Those stats can’t be argued with, but narrowing down your choices to the right postgraduate for you can be tricky.
Ultimately, there are two key things to establish. What do you want to do and how can a postgraduate course help you to achieve it?
The most common types of postgraduate courses are a postgraduate diploma, a Masters degree or a PhD.
• Postgraduate diploma: People often choose a postgraduate diploma to specialise in a related area of study or to pursue an unrelated subject that can improve their job prospects. The diploma takes a year and runs from September to May.
• Masters degree: In some cases, you may need specific qualifications to be eligible for a Masters degree, especially if it’s building on a previous course. However, conversion courses are an option for changing disciplines. A Masters typically involves course work and a dissertation. You can study a taught or research option – but more on that in a bit!
• When researching your Masters, you’ll likely come across several types of letters, i.e. an MA is a Master of Arts; an MSc is a Master of Science; an MEng is a Master of Engineering; and an MEd is a Masters of Education. There’s also a Professional Master of Education, which is a postgraduate teaching qualification earned over a two-year programme.
• PhD: This Doctor of Philosophy is awarded for a thesis based on research on an original topic.
Postgraduate programmes can be taught or research programmes. Which one you choose can depend on the type of learning that suits you, the subject you want to study or whether you plan to pursue a PhD after your Masters degree.
A taught Masters follows a similar format to undergraduate study and requires students to complete a set number of modules. It tends to provide students with an established structure, a set timetable and taught classes alongside your peers. You can access help and support from the staff members involved with each module.
A research Masters requires you to do extensive independent research towards your Masters degree. It involves detailed research on your chosen proposal and your efforts will be supervised by a senior academic. It can require more self-motivation but it can potentially help to prepare you for a PhD.
Elaine Kiely, Postgraduate Careers Advisor at UL, reveals “the reasons for doing a postgraduate are different for everyone: you may want to continue your studies, pursue a chosen career path, accelerate your career progression, or to specialise in a particular discipline." It can also help you to gain an edge in an increasingly competitive market, where more and more candidates will be educated to postgraduate level.
It may be that you want to pursue a career change or move to a different sector that offers more employment opportunities. Doing a postgraduate course is a great way to retrain or upskill. Likewise, if you want to change your career path – for example moving from science into business – you can use your postgraduate as a jumping off point.
There are many options when it comes to postgraduate study and what you choose will depend on your individual circumstances and preferences. If you're considering a postgraduate course, you'll probably know more about what you want and need than you did when you chose your undergrad.
You might learn better in a structured environment that offers classes, constant interaction with lecturers and regular assignments. Or you could lack the discipline to do a distance learning course or other online options.
Maybe family or work commitments make it impossible for you to do a full-time course. Or you may be unable to afford to move to a new city. Distance learning can offer an alternative, while blended learning offers students the freedom of e-learning and the opportunity to interact with lecturers or other students.
A part-time course is another option for people who are unable to pursue full-time education. It's one way to improve yourself at your own pace if you can't afford to leave your job, or if you want to combine work and college.
GradIreland is a great resource for finding courses that might be of interest to you. Input the area you’re thinking of studying and you’ll get a list of courses. If you’re thinking of somewhere further abroad, start your search with ‘postgraduate [area] [place]’ and work outwards from there.
Contact the course director and find out about the syllabus. What will you be learning and will it be interesting? Check for experiential elements too – how hands-on is the course and how applicable will it be to a career?
Look into what other postgraduates have done. Does the university have an alumni service? Check LinkedIn too for past graduates to see the fields they work in now. Likewise, look into the HEA’s Graduate Outcome Survey. Released yearly, it considers the paths graduates have taken in the nine months since graduating.
If you’re in your final year of an undergrad, seek out and talk to current postgraduate students. Even if you’re not currently in university, you can connect with recent graduates on LinkedIn, for example, and reach out to them to learn about the course.
Enquire with career services in the university about the course and any other options. The University of Limerick, for example, has an expansive career service that offers support for postgraduate students. At the crux of this system is the ‘Mastering your employability’ accredited modules that are offered to select business and arts courses. Run across two semesters, it’s highly experiential with psychometric testing, an assessment centre to build important competencies such as giving presentations, CV and LinkedIn profile workshops, and mock interviews.
UL’s career services also offers a range of services via its online platform Careers Connect, including arranging appointments for CV clinics, one-to-one consultations, signing up for Careers Seminars or Employer Presentations, and booking into one of the Careers Fairs. The university also offers weekly workshops on actionable skills like CV writing, as well as events. Students can also avail of publications such as 'Opportunities 4U‘ – the annual booklet on the careers fairs and the companies associated with it.
There’s also the ‘Careers by Degrees’ booklets which gives an overview of courses across 3-4 years of graduates alongside the trends in employment, sample job titles, organisations that employ graduates from each degree providing a good sense of the kind of careers graduates actually end up in.
It’s a rich seam of information for students. Ultimately, the more you know the better equipped you’ll be to choose a postgraduate programme that enriches your life and career prospects.
Knowing what you want to achieve is key but you also need to pick the right time to do a course and find the right college for you. Make sure you're ready for a postgraduate course and that this is the best time to do it.
Choose right and you’ll be primed for interesting studies and a future career that you’ll be passionate about.
We’ll leave you with a parting word from our Postgraduate Careers Advisor, Elaine “ultimately, postgraduate study is an investment so think of every course in the context of the added value it can bring to your career path. Talk to people. Look at what’s out there. Do your research and make the choice that can set you up for life”.