June 26, 2019

Is postgraduate study right for you?

There are thousands of postgraduate courses available – and that’s just in the UK. For those who wish to study more it can be quite a challenge to find the right course.  Events such as the Postgraduate Study & MBA Fair are brilliant for that initial bit of “shopping” – you can speak to representatives from many institutions, find out what is available and hear from experts on finding and applying for courses. So how do you get started? Here are my Top Tips:

1.  Research or Taught?

A pretty fundamental question. If you passion is research then a Research degree, assessed entirely by an individual piece of work, may be right. However most graduates think of the Taught masters courses which combine lecture style teaching with, in some cases, independent research. Have a look at the Prospects website for more information.

2. Brand & Marketing

As somebody who is passionate about Landrover cars, it pains me to acknowledge that not all of them are good. Similarly with courses. It is easy to get caught in the trap of thinking that every course provided by a high ranking institution is going to be excellent. For some international students, brand is very important. They need an  institution that will be recognised back home.  Higher Education institutions spend a lot of money marketing themselves to prospective students. They want your money. Shop wisely and really consider if the course itself, rather than just the institution, will deliver what you want.

3. Ranking

As with Brand, students can become obsessed with ranking. And ranking is, after all, a good indicator. But it’s also good to understand what makes a high ranking. It may be that the criteria used in assessing the ranking excludes performance at post-graduate level. Also consider the ranking of the academic department, not just the institution. The new Research Excellence Framework could potentially change the rankings of a number of institutions. Ranking is important, but read between the lines.

4.  Course content

Bizarrely, often overlooked by prospective students. Does the course teach you what you want to know? Again, here you need to drill down into the content of each module or course because module titles can be misleading. For example, a module on political theory may be just what you wanted, until you read further to find they specialise in Gender Theory, when you wanted Realism. The difficulty with this is that course content is subject to change and often come courses will not be taught because of staff changes or lack of student numbers.

5. Teaching

Another consideration is the style of teaching on offer. How many hours per week of “contact time” will you have with academic staff? How will you be assessed? How much support will be available to you? What are the research interests of the academic staff that will be teaching you?

6.  Employability

If you are choosing further study to enhance your employability then you must consider whether the course will really do that. And again sometimes brand gets in the way here. A masters degree in Marketing from an Oxbridge college may be more theoretical than many employers would want. What level of employer involvement is there on the course? Is undertaking a placement experience important to you? Academic departments should have access to specific information about the percentages of their alumni in graduate level jobs – ask for it (and don’t be fobbed off with alumni case studies). This information can be hard for departments to produce, particularly with smaller courses, but they should have something. Remember, there are usually many alternative courses, often from lower-ranked institutions, that may have better industry links and higher graduate employment – but without the brand.


Consider exactly what you need from a Masters programme. Use the critical awareness that you have learnt as an undergraduate to cut through the marketing and brand to identify the course that is right for you. There are lots of resources available through Careers Tagged and this short video should also be useful:

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