As the possibility of unemployment looms for many, more than 500,000 each year choose to pursue further study in the form of a postgraduate taught programme such as a master's. The motivation behind this decision is often related to belief that a higher-level qualification will result in a better job. But does the CV addition of an MA, MBA or MSc actually improve employment prospects?
Steff Young, an MA literature student at the University of East Anglia, believes that a master’s degree develops greater abilities than an undergraduate qualification.
“Postgraduate study certainly builds on the skills acquired at undergraduate degree level: time management, self-discipline and working to deadlines,” she said.
Young adds that a master’s has a distinctive way of preparing students for the working world.
“It develops a new form of maturity. You are no longer the student to the teacher. Rather, you are and your peers are fellow researchers working in the field. This creates a whole new dynamic and mode of conversation, and confidence, which would enable you to walk into a workplace as a professional, rather than a graduate or intern.”
But, in practice, can doing a master’s score you a better job? Nathan Parcells, CEO of InternMatch.com, thinks so, but added that getting the job you want is about more than just a qualification.
“Continuing education is clearly important, but the value of a master’s degree depends on what you do with it,” said Parcells. “A master’s degree in digital marketing examines analytics, social media, and search marketing. While you can clearly learn about these subjects out of the classroom, practical knowledge and studying these principals are the foundation for success.”
“But the focus must also be on what you do during your program, such as taking on valuable internships, connecting with executives, and sharpening your skills,” he added.
Nina Holland, an international relations student at the University of Warwick, said: “I chose to do an MA because I wanted to deepen my knowledge and acquire a specialism. In a field as diverse and ever-changing as politics, the value for me was in showing my interest and understanding of a particular area within it.”
Often, though, postgraduate study can be about changing direction rather than specialising, and this too can enhance career options.
Kathryn Hughes, director of life writing at the University of East Anglia, highlights the variety of backgrounds her students come from: “On the MA [in Biography and Creative Non-Fiction] we’ve had everyone from surgeons to asparagus farmers, psychoanalysts to bar tenders. Some people have PhDs in Literature and others have just finished a BA in Computer Studies.”
Josh Bowker is studying for an MA in Art History at the University of Edinburgh, after completing an undergraduate degree in Music. He said: “Choosing to do a master’s in a different subject area has definitely opened up employment opportunities that weren't there before.”
Relocating to pursue postgraduate study is another factor that can demonstrate skills and positively impact your access to career openings, Bowker explained: “I moved both university and subject so I have been able to add considerably to my knowledge and challenge my abilities in a different field and in a foreign environment.”
A master’s programme can also be a significant way of networking to secure later employment opportunities. Andy Smith, a graduate from the University of Manchester’s MBA programme, said: “My decision to pursue postgraduate study was about the amazing career prospects Manchester Business School offered. It gave me the chance to develop a network of contacts and get my name out there in the right circles.”
Being proactive is incredibly important in achieving the outcomes desired from a postgraduate course. Dedicating a year to a subject is advantageous, but it takes more than that alone to improve employability.
“It’s not so much about the piece of paper, but what you do with it,” Parcells advised. “Use this opportunity to deepen your understanding of the space, network with insiders, and gain additional knowledge through internships. Build upon your master’s degree.”
The pursuit of any form of study to enhance future career prospects is a gamble, but by engaging with the available opportunities, it can also be a worthy investment.