Questions to ask yourself before pursuing postgraduate study

If you’re thinking about heading into postgraduate study, be sure to ask yourself these three important questions before sending off your application 

November 25 2019
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Once you have your undergraduate degree in hand, stored away the graduation photos and your blood caffeine levels are safely below 90 per cent, you might wonder whether or not to stay in academia and pursue postgraduate study. 

Those who do will be joining an illustrious list of postgraduates that includes Kermit the Frog (honorary doctorate in amphibious letters), Queen guitarist Brian May, and Dexter Holland from The Offspring, who both dropped out of PhD courses to become rock stars before finishing their studies decades later.

For some careers, such as teaching, law, engineering and medicine, postgraduate study isn’t a choice but a necessity. For others, it’s a decision that needs careful consideration. Ask yourself these three questions to help make up your mind.

1. What is it for?

Postgraduate study should be undertaken with a goal in mind. Do you plan to pursue a career in academia and research, or is your postgraduate degree a requirement for the next stage in your chosen professional career, as it is for teachers and solicitors?

If you are considering a master’s for the pure love of studying a subject in greater depth – be it history of art or creative writing – you may be able to find other ways to do this for your own pleasure, by signing up to evening classes or reading books around the subject. Weigh up the benefits against the costs and time a degree takes before making your decision.

If you want to learn industry-specific skills such as AutoCAD, coding or journalism, look at online courses or part-time classes at universities and colleges to upskill yourself and study what you love, while also giving you the flexibility to earn some money and gain career experience while you do it.

Use Google to find the most reputable and accredited courses or check out websites of colleges and universities in your area.  

If you think a postgraduate degree will help your CV stand out from the competition, you might be wrong. Many companies and hiring managers would prefer to see a year in industry than, for example, a master’s in PR or marketing. The best way to know this is to find and speak to people who work in the industry you’d like to enter – preferably employers.  

How do I decide between doing a master’s or joining the workforce?
Five benefits of a part-time postgraduate degree
Four tips to manage your part-time postgraduate course
How to write a master’s application

2. Can I afford it?

Many nations in Europe, including Sweden and Poland, offer free postgraduate education to EU residents. Others also offer it free to international students, such as Norway and the Czech Republic (although only for courses in Czech). Many European countries offer master’s programmes for the price of administration fees only.  However, other countries like the UK and USA, have programmes that can cost well into the thousands of pounds or dollars.

And even if a course is free or low-cost, accommodation and living costs can make even free courses difficult to finance. 

Think well ahead. Stacking your postgraduate loan repayments on top of your undergraduate loan repayments will make a significant dent in your wages once you start earning. Surviving while on the course and thriving afterwards are serious considerations and you will have to budget carefully before making your decision. Your earning potential may be higher in the future, but you still need to think about right now.

3. Am I stalling?

Don’t underestimate the “eternal student” phenomenon. It’s common for people who loved their university experience to consider staying on to do a master’s – especially if their friends are staying on to finish their undergraduate degrees or are doing postgraduate degrees themselves. Delaying joining the “real world” in this case could be quite tempting. 

But spending years of your life and a lot of money on a qualification you don’t really want or need or aren’t sure of doing isn’t sensible. You’d be much better off, financially and time-wise, finding work, building experience and visiting your friends at weekends if you miss them.

You can always do a postgraduate further along in life when you will probably find it easier to fund and have more concrete reasons to do it, such as changing career direction or advancing further in a job that you love.

Read more: How to decide if a postgraduate degree is right for you

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