It’s often difficult to figure out whether it’s worth pursuing a master's degree. It is, of course, a highly individual decision. But there are still many factors that you should take into account when making up your mind, which can help you weigh up the pros and cons of continuing with higher education after you’ve completed an undergraduate course.
What to study?
The first thing you should pay special attention to is what you intend to study. It may seem logical to continue studying what you studied at an undergraduate level. But do your career goals fit in with this subject choice? Are you passionate about this subject? What are the career paths like for people who graduate with a master's degree in this subject? These are all worthy considerations.
There’s nothing wrong with education for education’s sake. And studying a completely different discipline – going from architecture to philosophy, for example – may offer you a riveting educational experience.
But a more forward-looking perspective also shouldn’t be neglected. This isn’t to say that studying philosophy is a waste of time (because it isn’t); only that – given the cost of a master's – you want to ensure that you’re getting your money’s worth.
Which brings us to the next consideration.
Funding your studies
When you finish your undergraduate studies, you will be saddled with a hefty student debt, and the idea of adding even more debt into your life may seem like an unwise thing to do. Indeed, the costs of a master's degree can really add up. There’s the price of the course itself, books, accommodation, food, clothes and going out expenses.
If you intend to do a full-time course and not take up any sort of employment, then you might want to have some money saved to ease the stress that comes with having to repay a bank loan. Otherwise, applying for a bursary or scholarship is something to keep in mind, or perhaps doing an online course so you can have more flexibility while you study.
Courses can vary widely in price. For example, you can study Experimental Psychology (MSc) at the University of Oxford - a two-year course - for £6,200 a year. On the other hand, you could study Business Administration at the same institution, but it will cost you £52,000 for the year. Also, the institution at which you study can make a big difference. As a case in point, studying Philosophy (MA) at King’s College London is £9,000 per year for domestic students; whereas if you wanted to study abroad, at Columbia University, say, then it’s nearly £20,000 per semester.
Whether or not (and to what extent) having a master's degree will boost your career prospects is a complicated issue. It can largely depend on what you study. But while some may argue that the cost of a master's outweighs any benefits to job prospects, there are still definitely advantages to having such a degree.
A survey published by the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) found that postgraduates are 10% more likely to be working after six months than their counterparts with undergraduate degrees. Also, they are 15% more likely to be in full-time employment.
Continuing with higher education is not for everyone. While some people may have enjoyed the university experience, the idea of studying, writing papers, revising and taking exams may not be a very appealing prospect.
Climbing the career ladder or pursuing a more entrepreneurial endeavour could turn out to be much more beneficial. It all depends on your priorities, interests, and goals (and how your finances are looking).
Great Article, well done Sam!