In 2013/14 168,000 students entered taught master’s programmes in the UK compared with 107,000 in 2002/3. If more students are choosing further study, there must be good reason, right? You would hope that you would enjoy the course itself but beyond this, if you are spending between £3,400 and £25,000+ you might also hope that employers would value your extra effort and reward you with a higher starting salary.
On the higher salary front, this article in the Guardian gives some indication of the potential uplift in salary and increase in job prospects. But what else do you need to consider when thinking about the “value” of a master’s. To evaluate the “value proposition” – how much a master’s degree sets you apart from the crowd, I contacted some graduates, some employers and an academic to get their perspectives. I have summarised their thoughts below.
The Graduate Perspective
Graduates I spoke to focused on the fact that their master’s year, while intense, enabled them to:
- Explore a field connected but slightly different from their undergraduate degree
- Become more confident working in diverse teams
- Develop independence and time management skills
- Apply theory to practical, real world cases and scenarios
- Work on a dissertation that they drove through to completion
- Gain more credibility in their field, particularly with senior colleagues in a business
During my master’s I found I had the chance to apply theory to real problems working with students from around the world. Lectures were often delivered by professionals as opposed to pure academics which is another great point. (Antonio Malacrino MSc Supply Chain Management Graduate, University of Warwick)
I definitely improved my time management skills to the extent that I had enough time to study, complete assignments and travel to London every two weeks as my dissertation was with a retailer located there. (Ankita Thanvi, MSc Supply Chain Management Graduate, University of Warwick.)
I did a Master’s in Occupational Psychology as a mature student. The research element of the course helped me with credibility when dealing with senior colleagues. I learned how to ask the right questions – a great skill. Finally, I learned the discipline of being able to back up my ideas with facts and data. (Terri Pettifer-Eagles, Head of HR and Administration, Withers and Rogers LLP.)
All the master’s graduates I spoke to felt their investment was well worth it if you could afford it and you enjoy studying the subject. When it came to employability they delivered an important caveat. Namely that the word “master’s” on your CV is not going to get you the job – you must present what you have learned, how it fits with the company ….and practise delivering this message.
Employers acknowledge your master’s and may be more likely to offer you something more. I felt a bit more comfortable negotiating the salary. However, I do not think it allows you to apply for higher positions. Experience is, in my opinion, still the most important thing employers look for. (Antonio Malacrino, MSc Supply Chain Management Graduate, University of Warwick.)
The Employer Perspective
A 2015 government survey of 80 employers from a range of sectors found that 80% look primarily at undergraduate degrees when making hiring decisions. Of the remainder a small number target “higher” degree applicants exclusively. These tend to be in specific sectors where chartered status (supported by a master’s degree) or key features of a master’s are appreciated and understood by employers. So the study suggested the issue is often that employers may not understand what a master’s graduate brings. Once a masters graduate has performed well for them, they may be influenced by this higher degree on a CV.
Master’s – definitely not a necessity for us, but we are seeing an increase in those applying with a post grad degree. (Ieuan Male-Maltby, Talent Acquisition Manager, St Gobain.)
We accept applications from bachelor’s and master’s graduates onto our R&D graduate scheme (but not PhDs). But the work experience is more important, not the degree level. Our technical interview is very challenging and we are also influenced by applicants who are passionate and engage with us. (Donna Watkin, Global Graduate Recruitment Manager, Innovative Medicines and Early Development, Astrazeneca.)
We take master’s and PhD students as graduates. We value the difference that these graduates can add. But we also need to be confident that we can put new recruits in front of clients – so the key question is, “can they apply their intellect to the benefit of our business?” (Terri Pettifer-Eagles, Head of HR and Administration, Withers and Rogers LLP.)
The Director of Postgraduate Studies Perspective
A master’s degree is often required for entry into a PhD programme. In arts and humanities subjects this is usually the case, whereas in science disciplines you can usually progress directly to the PhD from your undergraduate degree, which may be a BSc or an integrated Masters such as an MChem. I asked Martin Wills, Director of Postgraduate Studies in the Chemistry Department for his perspective:
Some PhD programmes will state that they require a master’s-level qualification (or equivalent such as an MChem) for entry and others will not. However, if you have a BSc degree then you may be competing for a PhD place with others who have completed a master’s degree. So my advice would be to talk to students who are doing PhDs to find out what track they followed and speak to potential supervisors to find out what their viewpoint is.
There is information suggesting that generally, those with a postgraduate degree may get an uplift in salary over the course of their career and have a lower unemployment rate across the board. However, a master’s degree is no guarantee that an employer or PhD programme will move you to the top of the pile. You will need to be skilled at communicating what you have gained and that these things will benefit your future employer/supervisor. Ask around, talk to people who have done it before and think about what you value most.