Postgraduate study

Whether its a masters, a PhD, or a diploma, postgraduate study can help your career. But, is the extra time and money worth it? The Mix investigates.

boy looking confused with chin in hands

Confused about your next step after university?

What is postgraduate study?

Put simply, it’s studying at a higher level than an undergraduate degree. This could be a taught subject, such as a postgraduate diploma, an MA or MSc, or a research degree like a PhD.

Should I do a masters?

This is a question most undergraduates will ask themselves at some point; usually when reality sets in that they’re not going to be a student forever. 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 postgraduate 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 to put off the inevitable of starting work.”

So, is further study for you?

Saiyada Smith, a Careers Advisor at the Careers Group, says: “The individual needs to think about whether this is a viable option for them. Will doing postgraduate study 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, and you can identify these 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.

“A common misconception is that having postgraduate qualifications is like a golden ticket through 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 and talk to employers who recruit in your industry to see if they have a preference for postgraduate study.”

The difference between undergraduate and postgraduate

The first thing to get straight in your head is that postgraduate study differs enormously from undergraduate – in terms of how you study and yes, how you socialise. Most of your mates will have disappeared and started job-hunting, travelling or earning money. Plus there will be a gaggle of freshers reminding you of the fun you had three years ago.

“It is very different,” agrees Saiyada. “The first big difference is that it’s very much study based. Students often find that, unlike undergraduate study, where they had lectures, timetables and a lot of structure, postgraduate study often boils down to independent research and managing your own time. Many students do find this very rewarding and enjoy honing in on a specific area of interest, whereas others find it stifling. Talk to the programme provider to find out as much as possible about what is actually covered to see if it’s the right fit and match for you.”

And if you fancy postgraduate study but don’t feel ready yet, you can always go back after a few years – or even decades.

Postgraduate funding

If you’ve got this far 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? Most postgraduates can’t get student loans. Luckily, there are lots of funding sources available, from charities to the NHS, and you can structure your time to fit in part-time work too.

If you know your path includes postgraduate study, you can even get organised in advance. “I worked for a year before I started my postgraduate course and 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.”

Approach the programme providing your course to find out what funding they have in place, and research the different funding bodies in your chosen area.

Some of the most useful bodies to approach are:

You could also be eligible for a Professional and Career Development Loan, a bank loan that’s interest-free until after you finish your course.

Next Steps

  • Chat about this subject on our Discussion Boards.
  • Need help but confused where to go locally? Download our StepFinder iPhone app to find local support services quickly.

By Hannah Jolliffe

Updated on 29-Sep-2015