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Should I do a Masters course?

If you're wondering whether a postgraduate course is worth your time and money, this guide explains all the different types of postgraduate course you can apply for in the UK.

Our guide will help you decide if a postgraduate course is the right choice for you, and if it is, which one would be best for you.

If you are looking for more detailed information on postgraduate courses, take a look at our Taught Masters, Research Masters and PhD guides.

Is postgraduate study right for me?

People apply for postgraduate courses for a number of reasons. These include:

  • progress in a current career path
  • improve employment prospects
  • develop a personal interest
  • go on to achieve a higher level qualification
  • enter a specific profession
  • meet the requirements of a current job.

A Masters degree can also help with a career change, allow you to gain chartership and provide you with useful industry contacts.

However, Masters study is intense and often comes with a high cost attached. In most cases, you'll also need some relevant work experience for entry onto a programme. In order to make the most of postgraduate study it's vital to have a solid reason for committing to a course.

Before you start looking at postgraduate courses, you should have a good idea of why you want to do it and what you expect to get out of it. This could save you time further down the line if you end up dropping out.

You shouldn't apply for a postgraduate course just because you can't be bothered to look for and apply for graduate jobs. Look carefully at the job sector you are looking to enter, and find out if candidates holding a postgraduate qualification are likely to have the edge over the competition.

If you are certain a postgraduate course is the right step for you, there are over 5,800 postgraduate courses available in the UK, so you are bound to find at least a few that match your needs.

It's important to research each course that you are interested in carefully, as they vary in the time they take to complete, what’s involved in the syllabus and the amount you have to pay in course fees.

Before you start filling out applications, ask yourself:

  • Am I aware of the level of commitment required to undertake a Masters course?
  • Am I prepared to do more studying and have less of a social life than at undergraduate level?
  • If applicable, am I excited by the opportunity to write another, even longer dissertation or research project?
  • Can I afford Masters study, in terms of tuition fees and living costs?
  • Am I willing to take on more graduate debt, or make lengthy applications for funding?
  • If applicable, am I willing to live on a budget in order to cover living expenses, while my friends are in full-time employment?
  • Will a postgraduate qualification improve my career prospects?
  • Is the qualification rated highly employers within the industry I want to work in?
  • Does the qualification require me to possess specific skills?
  • Will the qualification equip me with the specific skills needed for my ideal career?
  • If applicable, will my studies allow me to qualify as a professional?
  • Am I genuinely passionate about the subject I want to study?
  • Are the courses I'm considering right for me?

Is it worth the money?

Obtaining a Masters degree can be expensive, time-consuming and mentally draining, so you need to think carefully about your reasons for doing it (see the questions above).

Generally, studying for a Masters is cheaper than doing an undergraduate degree, although fees vary widely. In the majority of cases, international students pay more for courses.

The exception to this  is the MBA, which is one of the most expensive qualifications available. To find out more about the financial cost of postgraduate study, please see postgraduate funding.

However, as a postgraduate, you can expect to earn considerably more than your undergraduate counterparts (on average, between £4,000 and £6,000 more).

Despite this, you must think carefully about why you want to pursue Masters study before committing. Many applicants wrongly believe that a Masters degree will automatically enhance their career and allow them to earn more, but this is only true if the qualification genuinely gets them closer to fulfilling their ambitions.

To be certain that Masters study will meet your expectations, and be worth the hard work and high costs, you should:

  • be passionate about your subject
  • browse relevant job advertisements to identify what employers value most, as industry certifications and accreditations are important for certain roles
  • consider everything in the context of your overall career plan, ensuring that the qualification offers the best way of achieving your ultimate career goals
  • consider whether Masters study will boost your credentials significantly above your existing undergraduate education
  • contact careers services, professional bodies or individual employers for further advice.

There are situations where you should avoid Masters study. If you can't convince yourself it's the right move, you'll almost certainly lack the commitment to ensure that it's a worthwhile investment.

If you're looking to study immediately after completing your undergraduate degree, you may want to reconsider. You shouldn't pursue a Masters in the hope that it will automatically add to your CV or because you need more time to think about your career.

Unless your goals are clearly defined, it's a good idea to spend some time in the workplace, or research your options while taking a gap year, which is likely to be more beneficial.

Will I have time to do a Masters?

Masters study must fit around your lifestyle, so identifying the mode of study that's right for you is essential.

Full-time study is the most common, and especially suits continuing students. You'll work intensively for the duration of your programme, achieving your qualification as quickly as possible. Contact hours vary from course to course, but full-time study generally involves several lectures and seminars every week.

However, it could alternatively require you to attend university from 9am to 5pm every weekday. Business, law and science courses generally require more contact time than programmes in arts and humanities. Regardless, you'll be expected to dedicate six to seven hours per day to self-study.

Part-time study, meanwhile, is primarily aimed at students with family commitments and/or in full-time employment, as you'll usually study for around 20 hours every week. While qualification takes longer - often two to four years - teaching is flexible, and lectures and seminars may take place during the daytime or evening. Sessions are commonly hosted during the weekends or even recorded for students to access online. Full-time work and part-time study is particularly popular with those who are self-funding their course.

There are three other modes of study worth consideration. These are:

1. Blended learning - this combines face-to-face classroom time with online learning. You can interact with lecturers, tutors and fellow students, while also working from home.

2. Block mode learning - this involves intense face-to-face study over a fixed period, often weekends or consecutive days, allowing students to book time off work in advance.

3. Distance learning - this mode of study means you can learn from home in your own time. You'll still get resources and support from a personal tutor, and can usually take as long as you need to complete the course.

What postgraduate courses can I study?

There are 3 categories of postgraduate study available to study in the UK:

  • Postgraduate Diploma/Certificate
  • Masters (MSc, MA, MPhil, etc.) and
  • Doctorate (PhD, DPhil, etc).

To discover more about the different postgraduate courses you can apply for, please see:

Where can I study?

A majority of universities in the UK that offer undergraduate degrees will have postgraduate courses available, too.

If a university offers postgraduate degrees, they should have a dedicated postgraduate section on their website that outlines all the programmes they offer. You can also search for postgraduate courses at UCAS and Prospects.

PhD studentships are sometimes advertised in newspapers and on websites such as jobs.ac.uk, New Scientist and FindAPhD.com.

The U.S has a reputable postgraduate system that some UK students choose to apply for each year. Please read our U.S Grad School guide for more information.

What next?

If you are sure a postgraduate course is the right step for you, and you've narrowed down which programmes and universities you wish to apply to, contact the institution(s) directly and ask them for their application pack.

Once you have all the necessary forms and information, check out our postgraduate personal statements to help you write a successful application.

If you are uncertain how you will finance your course, look at what postgraduate funding is available to help you cover the costs of your programme.

Further information

For more tips and advice on applying for postgraduate courses, please see: