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5 steps to finding the perfect postgraduate degree

“The higher your standard of education, the more chance you have of getting a job and of being paid well in it.”

This quote, from an Irish Times article, has been supported by many different education bodies.

In fact, the Higher Education Authority surveyed 18,200 students in 2017, who graduated with level 8-10 qualifications – and found that over 70 percent were in employment nine months on from graduation.

It’s an impressive stat that speaks to the usefulness of a graduate degree – and to a postgraduate degree in particular, where employment was as high as 81 percent. The vast majority were employed in Ireland – which showcases a vibrant jobs market for educated, young graduates.

While the stats are convincing, a postgrad is a big commitment. You might need to balance work and education. You could be tired and occasionally under pressure – but it’ll absolutely be worth it if you chose the right postgraduate degree. Here’s how.

1. Self-assess before you make the move

A self-assessed psychometric test can be useful in helping you to make your choice if you’re overwhelmed by the number of available courses.

Ultimately, if you can pair your interests with your career choice, you’ll be happier in your job and much more motivated. UL’s Professor Kevin Murphy recommends trying basic vocational interest tests like the free Holland Interest Profiler to determine if you’re on the right path.

Likewise, consider the pros and cons of a postgraduate degree. Will you cope well with the amount of work – especially if you’ll be working full or part-time? Will you thrive under the pressure of completing a postgrad thesis or any work placements?

If you really want to test the waters before signing up, why not volunteer in a related field or email relevant institutions looking for voluntary work or experience? That way, you’ll be fully armed with all the information you need before you make the leap.

If it’s an area you’re not familiar with, UL’s Head of Careers, Gavin Connell, advises prospective postgraduates to consider a certificate before going for a Master’s, so they can get a taste for the subject.

As a final note: think of any course options within the context of your eventual career. Ultimately, will the postgraduate degree open doors for you in a field you think you’d be happy in long-term?

2. Consider the work/life/college balance

The work/life balance is tricky for undergrads, but it’s even more difficult as a postgrad as both college and your career ramp up. A lack of balance in any one area can lead to an abundance of stress and a feeling of being overwhelmed. However, it is something students take on and manage every year.

UL student Emma Pembroke, who is studying an MSc, reveals that it can be tricky to find the balance at the beginning, but that she has settled into it.

“I found it hard to balance the work/life aspect,” she says. “At the start of the semester, you feel overwhelmed, but it levels out.”

To finance her MEng in Mechatronics, Siobhán Curley worked for a year in retail after her undergraduate. The student experience and keeping involved in the college community is important to Siobhán, and she balances her studies with her role as club and societies executive.

Some UL postgraduates even balance a young family with distance learning. MA student Seán Daffy was set on doing the MSc in Technical Communications and E-Learning, but was reluctant to move his wife and two children from their home in Galway. Instead, he decided to take the ‘blended learning’ route, studying online and attending workshops in UL.

“I am living in Galway so I am studying online and attending workshops in UL, it’s what they call blended learning and it works really well. I didn’t want to leave Galway, my wife has a permanent job, we have two daughters.” 

Balancing a postgrad on top of a career can feel more like a work/work balance – but it’s absolutely manageable if you approach it with the right frame of mind. Some tips for maintaining a solid balance:

  • Utilise your commute for college work.
  • Plan ahead – the days of frantically working on assignments in the nights up to the deadline are long gone. Prioritise and conquer.
  • Be honest with your boss; if possible come to an agreement with them around stacking holidays at exam time, or giving time in lieu in case you need to take a morning off.
  • Learn about the intricacies of the course you want to do. Is it full-time or part-time? What’s the work load? How many hours of lectures will you need to do? Will you have classes some Saturdays?

3. Determine if there are any financial or funding options, or if you’ll need to fully self-fund

As per Citizens Information, students enrolling in a postgrad may be eligible for financial assistance under the Student Grant Scheme for courses in Ireland and Northern Ireland.

Postgrads may qualify for assistance in two ways:

  • They can get a flat rate fee contribution of €2,000 if they pass the fee contribution means test.
  • They can get all tuition fees and field trips (up to €6,270), if they meet the qualifying conditions for the special rate of grant for disadvantaged students.

Internal scholarships are an option too: UL has a range of scholarships available for Taught and Research Master’s. Individual scholarships or grants may also be available in varying institutions, so enquire with admissions staff. 

Check the table below to see scholarship options from external bodies, too.

The postgrad grant list

Universities Ireland

Four scholarships for Masters and PhD students.


Postgrad Solutions

15 postgrad study bursaries

Irish Research Council

Taught Masters and PhD scholarships


Walsh 2017 Fellowship Programme.

Student Universal Support Ireland (SUSI)

Student grant options for postgrads

Credit Union scholarships

Area-based grants – check with your local credit union


The Irish Research Council also offers scholarships for, “[students] suitably qualified to pursue a research Masters or PhD (either traditional or structured), in any discipline, at eligible higher education institutions in Ireland. In addition, a number of targeted scholarships are offered in collaboration with our strategic funding partners.”

It’s also worth noting that tax relief is available on postgraduate tuition fees.

4. Evaluate potential areas and their pros and cons

Once you’ve decided on a career path, you’ll broadly know the kind of courses you’re interested in. Beyond that, the biggest deciding factors will be cost and location. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking you’re limited to where you went to college.

Dublin, and its surrounding environs, for example, offer a bustling social scene and plenty of opportunity – but rent is far more expensive than in other counties.

If you’re self-funding your postgrad, you’ll need to look at a shared house with other students or young professionals – or you could consider a college in a location where rent is cheaper. Limerick is a popular city for students, as it marries a city feel with a more affordable cost of living.

Regardless, weigh up the pros and cons of the opportunities and drawbacks and make a measured decision.

5. Consider the individual facilities

If you’ve narrowed your choices down to a couple of final contenders, your last task is to consider the individual accolades and facilities that the course can offer.

For example, the Kemmy Business School in UL is a first-class business institution that stands out for its world-leading lecturers but also for Ireland’s only purpose-built trading floor on-campus and a 100 percent employability rate for the Master's of Taxation.

Further again, KBS offers both a structured and traditional PhD: the former is perfect for part-time students and centres on a research thesis with no requirement to attend taught modules, while the latter adds taught modules to the mix.

Ultimately, a postgrad may only take a year or two of your time, but it will set you up for decades – so choose wisely!

Thinking of a postgraduate degree?

At UL, our career experts help potential postgraduate students make this choice every year. Download our ultimate guide, which will help prospective postgrad students make this big decision, with leading decision-making techniques, resources and real advice from UL’s past postgraduates and career experts.

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