Studying to Further your Options

Many people assume that the more highly qualified they are, the more attractive they are to an employer. This depends, however, on how relevant those qualifications are to the post for which you apply. A masters degree may aid a career change, or help you to gain chartership status and provide useful industry contacts.

However, masters level study is intense and often expensive. In most cases, you'll need some relevant work experience for registration on a programme. To make the most of postgraduate study it's important to have a solid reason for committing to a course.

The government's graduate labour market statistics for 2017 show that graduates and postgraduates had higher employment rates than non-graduates. Postgraduates are more likely to be in high-skilled employment (professional or managerial roles); 77% of working-age postgraduates were in high-skilled employment, compared with 65% of all working age graduates. For some roles, like clinical psychologist, lawyer, librarian, social worker or teacher, a masters degree is essential, while for others it is beneficial.

Routes to qualification

For academic qualifications, routes you might take are:

  • a taught course that involves a short research project, leading to a postgraduate certificate, diploma or a masters degree
  • research leading to an MRes, MPhil or PhD
  • combination of formal courses and research - there are 'taught doctorates' in fields such as clinical psychology, education and engineering. These involve more lectures and seminars than a traditional PhD and the research project is normally directly related to professional practice.

For vocational qualifications, consider:

  • a mix of university-based study and assessed work placements, leading for instance to an MA Social Work or a postgraduate teaching qualification (PGCE or PGDE)
  • a conversion course, typically a one-year taught course which allows you to convert to a new subject area e.g. Graduate Diploma in Psychology (GDP), or Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL)

Ensure you check specific entry requirements for a given route of study which may require a combination of academic qualifications and professional experience. Contact the admissions tutor or prospective research supervisor to find out about course content and potential research projects. Prepare a list of relevant questions to elicit the information you require. You might also contact the Careers Advisory Service at the institution to find what past students on the chosen course have gone on to do.

Referees and funding

When applying for a postgraduate degree, you are likely to be asked to nominate two referees and nominating a recognised academic in your chosen research area will carry weight. For a vocational course such as teaching, one person will normally be an academic referee, (e.g. a personal tutor) and the other, a professional in your chosen field (e.g. the head teacher of a school where you have undertaken work experience). Always ask permission from those you want to cite as referees and brief them on plans so they can fine-tune the reference accordingly.

The funding options available vary as to whether you apply for a taught course or research. Usual sources of funding include research council awards, scholarships, and bursaries offered by universities. For taught courses, the admissions tutor may provide information on normal funding routes for students. For vocational courses, advice is available from the appropriate professional association. In social work or clinical areas of the NHS, bursaries may be available to cover both fees and maintenance.

Posted: Friday 20 July 2018

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