Postgraduate study can provide a rewarding and exciting route to developing yourself personally, academically or professionally. There can be a whole host of reasons as to why those who decide to take up further study choose to do so at different stages of their lives.
However you arrive at a decision to study, it’s important that you are comfortable with any decision you reach, considering the full range of options available to you in terms of course selection, institution and funding.
Finding a suitable course
There are a myriad of course options available to prospective students. Think about what you want to get out of postgraduate study. Do you want to enhance your knowledge in a subject related to your bachelor’s degree? Are you seeking a course which will provide a professionally recognised qualification in a particular area? Do you want to change direction completely? You need to ask yourself as many questions as you need to in order to draw out relevant information on which you can base your decision.
A good starting point to source specific subject areas offered by universities is the Prospects website . Individual university websites will provide more detailed information about the range of courses and subjects on offers at a particular institution. Contact universities you are interested in to further discuss how their course could meet your requirements.
Gather as much information as you can so that you can compare those which interest you. You can then start to determine which would be most appropriate for your needs. You could also try contacting universities to see if it’s possible to visit their departments before you make your decision.
Funding for postgraduate courses
Unlike undergraduate courses, the majority of postgraduate courses are not supported by government funding. This can present a dilemma to prospective students who wish to further their academic studies to the next level after graduation.
There are some exceptions to this, including PGCE courses and postgraduate Social Work and NHS-funded qualifications, where students may be entitled to financial support. For further information for funding in these course areas, see below:
So, for courses where there’s no governmental funding available, where else can a prospective postgraduate student look for funding?
Is the postgraduate course you’re considering studying for relevant to your current job role or is it a requirement of your employment that you study for it? If so, it may be possible to talk to your employer about any support they may be able to provide you with. In some instances, this could mean that they may fully or partly fund course fees or could provide you with study leave. This is something that would need to be carefully negotiated with your employer and is dependent upon their policies with regards to supporting their employees for professional development.
Scholarships or bursaries
Scholarships or bursaries may be available for taught postgraduate and research degree programmes. There is usually stiff competition between prospective students when applying to try and secure such funding, and funding sources, types and availability will vary depending upon the subject area of proposed study. Prospective students are advised to research what’s potentially available in advance to find out when they will need to apply for this type of funding in relation to when they are looking to commence their course of study.
Further information about seeking funding opportunities for postgraduate study through such sources can be found at the Prospects website.
If you are fortunate enough to have sufficient personal funds to support yourself for fees and living costs, you could consider this option for funding your studies. You need to carefully weigh up the pros and cons of using your own resources for this purpose to determine the impact of funding study via this method.
Some postgraduate students opt to take out a loan, such as a Career Development Loan, if they are unable to secure funding from elsewhere. This is not something that should be considered as a ‘quick-fix’ or ‘easy’ solution to funding a course, and should be considered very carefully. Consideration should be given to the feasibility of assuming additional debt for study and whether or not this additional expenditure is justified for achieving your long term goals. You also need to consider how repayments would be made – would you be required to start repaying the loan shortly after completing the course? Is this going to be achievable?
Key questions to ask yourself
• Does the course I want to study really allow me to progress towards my goals?
Is it a requirement for the career you want to pursue or is it something that you have a personal interest in completing? Maybe you’re considering progressing into research in the future, and need a masters degree in order to do help you to work towards this. Maybe you have a burning desire
• Am I choosing to study for the right reason?
Some professions require individuals to have a specific qualification at postgraduate level in order to be qualified to work in a particular role, so there is a clear justification for further study in such instances. Other employment opportunities don’t require postgraduate qualifications and may look for appropriate experience to be offered instead.
There’s sometimes the misconception that having a postgraduate qualification will always provide someone with an advantage over others with lower level qualifications when applying for a job, but this is not necessarily the case. When thinking about any specific career, it’s imperative that you spend time researching the requirements for that sector and aiming to meet the requirements in an appropriate manner; see if this research yields the need to undertake postgraduate study.
• Have I investigated all possible funding options?
Employer, scholarship, bursary, loan or self? What effect could each potential source available to you have on you now and in the future?
• Have I investigated all possible study options for my chosen subject- full-time, part-time and flexible/distance learning?
Part-time or flexible study can help to spread the burden of your course costs – and sometimes be cheaper as a whole – something which can be appealing to both yourself if you are funding your own studies, or your employer if they’re supporting you.
Full-time courses may allow you to undertake periods of practice within the course which can be invaluable for future employability and can help you to work towards your goals more quickly.
• If I fund my own study, what impact could this have on other areas of my life?
For example, will you need to save more money in the future for a deposit on a house, etc? Is it effective to use your own money to fund study at this time, or would it be more practical to use it for other purposes now and pursue further study at a later point in your career? Could you seek out other alternative funding sources instead?
• Realistically, will the postgraduate qualification I’m thinking about studying ‘pay for itself’ in the long run?
Is there a real possibility of being able to command a higher salary because you have it or can it provide you with personal enrichment which adds value? Perhaps it provides a route to gaining a professional qualification which opens new doors in terms of career opportunities or promotion. It may provide you with more focused knowledge in a particular discipline which could be highly valued in your chosen career field. It may allow you to develop new knowledge in a different area to your first degree or simply allow you to study something you’re passionate about it in greater depth.
Choosing to undertake postgraduate study is a personal decision and it’s up to you to carefully weigh up all available information before making a decision, so that you’re fully prepared and better equipped to embrace the opportunities that it presents.