Thinking of doing a postgraduate course?

At the Careers & Enterprise Centre we’ve noticed a number of students enquiring about applying to postgraduate courses. But before you start sending your personal statement to universities, read our top tips to make sure that you make the right choice when it comes to staying on at university.

Top 5 Things to Consider

1)      Why do you want to do a postgraduate course?

You’ve had a fantastic time at university and want to prolong your student life as much as you can. Maybe you’re not sure what next step to take so feel postgraduate study is a safe option? Although you are not alone in this feeling, it would be a mistake to base your decision entirely on this factor. Postgraduate study demands a huge amount of commitment as well as hard work.  It takes up a large amount of your time and there’s the financial aspect to consider too.

It is important to be honest with yourself about your motivation for further study and think carefully about what you hope to gain from the course. More positive reasons for pursuing this option are if you enjoyed your subject, want to specialise further, or have researched that a postgraduate qualification will make you more attractive to employers in a particular job area. Remember, if you are unsure of your choices or feel daunted about entering the job market, you can speak to a Careers Consultant to clarify your ideas and discuss your options.

2)      What type of course do you want to do?

Having decided why you want to do a postgraduate course, the next step is to decide what to do. For example, a postgraduate course designed for those looking to do a research degree might be tailored differently to a more vocational course. The great thing about postgrad study is that there is a wide variety of choice, from PGDips to MAs, MPhils and PhDs, and we’ll be posting a blog shortly to give further details of the differences between these options. You might also want to consider studying part-time or doing a distance learning course.

A postgraduate course is also an opportunity to study a topic that could even be quite different to your undergraduate degree.  If you have a particular career you are looking to pursue after the course,  research what type of qualification employers in this industry require by looking at job descriptions. Gaining work experience in this area while you study will further add to your employability once you graduate.

3)      Where?

Considering where you want to carry out your postgraduate course is also important. The reputation of the institution and/or of the staff within your chosen department might be important to you, particularly if there is a specific lecturer you would want to work with. You might need to look carefully at the lab facilities available, or consider how close you need to be to certain archives. Think about what opportunities the university provides for contact with other postgraduates – does it have a dedicated postgraduate seminar series for example?

Many universities now have additional resources and facilities in order to attract postgraduates, such as specially designated study areas, so it’s worth seeing what is out there. While it’s tempting to stay with what you know, a postgraduate course could be a great chance to experience something new, be it a new city, a new campus, or new pubs!

4)      How to apply

Unlike undergraduate degrees, where your application is done through UCAS, postgraduate courses require you to apply directly to the university you’re interested in. Different courses will have different application processes, which could include an application form, a CV, a personal statement and even a sample of your work. For research degrees you will most likely have to submit a research proposal.

The key point to remember is that whatever form your application takes, you will need to demonstrate why you have chosen that particular course, why you want to attend that particular university, and why you would be a suitable candidate. While your degree classification will be a key consideration, you will also have to demonstrate that you have the skills and personal attributes necessary for postgraduate study. And if you need advice on your application, the Careers Centre is here to help.

5)      Funding

How you will fund your further education is often a key factor in making the decision about pursuing further study,  as there is no central Student Loan Company for postgraduate courses. Funding is also highly competitive, so it’s worth thinking about sooner rather than later. Two of the better known ways of securing money is through the relevant Research Council (such as the AHRC or ESRC) or through the university itself. There are also a number of smaller charities and institutions which could offer grants and scholarships, and some companies might even be willing to sponsor your postgraduate work particularly if it is in a field of interest to them.

It is worth putting in the time and effort to thoroughly research the funding opportunities open to you. As funding is so scarce and difficult to obtain, you might have no choice but to pay for either part, or sometimes all, of your further study yourself. Postgraduate courses are expensive and even if you are lucky enough to secure funding, you should still prepare yourself for being on a stringent budget for the duration of your study. Options for privately providing for your course could include a personal loan, paid-work or private funds. Before you  commit financially and possibly go into debt in order to fund postgraduate study, you must seriously consider if it is ultimately worth it.

For more information…

www.prospects.ac.uk – the Postgraduate Study section provides advice on how to choose a course, together with information on available courses, funding, and upcoming events.

www.findamasters.com and www.findaphd.com – searchable databases of MA and PhD courses.

www.targetcourses.co.uk – includes an a-z of institutions which provide postgraduate study, information on funding and advice on applying.

Heather Campbell
Careers Information Assistant
QM Careers Centre

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