Thinking about postgraduate study? Read this first! There are pros and cons to the postgrad route, and lots of potential traps for the unwary, so make sure you're informed.

The good...

  1. A postgraduate qualification can help you get into your chosen profession - for example, if you want to be a lawyer or accountant, you'll have to suck it up and do the necessary exams. Fortunately, you'll often be funded through these by your employer if you can secure a job with them first, so make sure you explore this option.

  2. If you get to the end of your course and decide you actually want to do something else, a postgraduate degree or conversion course can give you the qualifications needed to make the switch - think law, teaching, psychology or medicine.

  3. If you've got 1st class grades across the board and your whole world revolves around 14th century stained glass, cellular biology or solar physics, you might be one of those people who is cut out for a career in academic research. If you're one of those people for whom the world of academia fits like a glove and you can't imagine being happy working as anything other than a mildy eccentric professor, go for it! 

The bad...

  1. Not knowing what you want to do is NOT a good reason to do a postgraduate course. You'll end up in a pile of extra debt, and it'll be hard to explain to a potential employer why you chose to do the course if you didn't have a good rationale behind it at the time. You'd be much better off finding a job and saving up some money, or doing some voluntary work and building up skills and confidence.

  2. Postgraduate life is not like undergraduate life, so if you're thinking of doing another course just to prolong the student experience, think again. Being a postgraduate student is much more like having a job - more lone working and less socialising! It can be really rewarding, but it's definitely not the same experience.

  3. Postgraduate study costs a lot of money upfront as there are no undergraduate-style student loans available. In fact, there is very little funding to go around. To be in with a chance of getting funded, you'll need to be an exceptional student. It often makes better sense to either try and get a job in the field that will fund your studies, or save up some money and study for a postgraduate qualification part-time while you work.

  4. Sadly, many universities and education providers will try to convince you that their postgraduate courses are the best thing since sliced bread without giving you realistic facts about the tangible benefits of the course or the effect on your employment chances. Remember that they are primarily after your money! There are often far more postgraduate students taking a course at any one time than there are jobs available, but it's not in the course provider's interests to tell you that so they are likely to minimise it. If a postgraduate course promises the earth yet demands suspiciously low entry grades, it pays to do your research and go in with your eyes open.


In summary, there are three good reasons to do a postgrad course:

  1. If you absolutely adore your subject AND you have loads of research ideas, fantastic grades, glowing references from lecturers and the patience to write endless funding applications, by all means don't be put off. If you want to be a university lecturer, this is the necessary route, so go for it!

  2. You've known for ages that you want to be a clinical psychologist/solicitor/maths teacher and while you have good work experience and knowledge of the field, you have to do the course to get into the job you want to do. Generally speaking, if you are this organised at 21, you're unlikely to rush into anything blindly anyway. We trust you :)

  3. You have secured a job in a field you want to work in, and the employer is prepared to fund your course OR you have secured a job that means you can afford to fund a part-time postgraduate course alongside it.

No ifs, no buts. There are really no other good reasons to do a postgraduate course, let alone put yourself in debt in order to do so. We know it sounds harsh, but it's for your own good...

If you can't decide, why not take some time out? Remember that you can always go back to a postgraduate course in a few years' time, with more money saved up, some work experience and a better idea of what you REALLY want to get out of the experience.

To find out more about careers in academia, click here. To find out about choosing a career and assessing your options, click here.