career decisions / Post graduate study

Is a Masters really worth it?

This is an important question to ask yourself before you submit your application(s). Further study is intense, academically challenging, with a high degree of independent learning required. A masters is a popular option for a lot of undergraduates in the UK and according to the most recent data in 2017/18 from the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA), 26% of graduates were taught masters students. What do you need to consider to decide if it is the best option for you and really worth the investment?

It depends on your objectives and expectations

Further study may feel like a good option because you don’t know what else to so, which may feel like as good a reason as any. You may believe that an additional year of study will give you more time to gain experience, to develop employability skills and to carefully consider career options. All of that could be true, but could you also be one of those post graduate students who feel no further forward in their career planning a year later? And at considerable expense – masters courses are expensive. If your motivation is purely academic interest however and you are genuinely interested in the subject and want a deeper understanding, where the course could lead to may not be an important factor for you.

Just how true are some of the common perceptions on the value of a Masters course?

A Masters will make me more employable…

A masters course may be a requirement for some job roles, or at the very least is expected within the specific industry given the labour market trends. But the evidence that it is much more likely to differentiate you is mixed. During the pandemic and lockdown it was reported that graduate recruiters actually valued experience more highly than additional qualifications. A masters on it’s own may not make the difference you assume and/or expect, but a postgraduate qualification combined with experience that demonstrates the key skills employers require is much more likely to do so. It is interesting to note that in the 2008 financial crisis and subsequent recession levels of employment grew more quickly for postgraduates than those with just a first degree. So there is potentially not just personal reward to be gained from masters study but a professional ‘premium’ as well.

Masters graduates earn more…

This really depends on the specific Masters course. The highly respected Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) calculate that, ‘masters in business, economics and law have returns upwards of 10%…on the other hand, a few arts and humanities masters courses are associated with earnings 20% less than similar individuals without a postgraduate degree.’ This is not to question the value of arts and humanities courses, if you are considering further study subject interest may be your key motivation. But you cannot assume that a masters qualification will guarantee a higher salary

Will I get a ‘better’ job with a masters?

The Graduate Outcomes Survey, which records career destination data, does suggest that postgraduates are 18% more likely to progress to professional roles – roles which are also more senior than those held by first degree graduates. But career progression is clearly more complex than this data indicates, it can be dependent on a variety of other factors as well as academic qualifications. The ability to network, confidence, personal qualities and the experience and skills the employee has gained for example, can all influence a graduate’s career development.

3 key questions to ask yourself before committing to further study

Why do you want to do a Masters?

What is your motivation? Why is a postgraduate qualification a good option for you? If you are clear about your reasons, whether that be purely subject interest or believing that a masters is necessary for your career plan, your expectations will be realistic. Is the timing right for you? Remember that you could still do a masters at a later point in your career

Do you need it?

If career development is your main objective, have you have carefully researched your career aim? Research the labour market, job role and employers requirements to make sure a masters is required. Students from a non-STEM background sometimes assume they will need to do a computer science masters for a career in technology. But this is not necessarily the case, some tech graduate recruiters do hire from arts & humanities for example. Industry professional bodies and the Prospects Job Sectors website are good places to check the entry requirements for different professions

Are you genuinely interested in the course?

Post graduate study is intense, expensive and may be more challenging than you expect Research the course content very carefully, consider the study time required, the mode of study, attend postgraduate open days. Admissions tutors should be able to answer any questions you may have. All of this research will help you to make an informed decision.

So there are lots of reasons why a masters is a good option. It may develop your career, it may lead to higher levels of responsibility in your role and a higher salary. It will deepen your subject knowledge and interest and may be an educational experience that you are really passionate about. But none of this is a given – research will help you to decide if your expectations are realistic and whether a masters is really worth it

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