Undertaking a postgraduate qualification can be a great option; to study an aspect of your subject in more detail, essential if you want to pursue an academic career, or it will allow you to gain a vocational or conversion qualification to enter the career of your choice. However, there is a great deal to consider and it is important to research your chosen career diligently to ensure that the qualification is the right one to help you meet your objectives and will be respected by potential recruiters.
When and how do I apply?
Some students want to continue straight from their degree to keep up the momentum of studying, You will need to apply from the start of Autumn term for some popular vocational courses eg teaching qualifications (PGCEs), law conversions etc. Although some other courses may have places a month before they start. Many vocational courses eg journalism, counselling, teaching etc will require you to have relevant experience and if you haven’t got this you may need to consider time out before applying. Taking time out to gain experience can be ideal for checking that this is the right career for you, and for some students working for a year to fund their future studies is the only way they can do it. Increasingly students are choosing to study part-time so they can work too. If you wish to study abroad it can take 18 months for the application process so this means you will have to apply during your second year or take a year out.
The majority of courses will require you to apply to them individually so this means you can target your application towards that specific course. Demonstrate you have done your research and key elements of the programme that you are excited about; every university wants motivated students and can spot a student applying for the sake of applying to avoid working for another year! Nearly all courses will require students to attend an interview. For advice on applications and typical interview questions see the Prospects website (www.prospects.ac.uk/postgraduate_study.htm)but most universities offer advice on their websites about what they want to see in applications
Where to start
Research the career you are interested in, would a postgrad qualification be helpful or essential?
Check with relevant professional bodies; do they recommend specific courses?
If relevant experience is required plan when and how you will get it.
What can I study?
When you start researching postgraduate courses it can be confusing as there is a vast choice on offer. It can seem overwhelming trying to work out what the differences are.
Masters in Art (MA) Masters in Science (MSc) – these can be taught or research based courses typically lasting a year looking in-depth at a topic or subject area. Students then undertake a dissertation (or research project). In most cases a 2i is required, but not always. A 2i is often necessary to secure funding from Research Councils (if funding is available).
Postgraduate certificates/diplomas (PGDip, PG Cert) – can either be a vocational qualification but often these are the like the Masters but without the dissertation element (therefore cheaper). Usually a 2ii is the minimum requirement but not always.
PG Certificate in Education (PGCE) – this is a teaching qualification, qualifying students to teach in either Primary or Secondary schools (FE option available). A taught course with placements in school, students must pass both parts to qualify. Students need at least a 2ii but this may rise to 2i. See the TDA website for more on teaching and funding training.
Masters in Business Administration (MBA) – a vocational programme and traditionally substantial work experience was required before students could enrol but this is no longer the case at all universities. See the league table on the Association of Business School’s website or the FT site for World Rankings.
Masters in Research (MRes) – a relatively new 1 year qualification that aims to prepare students for further research at Doctoral level. A 2i is normally required and the course focuses on teaching research methodology relevant to the subject area. Can be directly linked to a PhD option so on successful completion students move on to start their PhD at the same institution or choose to leave it with their MPhil. Dissertation is weighted higher than on MAs.
Masters in Philosophy (MPhil) – similar to an MA or MSc but often with a larger dissertation or research project attached. Like the MRes a 2i is usually required and can also be directly linked to a PhD option so on successful completion students move on to start their PhD at the same institution or choose to leave it with their MPhil.
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD, DPhil) – some doctoral programmes will have a taught element but the focus is on producing a piece of research (at least 40,000 words) that is worthy of publication. It aims to inform the research in the chosen area of research.
Where to find the courses and how to choose?
As mentioned before, do check with any potential professional body who may accredit some courses eg National Council Training for Journalists (www.nctj.com), British Council for Counselling & Psychotherapy (www.bacp.co.uk/), etc. Most postgraduate courses are listed on Prospects (www.prospects.ac.uk/postgraduate_study.htm), and www.findamasters.com and www.findaphd.com. If you want to pursue one relevant to your subject talk to academic tutors, and look at current journals to see who is actively researching in that topic. Talk to current postgraduates by attending Open Days and compare module choice between different institutions. Universities have their research activity rated see the results at www.rae.ac.uk. Ask universities what their previous students have gone on to do, they all have to collate these results.
Funding for postgraduate study can often be the stumbling block for many students. Courses can cost from £3,000 – £6,000 per year, maybe more for lab based courses and sometimes double for international students. Business related or conversion courses may be four times as much. Hence some students opt to study part-time so they can work at the same time. Start by asking universities how previous students have funded the course and ask to be considered for any potential funding that might be available. Some courses will have funding from Research Councils (www.rcuk.ac.uk/Pages/Home.aspx) who get their funding from the government. Other students are able to get some funding from charities or Grant Making trusts for advice on these see the specialist advice on Prospects (www.prospects.ac.uk/funding_my_further_study.htm).
Identify what courses might be relevant for you and think of the “pros and cons” for your situation.
Find out as much as possible about the course you’d like to do, what do the current students think, what is the university’s research history like, how have previous students paid for it?
Come and talk your ideas through with a Careers Adviser and get a plan together to help you succeed.