Is postgraduate study for you?
A postgraduate qualification can set you on track for a new career, or increase your chances of securing a job in a competitive field. Whether you want to carry on with your degree subject or take a different tack, you need to consider what qualification you need and where it will take you.
Postgraduate study: what to consider
Postgraduate education is open to anyone with a good first degree. There is a huge variety of courses on offer around the country, ranging from business administration to sports studies. The reasons you might want to sign up for further study include:
- studying your degree subject in more depth, for pure enjoyment
- enhancing your job prospects in your chosen career
- retraining in a different area
- taking a postgraduate qualification as the next step in your career, for example in law, teaching or librarianship
There are two kinds of postgraduate course: taught courses and research.
These are courses where you work through modules and units, learning in a similar way to your first degree. There may be continuous assessment and exams, and you may have to do a dissertation at the end of the course.
Taught courses usually take a year to complete full time, although some institutions offer students the chance to study part-time, spreading modules over two or three years.
Some courses are work-related, for students who studied other subjects at college and want to retrain. For example in IT. Taught courses can lead to a range of qualifications, including master of arts (MA), master of science (MSc), master of business administration (MBA), postgraduate diploma (PGDip) or postgraduate certificate (PGCert). They can also be the first step towards a doctorate (PhD).
If you want to study your degree subject in more depth, you need to look for a university or college that has a research programme. You'll need a bachelors degree with a grade of at least a lower second (2:2) and sometimes an upper second (2:1).You will have the opportunity to undertake an original piece of research, with guidance from a supervisor. Your supervisor advises you whether your research is on track and about deadlines you have to meet.
Finding a postgraduate course or research programme
See 'Applying for postgraduate study' for details on how to find a course or research programme.
Teaching and law
One route into teaching is to take a Postgraduate Certificate of Education (PGCE). It takes one year to complete full-time, and you can get financial help from the government while you study. You can also take a PGCE part-time at some universities.
Students who haven't studied law and would like to retrain in it can take a one-year Graduate Diploma in Legal Studies, also known as the Common Professional Exam. This is the first step towards a career in law. If you've done a three-year degree in law, the next stage is a vocational qualification called the Legal Practice, which lasts one year full-time.
- Postgraduate study: teacher training, social work, healthcare
- Teacher training (Department of Education website)
- Law Society of Northern Ireland (contacts section)
Careers for librarians, social workers and health professionals
If you're interested in a career as a librarian, there are one-year postgraduate diplomas and masters degrees in topics such as Information Management and Librarianship and Information Studies. If you would like to retrain as a social worker, you can take a two-year postgraduate diploma or three-year MSc in social work. If you want to retrain as a health professional, your learning may be accelerated. Contact NHS Careers, or UCAS for more information.