How to decide if a Master's is for you

pile of books in university library

Is a postgrad path right for you?

Last time we asked, 68% of students told us they were considering postgraduate study before they'd even completed their A-levels. Should you be thinking about it too? 

Taking a Master's is certainly more accessible than it once was. Since 2016, students have been able to access postgraduate loans to help with the cost of tuition fees and living costs. 

And the government's annual report on graduate employment statistics shows that those with a postgraduate qualification earn, on average, £6,000 a year more than those with an undergraduate degree.

But the decision to take a Master's won't be right for everyone. Here are some common reasons why people think about applying for a Master's, and what you need to consider if any of them sounds like you. 

stressed student at laptop

I don't know what else to do with my life

Sound familiar? Graduating uni can be a daunting prospect, but if you’re thinking about doing a Master's course because you don’t know what else to do, stop right there. 

“It's not worth doing an Master's simply because you don't know what to do next,” says jelly1000.

If you’re not sure where your undergraduate degree is taking you career-wise, then doing a Master’s isn’t going to magically make that problem go away.

“I don't really think it's a brilliant idea to think: ‘I might as well do a Master's degree, I wonder what subject to pick’, because then you'll run into trouble,” says rottcodd.

You need to be absolutely certain that a Master’s is what you want to do and is relevant to your future plans. You don’t want to spend a whole load of extra money and gain potential extra debt only to discover down the line that your true calling is elsewhere. 

If you want to buy some time before settling on a career, think about taking a gap year instead. Post-graduation is a great time to do this as you’re a bit older and more experienced than you were after A-levels.

You’ll be able to get a job, save some money, see a bit of the world and take a break from studying to figure out what you really want to do. 

student holding pile of books in library

I love my subject, and want to study it further

“I like my subject, and the Master's is allowing it to be focused in an area to an extent which was unavailable at undergrad level,” says Jamielvo.

If you want to pursue a Master's because you love your subject then you’ll be in strong position to take on the challenge. Feeling passionate about your course will help motivate you to keep on top of the work. 

If there’s an area that you’re particularly interested in, then pursuing a Master's is a great way to be able to focus on that area and become more specialised. 

Be smart though and ask yourself if you’ve got everything sorted – can you afford it? Will you be able to get funding, or will you have to take out a postgraduate loan? Hunt around around to see what scholarships are available. 

There’s also no rush to jump in to a Master's straight away. If you want to take a year out to save up and take a break from studying, that’s okay too. 

broke student

I want a better-paying job

If you’re thinking that having a Master's will give you a major advantage over others in securing a higher paying job, you might need to take a step back and think again.

Taking a random Master's in the hopes of boosting your CV for a mystery future job might not be the best choice. 

Some roles might prefer candidates to have a Master's degree, but you’ll need to do your research.

“Attend some careers fairs and ask potential employers how highly they value candidates with Master's and what makes candidates stand out for them,” says nonswimmer.

You also need to be careful about what Master's to take if you’re not 100% set on your career yet.

“A Master's is an opportunity to specialise,” explains Klix88. “There's a chance that if you do the "wrong" Master's early on, it may paint you into a corner and actually put people off employing you.” 

“Some subjects are more employable than others and if your aim is to better your job prospects, then consider this carefully,” says SkinnyKat. 

If you’re still not certain, then you might want to “get a job, earn money, establish yourself professionally and review things again when you have five year's professional experience under your belt,” says threeportdrift.

“You might find at some point down the line that you need a Master's to progress to top positions. In this case, your employer might even sponsor you. Or you'll find yourself financially in a better place to do postgraduate study anyway,” adds DeMoomin.

student leading a lecture

My dream career requires me to have one

“In a number of professions a postgraduate qualification, sometimes even a PhD, is necessary,” says River85.

If you’ve got a specific career in mind and you know you’ll need further qualifications to get there then thinking about a Master's is an obvious option, but make sure you do your research so you make the best decision. 

It might be that you’ll be able to get a graduate job in your field who will be able to sponsor your postgraduate study. 

If you’ve done well in your undergraduate degree, or are on track to do well, you may be able to go straight on to do a PhD directly from your undergraduate course.

“The requirement for a Master's is more usual in the Humanities. In the sciences it's common to go straight from undergrad to PhD with the right background,” explains Klix88. 

Getting a PhD application in and arranging funding can be a stressful addition to your third year university work but it could be worth it if you’re certain that’s the route you want to pursue.

On the other hand, you might want to do a Master's first to get a taste of the postgraduate life and see if it really is for you before committing to a PhD.

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