Deciding whether to take the leap into the postgraduate study is rarely a straightforward process. After all, you may relish the idea of spending more years studying what you love, collecting those prestigious letters after your name and embarking on your dream career. Equally though, the real pull of postgraduate study may be a way to sit out the recession and buy some time while you decide what profession will best suit you.
With the costs of postgraduate study often falling solely on the student when limited loan opportunities are available, even if your career is expertly mapped out, the fees of an MA (or the limited earnings associated with a PhD grant) are enough to put even the most dedicated student off. So when the doubt comes knocking and the pros and cons are stacking up, taking a cold hard look at what you expect from your ‘academic investment’ can help you decide if you’re embarking on further study for the right reasons.
Of course, if a postgraduate study is the only (or most straightforward) route to your dream career then the choice is often clear. When this is the case, the costs associated with MA postgraduate study (the cost of a Masters degree is usually between £3,000-£12,000 per year, depending on the university) are often considered well-worth the investment for students looking to progress to PhD level and find work as a university tutor, research scientist or specialist consultant.
Postgraduate study can also be a great way for students to completely change their career path in a year or two. For example, a student with an undergraduate degree in biology could become a speech therapist after two years or a teacher after one.
If you are an international student then you’re probably well aware that funding for undergraduate degrees isn’t available from the Student Loans Company and many overseas students, therefore, have to fund their studies through the help of family.
At Masters degree level, UK national students aren’t eligible for Student Loans funding either (unless their course is an integrated MA degree such as Maths and Engineering) and often UK national students will secure MA funding by taking out a career development loan, borrowing from family, or in rare cases securing a scholarship.
The good news is, while the funding options can seem like an endless torrent of expensive options at Masters level, funding at PhD level is generally much more widespread with many research positions even paying tax-free salaries (many which significantly exceed national minimum wage). As an international student, you may find the options open to you vary between each institution so it’s always best to contact the department you’re interested in well in advance of when you plan to begin your course.
Prospects also offer useful funding information for international students and advise international students to initially contact their national government at home, and if failing that, contact the British Embassy or local Council for full details of the funding options available to them.
It’s important to weigh the possible costs of postgraduate study against the benefits, and if you automatically assume an MA will get you on a fast track to the career of your dreams with a higher salary on account of your qualifications, then you may be disappointed.
While an MA or PhD demonstrates commitment, passion for your subject and intelligence, unless you have a clear career focus, a higher level qualification isn’t guaranteed to open doors. Granted it can certainly help, but viewing a postgraduate qualification as the golden key isn’t always realistic.
As mentioned, if your career goals are clear then postgraduate study may be propelling you towards a well-paid position in which your higher level qualifications are essential. In these cases, students are often happy to miss out on a generous salary for a few years to get to their ultimate destination, but if an MA or PhD isn’t necessary for your career, it’s worth asking whether later entry to a graduate job is acceptable to you.
If a student graduates works for a year in a ‘filler’ job (this is quite common) and then spends a further year or two studying for an MA then by the time they secure a job they could have missed out on three year’s worth of a good graduate salary. Again, if you’re looking to study at postgraduate level as you aren’t sure which path to take, this ‘loss’ of potential earnings could become frustrating.
We hope we’ve brought some of the realities, benefits and disadvantages to light so you can ascertain whether further study is right for you. As highlighted, if your heart is set on building a career in which higher level qualifications are essential, or beneficial to your application, and you’re worried about the financial implications, get in touch with the bodies outlined in this post to see what options are available to you.
In the meantime, if you’re lacking confidence in your English language skills and would like to study at a UKBA highly trusted college then get in touch with our friendly team at New College Manchester.