On the right course

PUBLISHED: 13:20 03 April 2006 | UPDATED: 09:55 06 May 2010

THE decision to undertake a postgraduate course used to be quite a casual one. You would finish your exams, do the celebration bit, have a chat with the prof in his pipesmoke-filled room and it would all be done and dusted. You d be back next academic yea

THE decision to undertake a postgraduate course used to be quite a casual one.

You would finish your exams, do the celebration bit, have a chat with the prof in his pipesmoke-filled room and it would all be done and dusted. You'd be back next academic year to carry on.

But as the number of graduates wanting to continue their love affair with academia has soared, so too has the number of postgraduate courses which are now on offer. These days there are literally thousands to choose from, and finding the right one takes a great deal more thought than it used to.

The first thing new graduates need to ask themselves now is just why they are thinking of undertaking a postgrad course, and exactly how its completion is going to help them in the long run.

You really do need to ask yourself whether the course that you are thinking of undertaking is going to broaden and deepen your experience in the eyes of any potential employer. The vast majority of postgrad courses are very different from first degrees. It is no longer simply a question of being lectured at.

One very good reason for embarking on one is to acquire the skills to manage yourself properly and gain the kind of critical, analytical thinking that will set you apart from someone who just has a first degree.

However, if you are just doing it to avoid or put off the inevitable entry into the job market, then you are probably not making the best use of your time.

Always assuming that your reasons for choosing your course are sound and valid, the next thing you need to consider is where? It is always very tempting to stay in the town where you did your first degree since you have friends and accommodation there, but moving to a new town and a new institution is always a good idea as it will give you greater experience of life and freshen up your attitude.

A new university will bring with it new people, offering a new and different perspective and new ideas. So it is always worth asking whether you will gain that by staying on at the same institution.

And, of course, it's not just a question of reading the syllabus on the internet - you need to talk to the course leader and discover what makes him or her tick.

As the number of applicants is less than for first degree courses, the majority of course leaders are happy to take enquiries from potential applicants as for most, their course is a matter of pride to them. It is also worth contacting ex-students to find out if the course delivered what it promised, both in terms of content and positive outcome on their employability.

Course funding is always a major issue, and given the sums of money involved, postgrad study is certainly not for the faint-hearted.

Graduates certainly do need to take a long hard look not only at their course but also at their circumstances prior to beginning another round of studies.

Vital questions to ask yourself before you embark on a postgrad course:-

* In terms of your life aims, just how important is this course, and is it really likely to enhance your future career prospects?

* Having chosen an area to specialise in, do you really want, or need, to study this subject in so much depth?

* Can you get to where you want to be without studying full-time for a further year - could you for example undertake the course part-time while you are working?

* Do you really want to spend the next year or several years of your life studying? Is it worth the cost in terms of both time and money?

* How good is the institution of your choice, and are its qualifications well respected?

* Do former students enjoy a good employment track record once they have left?

* Is anyone working in the specific field in which you might write your dissertation? Who are the academic staff and what are their research interests?

Finally, do make sure that you are doing your postgrad for all the right reasons, as you don't want to waste yet another year of your precious life doing something that in the end may not fulfil all your expectations.


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