One of the biggest questions facing students in their final year of college is ‘what to do next’? The three main options at the moment are:
Look for a Job
Do a postgraduate course and
Take some time out to travel.
However, at times students can take a somewhat haphazard approach to the selection of a postgraduate course. This can ultimately lead to a difficult and very expensive year or more of study in a less than interesting course. So it’s very important to consider all angles when thinking of further study.
Reasons for Pursuing Further Study
Here are some of the most common reasons for choosing further study:
Wanting to specialise in an area.
Want to change career direction.
Required as part of particular career path.
Desire to broaden knowledge base.
Not knowing what else to do.
Not ready to begin career/find a job.
General interest in a particular area.
Types of Postgraduate Study
These may help you to become more 'vocational' - closer to fields of work, professions e.g. Higher Diploma in Education for teaching. The subject area may be different to that studied in your first degree. Sometimes it is possible to 'convert' into a masters e.g. from IT undergrad to business masters. A good quality first degree required for many courses.
A masters degree is one of the most common postgraduate qualifications. Most courses contain a substantial taught element, although this may involve fewer hours of teaching than an undergraduate degree. Some are primarily or entirely research courses.
Titles awarded include (but are not limited to):
MA (Master of Arts)
MBA (Master of Business Administration)
MEd (Master of Education)
MPhil (Master of Philosophy)
MBS (Master of Business Studies)
MSc (Master of Science)
The most common format for a masters course is a combination of taught modules followed by a research project, although there is considerable variation. Most taught masters courses are one year in length if completed full time, or two years if studied on a part time basis.
The MBA (Masters in Business Administration) is one of the most popular postgraduate degrees, and the qualification is recognised worldwide. It is a form of taught masters course, but because of its popularity and relation to the business world it is often treated as a separate type of qualification.
Most MBA courses take around one year's full time study to complete, but some take up to two years. Many courses are available on a part time or distance learning basis.
Most MBA courses are not only postgraduate, but also ‘post experience’ courses, with several years in industry expected. MBA courses are often very expensive, but MBA graduates also have high average incomes.
Doctorate - PhD
A traditional PhD is a substantial piece of original research, presented in a thesis (essentially a long essay or report) and examined by a viva (an oral exam in which the candidate is questioned about their work). It takes several years to write a thesis by research.
Studying for a PhD develops extensive skills and independence, appropriate to many jobs. However, employers may be less familiar with the benefits of PhD study in this respect, and you may have to market your transferable skills to prospective employers after graduation.
Important considerations when choosing to pursue a PhD include: the institution and its reputation in your area of research, your research topic, finding a suitable supervisor, and funding opportunities.
A very good quality first degree i.e. first class or upper second class honours, is needed.
Many postgraduate courses qualify graduates to practise a particular profession. Examples include the postgraduate qualifications to become a patent agent or a speech therapist, or the new graduate route into medicine. Other courses are directly linked to, though not compulsory for, entry into an employment sector. Examples include journalism, human resources or business.
Some courses, such as the Bachelor of Law (LLB), is a postgraduate degree lasting one year, and most students continue from the LLB degree into the legal profession. Others (such as the Chartered Institute of Management Accounting's Certificate in Business Accounting) lead to professional accreditation for students with any degree discipline.
Students already employed in the relevant sector may be sponsored by their employer to gain a professional qualification in this way. Employer support might include arranging the course, day release to attend it, or payment of course fees.
Researching Postgraduate Courses
The principle source if information on postgraduate courses is Qualifax from this link. Other sources of information include:
Also investigate individual college/university websites for detailed descriptions of the postgraduate course, application procedures and the closing dates for application.
Visit Graduate Careers Fairs, especially those specifically aimed at postgraduate study.
Applying for Postgraduate Courses
In most cases application is made directly to University or Institute. Some Universities are now using the Postgraduate Applications Centre. Check application dates on college prospectus/websites. Note academic and other criteria specified, for example:
Good honours degree
Appropriate primary degree
Evidence of interest
Personal Statement/letter of recommendation (especially UK)
Two separate costs are involved: the cost of tuition which you have to pay the university or college where you are studying and the cost of living which includes accommodation, food, travel and entertainment. Both vary according to what you are studying and where your studies are based. Most postgraduate funding, unlike undergraduate grants and awards, must be sought competitively. This is particularly true for research-based courses. There are many sources of funding available, but no guarantee that even the holder of a First class degree will secure an award. The local authority grant (often referred to as the ’County Council Grant’) is an exception to this (personal / family finance is a key criterion).
Postgraduate awards are often offered as "Fees Only". This means that you will not receive any maintenance on which to live whilst studying; nor are you entitled to claim state benefits to cover the shortfall. If your postgraduate award does not include a maintenance element you should calculate on needing an additional Eur 6,000 a year minimum to live on.
Further information on Postgraduate funding can be found here:
Here are some tips for researching your options, if you are thinking of postgraduate study of any kind.
Do your research carefully. The Internet is a great place to start, but not the only source of information available. Try to find someone in your university with knowledge of the course. This might be a tutor, careers adviser or former student.
Visit the institutions whose courses appeal to you. It will help you to get a feel for the university, the department and the course, and you may well have an opportunity to meet staff and current students.
Investigate the career destinations of graduates from any course you are interested in, to see where it might take you.
Check if you need relevant work experience before starting your course. It may be a vital supplement to your study in order to gain new experience and contextualise what you have learnt. Thinking ahead will broaden your options and avoid a last minute panic!
Find out how the institution supports part time students. Part time study can be a great way of combining learning and work, and may help you to offset some of the costs of further study.
Research the employment areas you are interested in. You may find that the course doesn't necessarily increase your attractiveness to an employer. For example, they may not differentiate between candidates who apply with a first degree or with a masters.
Remember that further study is unlikely to buy you much more time to consider your options. One year courses in particular can be very pressurised. Students often have to begin applying for jobs in the autumn term, when they are still settling in!
Don’t assume that any course of study will make you the ideal candidate for a job or career. You will have to show employers what you have learnt and how it is relevant to their needs.