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Postgraduate Study ::

Many students find postgraduate study personally rewarding. It may give you an advantage in securing employment afterwards, but this isn't always the case. Some employers will give you credit for having a higher degree but others won't, and having an inappropriate further degree could even in some cases worsen your chances.

Postgraduate study can be

  • a taught course leading to a master's degree

  • a research degree leading to an MPhil or PhD

  • one of a wide range of vocational courses giving skills or knowledge in a particular area of work.

A viable option?

Here are some reasons which have often been given in favour of doing postgraduate study, and some reasons which have been given against the idea. In each case there are some comments. Use them to help you think about whether postgraduate study is the right step for you.

Some reasons for

There are no jobs just for first degree graduates
In fact, many employers are willing to consider graduates with a bachelors degree; some of them will be impressed if you have a higher degree, others won't.

It will help me improve my career prospects
There are fewer higher degree graduates unemployed than first degree graduates; however, postgraduate study doesn't guarantee a job afterwards.

I want to continue my subject
Continuing a subject for its own sake can be a good reason for doing postgraduate study; however, give thought to what you want to do afterwards.

I want to improve my academic record
A postgraduate degree can sometimes help compensate for a poor class of first degree, or poor A-levels; however, it doesn't always do so: employers might still be concerned about your earlier modest performance.

I'm not ready for the job market yet
Postgraduate study can 'buy' you time; make sure you use the time to make yourself a better candidate later on. This may mean developing general skills (for example, dealing with people) as well as academic skills.

Some reasons against

I might not find work afterwards
While it doesn't guarantee work, it could increase your chances; you have to decide whether it's worth the risk (and the cost).

I will become 'overqualified'
This can be a danger if you look for work not related to your postgraduate study, less so if the work is closely connected.

I can't afford it
Finance can be a big problem, but many people have found ways to get the money together.

I've had enough of being a student
Postgraduate study doesn't suit everyone; however, some people feel different after a break, and do postgraduate study later on.

Asking questions

Postgraduate courses are a product for sale and it is worth shopping around. Don't be afraid to ask questions: you are the customer. If at all possible, visit the institutions and talk to staff, students, and recent graduates. Here are some questions you could ask - plus a few for you to think about yourself.

For all postgraduate study:

  • What are the entry requirements and will I meet them?

  • When do I need to apply?

  • How much are the fees and likely living costs?

  • Are grants available, how do I apply, and what are my chances?

  • If I don't get a grant how will I pay for it?

  • What do I plan to do afterwards?

  • Where have previous students found employment?

For research degrees

  • In what area do I want to do research?

  • Is my prospective supervisor academically suitable, approachable and likely to be available throughout my research degree?

  • What percentage of past students finished their research successfully?

  • What are the research facilities like?

For academic taught courses

  • Who are the tutors and how often will I see them?

  • What are the compulsory elements in the course, the optional elements and the methods of teaching?

  • Is there a project or dissertation and what does it involve?

  • Are there any special facilities for postgraduate students?

For vocational courses

  • How many previous students found employment related to the course?

  • What help do the tutors give in finding suitable work afterwards?

A possible timetable

Autumn term

Investigate taught courses and research degrees

Talk to your tutors, look at reference books listing courses, send off for prospectuses and application forms, write to postgraduate admission tutors asking for information and advice (including information on finance).

With the exception of some vocational courses, there is no central clearing house and you will need to apply individually to each course.

Apply for vocational training courses

Many vocational courses, such as teacher training, start making offers in the autumn term. If you are late in applying you may find the places have been filled. With some courses you apply direct to each course which interests you; with others you make a central application to a clearing house. Find out the correct procedure and timetable for the courses which interest you.

Spring term

Apply for (academic) taught courses and research degrees

Be aware of any deadlines, and in particular those for grant applications: some can be as early as 1 May. In the sciences the deadlines for grant application may be 31 July, so you can sometimes apply after obtaining your degree results.

How are people selected?

For academic courses and research degrees, selection is on academic grounds. For a taught masters you should be in line for a second class degree, for a research based degree an upper second. People who don't fully meet the criteria do sometimes get in, so there's no harm in trying.

For vocational courses, relevant experience, and a commitment to the work for which the course trains you, can often be more important than academic achievement.

Financing your postgraduate study

This is a complicated area. With the exception of teacher training, funding for postgraduate study isn't automatic. Finding finance can be extremely difficult. The possible funding body depends on the subject, so find out which one deals with what you want to do, and the correct application procedure and deadlines. There is a list of the main grant giving bodies below. Addresses may be found in any of the books mentioned in Further Information.

If the 'official' grant body for your course refuses you, you can't apply to another one. Some courses attract no grants at all. Training and enterprise councils (TECs) sometimes fund unemployed people for courses in areas of skill shortage.

If you don't get a grant, you will have to find the fees as well as your living costs. Fees vary, but are often around o2,500 a year for UK and other EU nationals.

Main grant giving bodies

There are a number of different grant giving bodies. Ask the academic department to identify the right one for the course or research you want to do and follow the appropriate procedure. Closing dates can be as early as 1 May: if you miss a deadline you won't be considered for that year. The main grant bodies are:

To be eligible for an award, you have to be resident in the UK, not for the purposes of education, for three years before your postgraduate study begins.

Different procedures may apply if you are from Scotland, Northern Ireland, the Isle of Man, or the Channel Islands. If you are a national from another country in the European Union you usually can't apply for a full award, but you may be eligible for a fees award from a research council.

There are not nearly enough grants to go round. You usually need a very good class of degree, and even then you might not be successful. Many students get a place but no funding.

Can't get a grant? Still keen to do it?

Think about:

  • Family support - help with fees, loans, accommodation

  • Loans - for example, career development loans

  • Charities and educational trusts - may provide small grants

  • Research assistantships - most common in the sciences

  • Sponsrship - from employers (a possibility, though it's not common)

  • Part-time work - can provide a bit of money; however, postgraduate study often doesn't give you much spare time

  • Taking a year out to earn money

  • Doing your postgraduate study part time - the fees will be lower, and you might combine it with part-time work.

Further information

  • Postgraduate Study & Research, AGCAS booklet

  • Postgrad - the directory of graduate studies, CRAC

  • Surveys of Postgraduate Vocational Courses, AGCAS


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