How to work out if postgraduate study is for you
There’s no doubt that it can be tough out there. Many university graduates find themselves entering a crowded jobs market, where they need to shoulder their way past scores of competitors armed with comparable degrees and a similar skill set.
A growing number of students are going beyond their bachelor’s degree and choosing to explore their passion up close through postgraduate study.
Whether it’s a master’s degree or a graduate diploma or certificate, a postgraduate qualification is a great way of standing out in a crowd.
ACU students who’ve completed postgraduate coursework are the most employable graduates in Australia, with an impressive 98.6 per cent in full-time jobs within three years.
And you don’t need to be a recent graduate to take on a postgraduate course.
Many people choose to return to uni and combine work with part-time or full-time study, to tweak their skills and boost their earning power.
Those who commit find that the intellectual, financial and personal benefits of postgraduate study are well worth it in the long run.
But there are a few things you should consider while deciding if it’s right for you.
“In my experience, when people are considering whether to do postgraduate study, they tend to have one or two unique barriers preventing them from making a decision,” says Timothy Ivins, ACU’s Integrated Marketing Manager (Postgraduate).
Timothy has worked in postgraduate recruitment for over a decade at universities in London and Australia. He says the decision to pursue postgraduate study is not something people take lightly.
“It often takes around two years to make a decision, and the main barrier preventing the decision varies from person to person. Once they’re able to identify that barrier, it makes the decision much easier.”
We sat down with Tim to take some of the guesswork out of it, by compiling four key questions you should ask yourself before embarking on a postgraduate course.
1) Am I doing it for the right reasons?
Career growth and increased earning potential are perfectly acceptable goals, but they’re not the only reasons why people decide to take the leap into postgraduate study.
While there’s no right or wrong reason for taking on a postgraduate degree, understanding your motivation is important. It will help you to get the most out of your course and may also assist in staying focused and determined when times get tough.
Many students are driven by a desire to immerse themselves in the finer, deeper points of their chosen field, or to learn alongside others with similar interests.
An intrinsic motivation to learn more will stand you in good stead, serving as a catalyst to expand your academic and career horizons.
“We commonly see people studying for personal growth and interest, and that comes from their internal desire to understand the world better,” Tim says.
Others want to make a start on a new career path.
“Simply wanting a completely different career can be a motivation in and of itself,” he says.
“We see a lot of people who realise that what they’re really passionate about is teaching, so they leave their job to pursue their passion. Or they want to move into a care role, so they decide to go into a Master of Social Work. Postgraduate study can be a great way of achieving a career change.”
2) Can I balance postgraduate study with work, family and other commitments?
If you’ve graduated with a bachelor’s degree, the thought of returning to the books for another stint can be hard to swallow – especially when the world of work beckons.
It can be equally daunting to imagine heading back to uni and juggling study with work, family and other commitments.
Before you take the leap, ask yourself: Do I have the time?
“The biggest pitfall I’ve found in over a decade of working in this space is people who set themselves up to fail by not accurately assessing or understanding the concept of time,” Tim says.
Postgraduate degrees at ACU are designed for busy lifestyles, with options to study part-time or full-time, and many delivered primarily online.
Some workplaces can also be flexible, offering their employees time off while they gain their postgraduate qualification.
The trick is to be realistic about what you can achieve.
“If you’re working full-time and you have other commitments like sport or church or taking the kids to the park on Saturday, and then you’re adding full-time study to that as well, the reality is, well, when are you going to sleep?” Tim says.
“You need to look deeply and honestly at your commitments, and work out how you can carve out enough time to study while not adversely impacting the other aspects of your life. This may mean that part-time study is going to best suit your lifestyle.”
3) Am I committed to seeing it through?
A postgraduate degree calls for dedication and effort, and you need to be up for a challenge.
It requires you to tap into your deeper thought processes, to use critical thinking to solve complex problems, and to engage a part of your brain that might be dormant in day-to-day working life.
Can you sustain the commitment to complete the course through to graduation?
“You absolutely need to be up for a challenge, and that’s an important thing to consider, but the good news is that postgraduate study contains a number of safety nets along the way,” Tim says.
Life can change quickly. If you’ve chosen to study a master’s degree but you can’t see it through, you may be able to exit the degree early with a qualification.
“You might be part-way through a master’s degree and decide, ‘Well actually, this isn’t for me’, and in that case, ultimately you could leave with a graduate certificate or graduate diploma, so you’re not going empty-handed; you’re actually getting quite a handy qualification.”
4) Is it affordable?
While nobody likes to talk about money, the cost of postgraduate study is something everybody needs to consider. It is, after all, a big financial investment.
Thankfully, there are many options to help you manage course fees and other costs.
ACU offers a range of scholarship opportunities that recognise academic achievement and community participation, and you might also be eligible for government assistance.
“It’s that desire not to talk about money that can sometimes lead to assumptions, and that can act as a barrier to actually leaping into postgraduate study,” Tim says.
"A lot of people don’t realise that they don’t necessarily have to stump up the course fees upfront. If you meet the eligibility criteria, then you can defer payment through FEE-HELP, where the government pays your fees for you, and you then pay it back as a proportion of your salary.”
Some postgraduate courses at ACU also offer Commonwealth supported places, where the government pays a proportion of tuition costs.
Those who are returning to university might also find that their employer will front up some of the cost.
“It’s not unusual to see an employer sponsor a student and pay their tuition fees, because they see it as an investment into their people,” Tim says.
“Postgraduate study is a tangible investment, because it will broaden your horizons and give you many more career options. It can give you the qualification, the skills and the confidence to help you to stand out in the crowd.”
Keen to pursue postgraduate study at ACU? Explore your options.