Masters degrees can increase your earnings potential, set your CV apart in an increasingly competitive market, and help you to develop personally and professionally - especially when combined with work experience
However, while an exciting prospect, Masters study often comes with a hefty price tag and the tendency to be all-consuming. Therefore you should have a clear reason for committing, such as wanting to:
- change your occupation;
- develop your research skills;
- gain entry to a profession;
- progress onto a PhD;
- progress up the career ladder;
- pursue a passion for a specific subject;
- put yourself on the path to chartership;
- specialise in a particular area.
Will a Masters help me get a job?
Masters degrees in the UK are highly regarded by employers. They are also popular among international students, indicating the UK's globally-recognised strength in this area. Graduates are clearly advantaged in the jobs market; according to the Destinations of Leavers from Higher Education 2015 survey, 92% of leavers in 2013/14 were in work or further study six months after graduation.
What's more, according to Graduate labour market statistics: 2015, 78% of working-age postgraduates were in high-skilled employment in 2015, compared to 66% of working-age undergraduates. Indeed, 74% of young postgraduates - those under the age of 30 - were in high-skilled employment in 2015, compared to just 56% of young undergraduates.
For some roles, a Masters degree is an essential entry requirement while for many others it is highly useful. Having a relevant Masters degree under your belt could give you a crucial competitive edge in a crowded jobs market - employers are increasingly looking for ways to distinguish between candidates, and this extra higher-level qualification shows your ability to commit to an intense period of work. Masters study may also be extremely useful if you're looking to change career, as it can facilitate almost any transition.
If you're already working in your preferred industry, a Masters degree could lead to rapid career progression. It could emphasise your drive, determination and willingness to increase your ability in a chosen area. What's more, your employer may support you financially through sponsorship.
You will only benefit fully from a Masters if it is complemented by relevant work experience. Without this, your employability will be weaker and you run the risk of getting into unnecessary debt.
Is it worth the cost?
While obtaining a Masters degree can be expensive, time-consuming and emotionally draining, graduates earn considerably more than their undergraduate counterparts. Graduate labour market statistics: 2015 reports that full-time employed, working-age postgraduates had a median salary of £39,000 in 2015, compared to £31,500 for working-age undergraduates. What's more, full-time employed, young postgraduates - those under 30 years of age - had a median salary of £28,000 in 2015, compared to £24,000 for young undergraduates.
Despite this, you must deeply analyse why you want to pursue Masters study before committing. Many applicants wrongly believe that a Masters degree will automatically enhance their career and allow them to earn more - yet this is only true if the qualification genuinely gets them closer to fulfilling their ambitions. To be certain that Masters study will meet your expectations, and be worth the hard work and high costs, you should:
- be passionate about your subject;
- browse relevant job advertisements to identify what employers value most, as industry certifications and accreditations are important for certain roles;
- consider everything in the context of your overall career plan, ensuring that the qualification offers the best way of achieving your ultimate career goals;
- consider whether Masters study will boost your credentials significantly above your existing undergraduate education;
- contact careers services, professional bodies or individual employers for further advice.
There are situations where you should avoid Masters study. If you're not convinced it's the right move, you'll almost certainly lack the commitment to ensure that it's a worthwhile investment.
If you're looking to study immediately after completing your undergraduate degree, you may want to reconsider. You shouldn't pursue a Masters in the naïve hope that it'll automatically add to your CV or simply because you need more time to think about your career. Unless your goals are crystal clear, spending some time in the workplace - or researching your options while taking a gap year - may be more beneficial at this point.
Indeed, 58% of postgraduates are aged over 25 when they enter study - and, according to the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE), the highest proportion of postgraduates enters study after a break of three years or more. These students often benefit from having time away from education to reflect on whether postgraduate study really is right for them and, if so, which programme they'd like to pursue. Having a practical insight into a career can make choosing a course much more meaningful and incisive.
Check typical entry requirements and alternative routes in to the profession by browsing our job profiles.
Can I do a Masters with a 2:2 or a third?
You'll usually need at least a 2:1 at Bachelors level, or an equivalent qualification, to be accepted onto a Masters degree. However, those with a 2:2, a third, or no undergraduate degree at all may be considered provided they have appropriate professional experience. You should contact the admissions department directly if you don't quite meet the criteria.
International students can find more information about how their qualifications compare to those in the UK at UK NARIC (National Recognition Information Centre for the United Kingdom).
Do I need a Masters to get a PhD?
To be accepted onto a PhD, which is the highest qualification that a student can achieve, students often need a relevant Masters degree.
This is because students cannot attain the requisite level of in-depth knowledge about a particular area without Masters study. Those looking to progress onto a PhD from Masters study can benefit from making contacts for future reference, and surrounding themselves with students and colleagues who share their aims and interests.
Will I have time to do a Masters?
Masters study must fit around your lifestyle, so identifying the mode of study that's right for you is essential.
Full-time study is the most common, and especially suits continuing students. You'll work intensively for the duration of your programme, achieving your qualification as quickly as possible. Contact hours vary from course to course, but full-time study generally involves several lectures and seminars every week. However, it could alternatively require you to attend university from 9am to 5pm every weekday. Regardless, you'll be expected to dedicate six to seven hours per day to self-study.
Part-time study, meanwhile, is primarily aimed at students with family commitments and/or in full-time employment, as you'll usually study for around 20 hours every week. While qualification takes longer - often up to four years - teaching is flexible, and lectures and seminars may take place during the daytime or evening. Sessions are commonly hosted during the weekends or even recorded for students to access online.
There are three other modes of study worth consideration. These are:
- Blended learning - This combines face-to-face classroom time with online learning. You can interact with lecturers, tutors and fellow students, while also working from home.
- Block mode learning - This involves intense face-to-face study over a fixed period, often weekends or consecutive days, therefore allowing students to book time off work in advance.
- Distance learning - This involves learning from home in your own time. You'll still get resources and support from a personal tutor, and can usually take as long as you need to complete the course.
For the advantages and disadvantages of part-time study, see Which Masters degree is right for me?
Am I ready to do a Masters?
Before committing to the idea, ask yourself:
- Are you fully aware of the level of commitment that is required to undertake Masters study?
- Are you prepared to do much more studying and much less partying than at undergraduate level?
- If applicable, are you excited by the opportunity to write another, even longer dissertation or research project?
- Can you afford Masters study, in terms of tuition fees and living costs?
- Are you willing to accrue more graduate debt, or alternatively make potentially lengthy applications for funding?
- If applicable, are you willing to live on a budget in order to cover living expenses of £8,000 to £12,000 per year, all while your friends are in full-time employment?
- Would the postgraduate qualification that you're considering definitely improve your career prospects?
- Is the qualification rated highly by key employers within your ideal industry?
- Does the qualification require you to already possess specific skills?
- Will the qualification prepare you with the specific skills that you need for your ideal career?
- If applicable, will your studies allow you to qualify as a professional?
- Are you genuinely passionate about the qualification and subject that you're considering?
- Are you certain that the courses that you're looking at are right for you?
If you're ready to take the plunge, begin your search for a Masters degree.