When considering whether to pursue a Masters you need to balance their many advantages against your other commitments, the cost of courses and the intensity of study
Why do a Masters?
Studying for a Masters degree is an exciting prospect and there are many valid reasons to consider taking a postgraduate course. The most popular reasons for undertaking a Masters include:
- progressing a current career path
- improving employment prospects
- developing a personal interest
- progressing to a higher-level qualification (such as a PhD)
- entering a particular profession
- meeting the requirements of a current job.
A Masters degree can also aid a career change, help you to gain chartership and provide useful industry contacts and connections.
'As you can see, there are a number of reasons graduates should consider a Masters degree,' says Steve Marrs, postgraduate marketing and recruitment coordinator at the University of Chester. 'A Masters can help accelerate your career through deepened subject knowledge and improved personal and professional skills such as project management and self-motivation.'
However, Masters study is intense and often comes with a hefty price tag. You'll also need relevant work experience for entry onto a programme. In order to make the most of postgraduate study it's vital to have a solid reason for committing to a course.
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.
Holding a Masters qualification won't guarantee you a job, but the government's Graduate labour market statistics 2020 show that graduates and postgraduates continue to have higher employment rates than non-graduates.
Postgraduates were also more likely to be in high-skilled employment (professional or managerial roles). For example, almost 78% of all working-age postgraduates were in high-skilled employment, compared with nearly 66% of all working age graduates.
'Unemployment rates among postgraduates were lower than undergraduates and considerably lower than non-graduates,' adds Steve.
For some roles, such as clinical psychologist, lawyer, librarian or teacher, a Masters degree is essential, while for many others it is highly beneficial. To check the entry requirements for particular roles, see job profiles. To find out how a Masters can aid career progression see conversion courses and professional qualifications.
Having a relevant Masters degree could give you a crucial competitive edge in a crowded job market - employers are increasingly looking for ways to distinguish between candidates, and this higher-level qualification shows your ability to commit to an intense period of work. Masters study may also be useful if you're looking to change career.
If you're already working in your preferred industry, a postgraduate 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's 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?
Obtaining a Masters degree can be expensive, time-consuming and emotionally draining. Therefore you need to weigh up your reasons for studying carefully.
As a rule, Masters study is cheaper than doing an undergraduate degree, although fees vary widely. In the majority of cases, international students pay more. The exception to this rule is the MBA, which is one of the most expensive qualifications out there. To find out more about the financial cost of postgraduate study, see what is a Masters degree? To discover more about the financial support available, see funding postgraduate study.
On a positive note, postgraduates earn considerably more than their undergraduate counterparts. Graduate labour market statistics 2020 reports that full-time employed, working-age postgraduates have a median salary of £42,000, compared with £35,000 for working-age undergraduates. Within the working age population postgraduates earned £7,000 more than graduates and £16,500 more than non-graduates.
Despite this, think about why you want to pursue a Masters before committing. Many applicants wrongly believe that a Masters degree will automatically allow them to earn more - yet this is only true if the qualification gets them closer to fulfilling their ambitions. To be certain that a Masters will meet your expectations, and be worth the 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 more 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 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.
Avoid Masters study if you can't convince yourself it's the right move and if you're looking to study immediately after completing your undergraduate degree, you may want to reconsider. Don't pursue a Masters in the naïve hope that it'll automatically add to your CV or because you need more time to think about your career. Unless your goals are crystal clear, it might be better to spend some time in the workplace, research your options, or take a gap year.
To learn more about your options, see what can I do with my degree?
Can I do a Masters with a 2:2 or a third?
You'll usually need a 2:1 at Bachelors level, or an equivalent qualification, to be accepted onto a Masters course.
However, those with a 2:2, a third, or no undergraduate degree at all may be considered provided they have appropriate professional experience. Contact the admissions department directly if you don't meet the criteria.
'At the University of Chester we have a number of Masters courses that allow entry with a 2.2 or above, especially if you have some relevant professional experience,' explains Steve.
If you're worried that your lower-class degree may affect your chances of gaining postgraduate funding, this won't be the case. You'll be out of the running for merit-based funding, such as university scholarships and bursaries, but needs-based funding and postgraduate loans aren't awarded on academic merit, so you'll still be eligible to apply.
If English isn't your first language you'll also need to prove proficiency with a recognised language test, such as:
- International English Language Testing System (IELTS)
- Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL)
- Pearson Test of English Academic (PTE Academic)
- Cambridge English Language Assessment.
Language requirements differ between institutions and depending on your subject of study.
To check the entry requirements of a particular course, search for a Masters degree.
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).
Can I do a PhD without a Masters?
To be accepted onto a PhD, which is the highest qualification a student can achieve, students usually 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 by surrounding themselves with students and colleagues who share their aims and interests.
However, the minimum entry requirement for most PhDs is an upper second class Bachelors degree, so it's possible for those without a Masters to gain entry onto a Doctoral programme. It's more common for science students to progress directly to a PhD from an undergraduate course, while those studying the arts and humanities will generally need a Masters.
PhD entry requirements vary so to check specific requirements, search for a PhD.
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 suits continuing students. You'll work intensively for the duration of the programme, achieving your qualification as quickly as possible. Contact hours vary from course to course, but full-time study involves several lectures and seminars each week. Alternatively, it could require you to attend university from 9am to 5pm every weekday. Business, law and science courses generally require more contact time than programmes in arts and humanities. 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. You'll usually study for around 20 hours every week. While qualification takes longer - often two to four years - teaching is flexible, and lectures and seminars take place during the daytime or evening. Sessions are commonly hosted during the weekends or even recorded for students to access online. Full-time work and part-time study is particularly popular with those who are self-funding their course.
Other modes of study worth considering include:
- Blended learning - 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 - involves intense face-to-face study over a fixed period, often weekends or consecutive days allowing students to book time off work in advance.
- Distance learning - entails learning from home in your own time. You'll get resources and support from a personal tutor, and can take as long as you need to complete the course. Find out more about online learning.
Am I ready to do a Masters?
'A lot of people won't know they are ready for a Masters until they start studying,' says Steve. 'You can get yourself as ready as possible by doing plenty of research before applying and enrolling. Make sure you fully understand why you want to study a Masters and whether the subject you are interested in will help you achieve this. The better prepared you are, the more ready you will feel.'
Before committing to a Masters degree, ask yourself:
- Am I fully aware of the level of commitment required to undertake Masters study?
- Am I prepared to do more studying and less partying than at undergraduate level?
- Am I excited by the opportunity to write another, even longer dissertation or research project?
- Can I afford Masters study, in terms of tuition fees and living costs?
- Am I willing to accrue more graduate debt, or alternatively make potentially lengthy applications for funding?
- Am I willing to live on a budget in order to cover living expenses, while my friends are in full-time employment?
- Will the postgraduate qualification improve my career prospects?
- Is the qualification rated highly by employers within my ideal industry?
- Will the qualification equip me with the specific skills needed for my ideal career?
- Will my studies allow me to qualify as a professional?
- Am I genuinely passionate about the qualification and subject?
- Am I certain that the courses I'm looking at are right for me?
This Prospects webinar aired July 2021.
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