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The pro’s and con’s of postgraduate study

Sooner or later you will have to get a job, so it is important to think pragmatically when considering whether or not to participate in postgraduate study. It can be very beneficial if it is something you are genuinely interested in...

 However, the underlying concern of most employers is that the academic route could be chosen as a means of avoiding the ‘real’ world. A postgrad degree is not a guarantor of quality in itself, but when backed up with a decent skill set, it becomes highly sought after. When taking up that mortarboard again, be prepared to keep a focus on that ultimate goal: employment. 

The Pro’s

Contributing to academia The decision to undertake postgraduate study shouldn’t necessarily just be about getting a job.

The thing that should motivate you to go back to university is an interest in your subject and a love of learning. Postgraduate study means you get to continue something you really enjoy and contribute to the UK’s world-class academic reputation.

Earning Potential – One of the main arguments in favour of postgraduate study is the greater earning power it gives you compared to graduates with just one degree. According to The Sutton Trust in February 2013, their report, The Postgraduate Premium, found that compared to someone with a Bachelor’s degree, on average, someone with a Master’s qualification can earn £5,500 more per annum.

The High Fliers Research report The Graduate Market in 2013 found that graduate starting salaries in the UK, from leading employers, are expected to average at £29,000 in 2013. Unfortunately, the catch – This earning potential isn’t guaranteed. Like any graduate job, earnings depend on what you choose to study, the status of the course, how strong the university’s links to industry are, the location of the job, and to a certain extent, luck.

Employability – A postgraduate qualification such as a Master’s degree or a PhD will make your CV stand out from other candidates. The Telegraph reported that PricewaterhouseCoopers received a record 30,000 applications for their graduate entry scheme in 2012.

Although a postgraduate degree isn’t often a direct requirement for many jobs, it is valued by employers.

Entry into certain professions – In the case of some postgraduate courses it is highly relevant to consider what type of career you will go into after completion. There are a number of professions which require additional qualifications, such as law, psychology, medicine, social work and teaching.

Postgraduate study is therefore essential when it is the only route into certain skilled jobs.

The Cons

Money and funding – One of the most significant barriers to postgraduate study is the cost. Unlike undergraduate study, there is no central loans provider for postgraduate courses, meaning that you either have to win a scholarship, get a bank loan, pay for it yourself, or use other funding route. It’s a huge investment, and essential to determine whether or not it is really worth it.

Lack of workplace experience – The longer you spend in the library, the less time you spend developing your ‘real world’ workplace skills.

Although a Master’s qualification can make your CV stand out and postgraduates are valued by businesses, employers are primarily looking for someone who can do the job and there are concerns about their lack of work experience, commercial knowledge and leadership skills.

Unfortunately a Master’s student with little experience will find it hard to compete with a first degree graduate with a solid job history.

Trapped in academia – In the difficult economic climate, it can be tempting to tide it over in the library. Although extra qualifications won’t do your CV any harm, you can’t stay in education forever. It is important to think further study through properly so that a year down the line you don’t feel like you’re trapped doing something you don’t enjoy.


Remember that there is always the option to work and then go back into education once you’ve gained experience and saved up. Postgraduate study is extremely intellectually demanding. For many people who like a challenge this may not be deemed as a negative thing. However, you need to consider whether you will be motivated enough to produce a high standard of work.