How to Decide about Further Study

When is a postgraduate qualification a smart investment — and when is it an expensive mistake? Graduate Fog helps you weigh up the pros and cons of further study.

Have you noticed how many not-particularly-studious graduates are suddenly asking the question, ‘Should I do another course?’ But Graduate Fog doesn’t blame you. Being ejected from the cosy world of higher education into the cold, recession-hit job market is brutal – no wonder your first instinct is to go back for postgraduate study.

Doing another course can be a fantastic investment in your future. But it can also be a complete waste of money. And because ultimately it’s your money (even if you fund your studies with a loan, you still have to pay it back — plus there’s living expenses), Graduate Fog urges you to look very carefully before you leap.

The scary truth is that thousands of graduates are making terrible decisions that will cost you thousands of pounds – without improving your job prospects at all.


Here are Graduate Fog’s Dos and Don’ts…

DO take full responsibility for this decision. Don’t sleep-walk into further study the way you sleep-walked into university. Wake up. You can’t afford to be passive when this amount of money is at stake. It is your responsibility — and nobody else’s — to investigate whether this really is the best option available to you.

DO have a clear goal in mind. Do you know what you’re going to do with this qualification, once you have it? Are you sure that employers value it as much as you think they do? If your answer to either of these questions is No, then think again.

DON’T assume more education equals a better (or better paid) job. It doesn’t. Shocking but true, recruiters say some qualifications are worthless on the jobs market. This is particularly likely if you later end up going into an unrelated field. An MA in astrology isn’t much use if you later decide to be an estate agent.

DO canvas opinion of people already working in the industry you’ve chosen. Not sure of the value of the course you’re considering? This is exactly the kind of question you can ask your contacts (see How to Build your Network). Ask them, “What would you do if you were me?” Often, you’ll find employers value a year of experience over a year of study. If that’s the case in your field, congratulations — you’ve just saved yourself several thousand pounds and 12 months of your life.

GOOD INVESTMENT OR BAD DEAL? Be careful - another course won't always boost your career prospects

GOOD INVESTMENT – OR BAD DEAL? Be careful – another course won’t always boost your career prospects

DO weigh the value of the qualification against the same period doing a junior job in your chosen industry. Even if recruiters say the qualification is useful, the question is: Is it more useful than the same period in work? Remember that for one, you get paid. For the other, you pay out. Do the maths.

DO find out if this qualification is necessary — or just ‘nice to have’. There is a huge difference.  If it’s just a ‘nice-to-have’, is there a cheaper way you could add the same value to your CV? For example, would a short period of really good work experience do the same? (Even if it’s unpaid, it’s unlikely to cost you the same as a postgraduate course).

DON’T sign up just to avoid the recession. If that’s honestly your only reason for considering further study, think again. If you’re struggling to find work, there are better (and cheaper) ways to improve your employability, we promise. (See How to Fight the Recession).

DO a health check on the industry you’re hoping to break into after the course. Are you sure it’s thriving? This is particularly true if you’re considering a career in media. Graduate Fog hates to be a downer, but some parts of the industry are in real trouble right now. Spending thousands of pounds learning about a declining part of the sector is unlikely to be a good investment long-term. If your ‘dream industry’ is on its knees, could this be a good moment to assess your options?

DON’T take information from colleges and universities at face value. Remember, they’re selling you a service — so of course they want you to sign up. You’re smart enough to know how easily statistics can be manipulated, so keep your wits about you when doing your research.

DO question the government’s motives for encouraging you back into education. Did you know that when you’re a student you aren’t classed as ‘Unemployed’? Think about it. That’s all we’re saying.

It is Graduate Fog’s humble opinion that graduates should only do postgraduate study if:

– You know exactly what you’re going to do with the qualification after the course ends.
– You know that your chosen field is thriving, not declining.
– You have been told by multiple people currently working in your chosen industry that this qualification is absolutely necessary to get where you want to go and more valuable than the same period of time in a junior job.

But hey, it’s your call. After all, it’s your money – so it’s your risk.

*Anything we’ve missed on this subject?
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