Whatever you choose to study, you will need to enjoy and be interested in the subject to keep yourself motivated, especially for research degrees. In some areas, particularly humanities, this is the most realistic reason for postgraduate study, especially if you don’t intend to go on into an academic career.
But do consider whether your interest is so great as to be worth the time, effort and cost of a postgraduate degree.
As a career move?
A professional postgraduate qualification is essential for some careers (law, teaching, psychology) and may be helpful in others (journalism, human resource management, politics, economics). If you want an academic career, a PhD is essential – not because it is required by law but because of the competition for academic posts.
Employers in other career areas are not always as impressed by a postgraduate degree as postgraduates think. Only 20% of graduate recruiters will offer a higher salary to postgraduates. The majority of recruiters will value postgraduate degrees more for the skills gained through study (such as self-motivation and analytical skills) than for the actual subject knowledge gained.
Because your tutor has recommended it?
This can be encouraging and flattering – but it is you, not your tutor, who will have to undertake (and pay for!) postgraduate study so make sure that you too are sure it is the right option for you.
To improve your academic record?
A postgraduate degree can sometimes help to compensate for poor results in your Bachelors degree or A-levels, but not always: many employers are rigid in their requirements for UCAS points or a 2.1 even for postgraduates.
To keep on being a student?
In the past, many students carried on into postgraduate study because they enjoyed student life so much or to put off the day when they would have to go out into the “real world”. The financial pressures of being a student today means that this reason is less often quoted but it still happens. Don’t use postgraduate study as an excuse not to think about a future career at all!
To put off making a career decision?
If you undertake a taught Masters, it won’t actually put off your decision that long: many job applications need to be made at the start of the academic year. Where the extra year can be an advantage is in giving you time to build up your employability skills through involvement in University activities or in gaining work experience. Do think beyond your postgraduate degree and make sure it fits in with any future career plans.
Who can do postgraduate study?
You don’t have to have a First to go into postgraduate study (although it will help, especially in getting funding). A “good” 2.1 (65% or better) is usually expected.However, people with lower grades, including 2.2s, are regularly accepted onto postgraduate courses, especially if you have obtained better results in modules relevant to the postgraduate course than in your degree overall.
A relevant degree is usually required but “relevant” can be interpreted very broadly. For example, Law and History graduates regularly go on to postgraduate degrees in politics and international relations while politics graduates go on to LLM courses. Some Masters degrees, for example in Business, Computing and Psychology, are designed as conversion courses for graduates in other subjects.
Universities have a great deal of freedom in who they accept onto their postgraduate courses, so if you are in any doubt speak to the relevant department or the Graduate School at the university in which you are interested.