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Careers Advisers everywhere are fielding questions on the value of postgraduate study in a tough economic climate: are postgraduate courses a sensible way to hold out for economic recovery whilst strengthening your CV? Or is real experience in the workplace worth more than another expensive academic qualification?
With the current graduate jobs market remaining weak, many people, particularly recent graduates, are considering postgraduate study as a viable option.
The Class of 2010 is facing the highest unemployment rate since the early 1980s, as well as stiff competition from a significant pool of young professionals who have been laid off. For newly minted graduates, the fear of long-term unemployment makes the familiar comfort of academia a strong temptation.
However, postgraduate study is a serious endeavour and a substantial investment. It should not be entered into lightly, nor seen as a last resort.
A Masters degree should certainly not be seen as a guarantee of a higher salary than would be achieved with a Bachelors certificate. This is very much dependant on the sector you wish to enter, and the nature of the Masters degree chosen. Employers today are looking for a portfolio of marketable skills in addition to a solid education. They want to know that new employees will add value to their organizations from day one. A degree, whether undergraduate or postgraduate, is not a single indicator of success in the workplace. In fact, a Masters can offer very little value for money if the academics haven't been balanced by some meaningful work experience.
In general, there are three reasons to pursue further education when looking for career development.
The first step in determining if postgraduate study is the best option is to establish clearly defined career goals which take into account your skills, interests and work values. Once aware of your skills and interests, the next step is to research various roles both online and through informational interviews. This research can detail the key tasks and responsibilities of various jobs, the work environment, the skills and experience required, as well as possibilities and pre-requisites for career progression.
If, after conducting extensive research, postgraduate study is required to achieve the career goals, then it is prudent to pursue a Masters. For example, a person with strong research and analytical skills who is less confident with his or her interpersonal skills probably isn't best suited for a customer-facing role in sales or client services. However, he or she could be successful in a consulting role. Positions at larger consulting firms typically require two to three years of work experience and a Masters will be required to advance within the industry. In this situation, one may want to consider developing a strong track record of work experience before applying for postgraduate courses.
In addition to career goals, there are other important things to consider before applying for postgraduate study.
The first is cost. Postgraduate study is expensive and many people take out loans to finance their studies. Whether or not you will be able to live with that debt is a personal choice. A visit to a financial planner could be beneficial. Keep in mind that many large companies will finance all or part of a Masters degree for employees, so for those who are already working, it might make sense to wait.
Next, it is critical to make sure you have the academic and personal qualities to succeed. Generally, it is expected that students maintain at least a 2:1 degree. Juggling tasks, projects and papers demands excellent time management and organizational skills. Postgraduate study requires a higher level of commitment than undergraduate school. Students must enjoy reading, writing and analysing information. Speaking with professors and other graduate students can be an effective reality check.
Postgraduate study can be a very useful tool when entering a profession or continuing to develop a career but nothing replaces a solid career plan to make the best use of this opportunity.