A postgraduate degree can be one of the most rewarding investments you’ll ever make.
As well as connecting you with the ideas and practices of leading minds in your chosen field, having a Master’s on your CV has been shown to increase your earnings by an average of £200,000 over a forty-year working life1, and can really open doors when it comes to employability and career progression.
It’s also a very big commitment, and figuring out whether you want to take on the responsibilities involved in postgraduate study is a process that might take quite a while.
Here are some of the things you should be taking into account when you’re weighing up your decision:
Plenty of people do bachelor’s degrees that they don’t have strong feelings either way for, and that’s fine. But by taking a postgraduate degree, you’re agreeing to take a subject that bit more seriously.
This doesn’t mean there’s a stamp placed on your head restricting you to one field for the rest of your days, but it does mean that before enrolling you should have a clear sense of what exactly it is you think you’ll get out of your course on a personal level.
Some people have master’s degrees in completely different fields from what they’ve studied before. Doing this can be a great way of keeping your career options open, or may even create a professional niche for your services by giving you two areas of expertise.
The earnings ‘boost’ you can expect
Some master’s degrees add more to your earnings potential than others. According to 2017 data from salary benchmarking website Emoulment.com2, philosophy postgrads on average increase their annual pay by almost £20,000 relative to bachelor’s holders in the same field, while for the humanities it’s a much smaller £1,000.
Financial gain shouldn’t be your only motivation for doing higher study, but it’s good to think about how much you’re expecting in return for all of your time and money.
What skills and expertise you’ll gain
Try to discern what specific skills and knowledge you’ll be gaining from the degree, and how these might be of use to you in the future.
Prospectus booklets, course brochures and module plans can usually be found on a course page on a university’s website. If you need more information, you can always contact the institution directly. Attending applicant days is another good idea, as you may have the opportunity to ask questions to course staff in person.
Part-time or full-time
Because the student loans offered by the four governments of the UK will usually only cover your fees, it’s likely that you’re going to need some kind of job to support postgraduate study.
For example, if you’re planning to work throughout the week and do a part-time MBA, you should be talking to your bosses in advance about any time you’ll take off for lectures and coursework. Sketching out a weekly schedule that lets you determine how you’ll fulfil the study hours required by your degree can be a good idea in these circumstances.
By the same token, if you’re looking to study full-time and work part-time, you’ll need to be confident that the income you do have will be enough to cover all your outgoings.
Funding your degree
There’s no sugar-coating it; postgraduate study can be expensive. In addition to fees, you also have to think about bills, rent, taxes, study costs, and all the other expenses involved in going about your everyday life. But by doing the work now to calculate your funding goals, you’ll be able to turn this sometimes daunting aspect of postgrad life into a practical challenge you can take on yourself.
Whether it’s from university scholarships, charitable grants, a private student loan or sponsorship from employers, there are lots of ways you can ‘fill the gap’ in funding – and thousands of people like you who make it work every year.
1. Lindley, J. and Machin, S., 2013. The Postgraduate Premium: Revisiting Trends In Social Mobility And Educational Inequalities In Britain And America. [online] Suttontrust.com. Available at: <https://www.suttontrust.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/12/Postgraduate-Premium-Report-1.pdf>.
2. Nitch Smith, M., 2020. RANKED: The Masters Subjects That Give The Biggest Pay Boost. [online] Business Insider. Available at: <https://www.businessinsider.com/the-masters-subjects-that-increase-pay-the-most?r=US&IR=T> [Accessed 30 March 2020].
3. GOV.UK. 2020. Master’s Loan. [online] Available at: <https://www.gov.uk/masters-loan/what-youll-get> [Accessed 30 March 2020].