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Why do postgraduate study?

By Prospects

Thursday 8 January 2015 Postgraduate

Further study gives you the chance to develop your skills and pursue a passion. Just make sure the course suits your needs before applying.

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Find out about further study at university open days and postgraduate events.

With tuition fees typically between £3,000 and £10,000 for home-based students and double for international students, undertaking a postgraduate course is a decision you shouldn't take lightly. Before making the step into postgraduate study you should know exactly what you wish to accomplish.

Reasons for doing postgraduate study

As a postgraduate, you could have the opportunity to:

  • Further your career - it may not always increase your starting salary, but studies show that the majority of postgraduates earn more than undergraduates over their careers
  • Change career direction - many postgraduate courses can act as conversion courses if you want to enter a different sector
  • Pursue a passion for a particular subject - you can explore your personal interests, as most taught courses will let you select modules. Research courses will allow you to pursue interests in greater depth
  • Enter a profession that needs a specific qualification - some vocations demand a postgraduate qualification as an entry requirement. Lawyers, doctors, teachers, librarians and physicists are just some examples
  • Gain a clear insight into industry and create invaluable contacts - although this may not be your main reason, postgraduate degrees will uncover industry contacts and work experience opportunities
  • Study flexibly - many courses are designed to fit around careers or parenting, with more than half of UK students choosing part-time postgraduate degrees, according to The Postgraduate Taught Experience Survey 2011.

Make sure you have a solid set of reasons for doing postgrad study before you make any commitments.

Will postgraduate study improve my job prospects?

More than a quarter of graduates surveyed felt their future employment prospects were better as a result of their qualifications, according to a 2011 report by the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA).

In order to improve your job prospects, you will need to choose your postgrad degree carefully and research your chosen field. Check the entry requirements and career development paths for your chosen profession in types of jobs.

Can I afford it?

The two main expenses facing you when applying for postgraduate study are tuition fees and cost of living.

As a general rule, London is the most expensive city to live and study in. The 2009 Living Costs and Food Survey backs up this fact. Average weekly household expenditure in London topped £550, whilst the South West totalled nearly £475 and Yorkshire only £400.

City University London sets its budget for postgraduate students at £223-£423 per week, with the jump in expenses depending on choice of accommodation and how far you have to travel. The University of Manchester estimates a postgraduate student on a full-time course will spend around £200 per week on living costs. Compare this to a postgraduate student at the University of Stirling in Scotland, who will pay out just £140-£145 during an average week.

Student loans are not usually available to Masters students and so bank loans are a popular option. There are also various Research Council grants available if you hold a first or a 2:1 honours degree from a UK higher education institution. For further information, visit funding my further study.  

Should I do a taught course or research degree?

This choice can depend on which subject you wish to study or which career path you want to pursue. The main differences between a taught course and a research degree are:

  • Taught courses are led by a tutor, and students attend weekly seminars and lectures. There is also some emphasis on independent learning but not as much as on a research degree. The two main types of taught courses are Masters degrees and postgraduate diplomas. These are divided into modules like undergraduate degrees and usually take one year full-time or two years part-time to complete, with students assessed via exam or dissertation
  • Research degrees rely on independent study with support a few hours a week from an academic. The best known research degree is the PhD, which can last three to four years full-time or six years part-time. Students are asked to present new knowledge in a research project or thesis, typically 40,000 words or more. Find out more about Doctorates

To find the right course for you, search courses and research.

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