5 questions to consider before starting graduate school

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Have you just graduated from university? Or are you a working professional looking to gain more qualifications? Wherever you are in life, the decision to enroll in postgraduate studies is a significant milestone that is often taken too lightly. There are more than 40,000 masters courses to choose from and finding the right course is not an easy task. There are comparison websites you can use – MastersAvenue  is an excellent choice, however, there is always a little more to it. Here are some things graduate students today wish they had known before making the big decision:

 1. What are the post-graduation prospects for your subject?

Postgraduate programmes can come with a hefty price-tag; master’s degrees can cost up to £10, 000, while MBA’s in the UK can go up to £49,000. The return on your potential investment should be a central consideration in your decision-making. A Fortune study in 2015 observed that jobs for statistics postgrad students will grow by 23.7% by 2022; a master’s student in criminal justice, however, will face an 8% projected growth rate in potential jobs. The FT global business education rankings helpfully illustrate the average salary increase of various business school alumni post-MBA, showing a range of percentages from 73% to 130%.

2. Who will be teaching you?

Most undergraduate university programmes expose students to a broad range of teaching fellows. At post-graduate level, however, students get more one-on-one opportunities to work extensively with academic mentors. ‘Being in the program has made me realize how much my own research and methods are informed and influenced by not only by my advisor but also the way the faculty works’, observes a current history of art PhD; ‘I’ve felt my thinking and preferred methods shift so much this past year because of the way in which certain professors taught their seminars’. The preferences, methods, and approaches of individual teaching staff can make or break your experience; choose wisely!

3. What’s the reputation of the post-graduate department in your field?

While it is easier to consider the overall ‘brand’ of a university in choosing your undergraduate destination, graduate programmes often require one to look beyond the brand name to gauge the fit of the department to their own interests. ‘I enrolled in my master’s because it was held at one of the leading universities in the world’, a graduate student in politics reflects; ‘only when I got there, I realized no-one in my department was interested in my research, which really detracted from my experience. I found myself regretting turning down an offer from a less prestigious university, as they have historically been more enthusiastic about my own field of study’.

4. How will you take care of yourself, physically and emotionally?

Compared to a 9 to 5 busy office schedule, the lack of structure and research-oriented lifestyles of postgraduates can make some prone to emotional distress. ‘PhDs can be quite isolating and lonely’, a current student reflects. Mental health is a large issue for many students in postgraduate studies; a recent study in Flanders, Belgium, revealed that approximately 1/3 of PhD students at a risk of developing psychological issues. Life shouldn’t stop and start the library. Be proactive about finding communities and activities in your area, and know where to seek help if you need it. Do not be afraid to take time to care for yourself, or feel embarrassment about needing help: statistics overwhelmingly show that you are not alone!

5. How ought you prepare for your future while in your programme?

It’s a problem faced by many doctoral students. Should they work on their own research at length, or ‘get their name out’ by producing more short articles and essays for the public? When competition for post-doctoral places is getting harder by the day, postgraduates are facing more pressure to build their careers during their studies. ‘I’ve heard from academics in the past that it’s always more important to focus on producing a blinding thesis rather than on trying to a write/release articles too soon in your career’, says a current doctoral student at Queen Mary. Do your research, and learn from your peers and mentors how best to divide your energies whilst in your programme, so you can be best equipped for navigating life post-graduation.