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The Master’s Degree: How to Go Back to University for the Right Reasons

 

A personal reflection on the merits of postgraduate education from a current master’s degree student.

Article by Alex M

Every year, as Graduation Day draws nearer, a considerable proportion of final year students start to consider spending another year at university, in order to turn that “B” at the end of their name into an “M”. The appeal is obvious.

Faced with a big wide world filled with uncertainty, the temptation to retreat back to what you know is enormous. Indeed, the popularity of master’s degrees increased throughout the 2000’s. In the last few years though, as fees have risen, numbers on master’s courses have started to fall. There was a drop of 8% in the numbers of UK students entering postgraduate study for the 2012/13 academic year.

So, the question becomes, are they still worth it?

The Right Reasons

As someone currently enrolled on a master’s degree, you will not be particularly flabbergasted that my answer to that question is yes. It is however, a qualified yes. It’s important that you do a master’s course for the right reasons. Specifically, this means not just to delay your life for a year. There are two reasons this is a rubbish idea. One, it won’t change the fact that you will have to face the boundless frivolity of the graduate job market one day. Two, if you do just want to delay your life for a year, there are a thousand and one cheaper, and more enjoyable, ways to do it than a postgraduate degree. Rather, the decision should involve thinking positively about the extent to which a postgraduate degree will contribute to the ways in which you market yourself to potential employers.

 The Right Course

Naturally, an important part of this is choosing the right course. The university league tables are of limited use here, as the ranking of individual departments is much more important at postgraduate level than it was at undergrad. A lot of courses include placements and internships, so this is another thing to consider.

Barring an extraordinary coincidence, it’s unlikely the best course for you will be at your present university. This is no bad thing, as having two different universities on your CV makes you look a bit more decisive and adventurous, and makes the act of doing a second degree look like more of a positive one.

The Right Financial Outlook

Of course, the one thing that puts a lot of people off further study is the prohibitive cost. However, if you can get access to funding one way or the other, the cost can seem a little more manageable if placed into the context of lifetime earnings or the student debt you’ve already accumulated (particularly if you started your undergrad after 2012).

The Right Decision

It’s worth mentioning that whilst I’ve talked about my degree in quite pragmatic terms thus far, I am loving every minute of it. I get on really well with my lecturers and my (very international) band of course mates. The small size of the course means my relationship with both is fundamentally different to what it was at undergraduate level.

I wouldn’t pretend that a master’s degree is for everyone. I believe that I am one of the people it is right for and I hope that time will prove me right. Certainly, I believe a postgraduate degree can play a big role in helping me build the sort of narratives that will be invaluable when I start looking for a job over the next year. I do worry about the future, but so do many other people in short term postgraduate pursuits. Therefore, as long as your expectations are realistic, and you are the sort of person who enjoys studying, a master’s degree can become one of the bedrocks of your CV. It’s just important that you remember that the only thing that comes with the guarantee of a job is a job offer.

If you’re currently studying for a postgraduate degree, are in possession of a postgraduate degree or even are just in the process of considering a postgraduate degree, feel free to share your thoughts below.

About the Author:

Alex M is currently completing an MA in Environment, Politics and Globalisation at King’s College London. He enjoys blogging about higher education, travel, technology, sport, politics and current affairs.

 

image by Clawed

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