For many students across the globe, a postgraduate course will be firmly on the cards after graduation.
A postgrad course is a fantastic way to deepen your understanding of a field you are passionate about. And in some industries, it can significantly increase your career prospects.
However, it is indeed no easy ride, and there are many things to consider before diving head first into your applications.
Here are 11 things you need to know about doing a postgrad course.
1. Why you want to do it in the first place.
The starting point for thinking about a postgrad is to recognise your reasons for doing so in the first place. Without a solid reason or goal, you won’t be motivated to work hard for the whole term of the course and may be even more confused when you come out the other side.
Think about how doing a postgrad will help you reach your future goals. What do you want to achieve? Is it necessary for career advancement or for personal growth?
If you’re doing a post grad simply to avoid employment or because you don’t know what else to do, this may not help you in the long run and you may wish to think deeper about your future prospects.
2. It’s not necessary for every career.
A postgrad qualification is not necessary for every career. In fact, there are very few career ladders these days for which a postgrad is a pre-requisite.
If you hope to have a career in medicine, nursing, teaching, psychology or anything within the science or research sector, then a postgraduate degree will often be useful.
Other industries may place you at an advantage if you have a masters or PhD, whilst for most, it won’t be necessary at all. For many careers, it is attitude, work ethic, experience, personality and determination that will get you to the top – not your qualifications.
3. It can be expensive.
Postgraduate tuition fees can range from £9000 per year to over £30,000, with the average fee being around £11,000. These are often even higher for international students.
There are many funding options available to you, such as government loans, grants, bursaries, research council grants, and employer or institution scholarships, and some universities even offer alumni discounts.
There is a new postgraduate government loan scheme available from 2017 onwards, to those in England doing masters courses. The scheme offers various loans for full time, part-time and distance learners.
For those in Northern Ireland, new postgraduate funding is also available.
Before you take on a loan, assess how you will be able to pay it off after your course. In England, your postgraduate loan has to be repaid at the same time as your undergraduate loan.
If you feel you’re not able to pay for your postgrad straight away, it could be a good idea to take a year out before embarking on further study.
4. It may increase your earnings over time.
Having a postgrad degree has been shown statistically to lead to higher earnings over time.
However, if your chosen career doesn’t see a postgrad as a priority, it’s not likely it will lead to a higher starting wage.
5. It can be an excellent way to network.
Many former postgrads say they wouldn’t have made the contacts they did if it hadn’t been for their postgrad course. A postgrad can certainly give you wide access to professionals in your chosen field, who may help you find employment later down the line.
However, networking opportunities vary from uni to uni, so be sure to investigate this when researching your preferred courses.
Remember as well that a lot of networking can come from being out on the job – whether that be employment, volunteering, internships or work experience.
6. You can do it whilst you work.
Employment options don’t have to be forgone in the pursuit of a postgrad degree. Many courses are flexible, allowing you to balance your studies with a job. You can study in the evenings, or at the weekends, and your employer may even allow you to go part-time, take sabbatical or take study leave.
This option allows you to keep earning money as you learn, as well as put theory into practice and develop your career. However, it can also be very tiring, so is probably not an option for those with other large commitments.
Doing a postgrad part-time is also cheaper for each year of study, but may cost more in the long run as you will be studying for longer. International students that require a Tier 4 visa will not be able to study part time.
7. You don’t always need a degree!
In some cases, it is not necessary to complete an undergraduate degree before taking on a postgrad.
Some companies, professional bodies and a limited number of further education colleges provide courses for postgrads which don’t require a degree. In these instances, you will usually need to supply evidence of your subject knowledge and ability in order to get accepted.
8. It’s smart to apply for more than one course
It’s smart to not put all your eggs into one basket. There are no rules on how many postgrad courses you can apply for, and applying for more than one will increase your chances of getting accepted.
However, bear in mind that each application process can be lengthy and require a lot of work. As long as your courses are similar, applying to a few should be a mostly smooth process.
9. You’ll need to apply early…very early.
For courses starting in September or October, you’ll need to have applied by June or July. We’d recommend applying six months in advance to allow time for sorting out finances, accommodation, travel arrangements and possibly your visa.
For international students, an extra four months in advance is wise. Different courses begin at different times of year, so check with your course provider accordingly.
10. It doesn’t feel like undergrad study does.
One common feeling reported by postgrads is a feeling of loneliness…at least at first.
Many of your friends will have moved back home or be in full time employment. Though you’ll still keep in touch, the differing lifestyles and larger workload can make it difficult to keep up.
A postgrad course also involves fewer contact hours, and class sizes are smaller. And the usual hype around undergrad Fresher’s Week doesn’t seem to be a factor in many postgraduate lives.
Though many believe universities need to do more to improve social opportunities for postgrads, there are some things you can do.
Talk to your fellow students and aim to forge connections as early as you can. Take advantage of any postgrad ice-breaker events offered by your uni, and if they aren’t enough, plan your own! Coffee meetings, study groups or an evening glass of wine can be great ways of bonding with your fellow students.
11. Self-discipline is no. 1
On a postgrad course, you’ll only be seeing your tutor a couple of times a week, and probably less during the dissertation period. That leaves a lot of time for private study.
Self discipline is therefore a huge part of any successful postgraduate study. If you’re the kind of person that needs external motivation such as that of a tutor, you may find it difficult to push yourself to keep on top of your workload.
If, however, you’re a self-sufficient person who likes setting their own routine, then this will work for you.
Do you know any other tips for preparing for a postgrad course? We’d love to hear them!
Written by Caro Lettings.