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Wednesday, 3 October 2023

Postgraduate study: getting started

Postgraduate study is an option for anyone with a good first degree. There’s a huge amount of choice, so it’s important to be clear what you want out of it. Popular reasons include retraining for a new career, standing out in the job market – and love of the subject.

Is postgraduate study for you?

People go into further study for a variety of reasons. For some, it’s about the satisfaction of studying a subject in more depth or taking the first step in becoming an academic. Others do a course to qualify them for a specific career, or to help them stand out from the crowd when applying for jobs.

And there’s a range of postgraduate courses to match, with differences in syllabus, cost and time they take to complete.

With all these options, it’s important to be clear about exactly what you expect to get out of postgraduate study.

Types of postgraduate course

There are two basic types of postgraduate course: taught courses and research opportunities.

Research opportunities

If you take up a research position you’ll pursue a piece of original research in a specific field, with guidance from a supervisor.

You’ll usually be based in a university, but there are courses that let you conduct your research in a commercial environment – or develop additional skills unrelated to research, like management skills.

Professional qualifications

Postgraduate study offers a route into public and private sector careers that require a professional qualification to get started, or to move on to the next level.

There’s sometimes more than one route available, with opportunities to get practical experience along the way. And you may find that graduate courses are quicker to complete than undergraduate equivalents. For example, a full-time postgraduate course in Initial Teacher Training usually takes one year – compared to four for a typical full-time bachelor of education course.

See ‘Graduate careers’ for details of resources to help you research requirements for getting into and progressing in professional careers like law and accountancy. ‘Postgraduate study: teacher training, social work, healthcare’ has information on postgraduate routes into public sector careers.

Professional qualifications: what to consider

If you’re planning to do a course that enables you to do a particular job, it’s important to check that the qualification you get will be recognised by that profession. The trade or professional body for your industry will usually be able to advise you on this.

Identifying your trade or professional body

If you’re not sure which is the right trade or professional body for your industry, you can check with your university or college careers service.

Postgraduate study and your career

Even if a postgraduate qualification isn’t required for the job you want to do, it can still be a way of standing out in a competitive job market.

But it’s important that you’re confident the investment will pay off. The best way to get a sense of this is to check your plans with employers and professional bodies in the field where you want to work.

For example, is the course you have in mind better preparation than getting some more work experience? What kind of reputation does the course and institution have among employers? Will it give you the knowledge and skills they value?

It’s also worth finding out the facts about:

  • where people tend to end up working once they’ve finished the course
  • what the institution can do to help you build your career
  • the typical salary for someone with the qualification you’re going for – how likely is the course to pay for itself through increased earnings?

Finding a postgraduate course or research position

See ‘Finding a postgraduate place' for details on how to find a course or research programme.

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