your own. Luckily, there are lots of funding sources available, from charities to the NHS. Not to mention that even if you’re studying full time you can structure your time to fit in part-time work too.

If this is something you really wanna do, you can even get organised in advance. “I worked for a year before I started my postgraduate course; I also worked one day a week during term time to support myself,” says Wendy. “But I also saved most of my undergraduate student loan in order to be able to pay my fees.”

Another good idea is to approach the programme providing your course to find out what funding they have in place. You can also research the different funding bodies in your chosen area.

Some of the most useful bodies to approach are:

On top of all that, you might be eligible for a Professional and Career Development Loan (a bank loan that’s interest-free until after you finish your course).

Still unsure about postgraduate studies? Why not ask for some opinions from the community on our discussion boards?

Next Steps

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By Hannah Jolliffe

Updated on 25-Mar-2022