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Is a Postgraduate Degree Right for You?

Is A Postgraduate Degree Right for You? main image

By Kate Jones

Once you’ve graduated, it can be difficult to decide which step to take next for your career. With the job market becoming increasingly competitive, a second degree may seem like an obvious way to make sure your CV stands out. However, taking on a postgraduate course is a huge commitment – both time-wise and financially – and the decision shouldn’t be taken lightly. Before you make a final choice, ask yourself these questions.

Will a postgraduate degree improve my employability?

Studies in the USA show that in some occupations, such as medicine, psychology or education, you’re likely to need a master’s degree to even be considered for an entry-level job. In others, such as business, finance and sales, a master’s degree may not be required, but having one could lead to faster advancement or higher pay.

In the UK, graduate labor market statistics show a large uplift in the percentage of those employed between non-graduates and graduates - 70.4% versus 87.3%. However, the incremental increase for postgraduates was far less marked, rising to only 88.0%. If your ideal career isn’t in one of the areas mentioned above, double-check if a master’s will actually improve your prospects with employers.

Will a postgraduate degree lead to a better salary?

Although graduates with a master’s degree typically command a higher salary than those with only a bachelor’s degree, it’s not by as much as you might think.

In the USA, for example, the median wage for those with a master’s degree is $68,000, compared with $56,000 for those with a bachelor’s degree – a difference of $12,000 a year. In the UK, the difference in salary between graduates and postgraduates in 2016 was just £6,000.

When you take the cost of completing a postgraduate degree into consideration – accounting for tuition fees, living expenses and loss of earnings – the numbers might not stack up, so be sure to do your sums before making a decision.

Which is more important: experience or knowledge?

Joining the workforce after you’ve graduated gives you a head start in climbing the corporate ladder. While your peers continue their studies, you’ll have already started to acquire real-world skills and experiences. If your chosen field is relatively generalist, such as marketing, this could well be the best way of enhancing your CV.

On the other hand, further study offers you the opportunity to build an additional layer of academic knowledge in your field. If you aspire to specialize in a certain area, a postgraduate degree might well be your only option. This is particularly true in occupations such as law, accounting or human resources.

A compromise could be to complete a part-time master’s degree alongside your full-time job. If you’re fortunate, your employer might even offer to help with the costs.

Why do I want to do a postgraduate degree?

If you’re simply delaying the inevitable (i.e. getting a full-time job), then you probably need to rethink your plans. Yes, the university lifestyle is great, with its constant parties, plenty of lie-ins, and long breaks, but a postgraduate degree is a whole new ballgame. The intensity of work will ramp up, and many of your current university friends will move on and start earning big bucks while you scrimp and save living on your student loan.

However, if you can say hand-on-heart that your reasons for wanting to continue your studies are wholly related to career advancement – and you’re willing to make sacrifices in order to bag yourself an extra degree – then it’s much more likely that your decision is a good one.

Whatever you decide to do, make sure you’ve checked your facts, run your numbers and taken the time to deeply consider what’s driving your goals.

Kate Jones writes graduate careers advice for Inspiring Interns, a graduate recruitment agency specialising in matching career starters with graduate jobs. For everything from marketing internships to graduate jobs Manchester, click here.

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