Every year around 16% of LSE students go on to complete some form of further study. Indeed, in recent years we have seen increasing numbers of undergraduates pursuing postgraduate study before starting their careers, and this may well be an option you are actively considering.
There are of course many reasons for doing so. Further study can provide the opportunity to explore a subject in greater depth, develop specific skills and expertise or allow you to undertake training in a vocational are. You might be thinking about completing a master's degree, pursuing a PhD or studying for a shorter postgraduate diploma or certificate.
Deciding to continue – or return to – studying is an important choice and it’s worth spending some time researching and reflecting carefully before you commit to a programme. Be clear on your goals. Think about your interests, skills and strengths. This will help clarify your motivation for undertaking further study and how committed you are to it. Researching opportunities and understanding how further study might enhance your job prospects will also help you identify which programmes and institutions will best support your career interests. These activities will also prepare the groundwork for the actual process of applying for further study.
Should I do a master's?
This is a big question. Postgraduate study is a significant commitment from both a financial and time perspective. Making sure you pick the right course and are doing it for the right reasons is critical. The following questions will help you clarify your thoughts.
Studying a relevant postgraduate course can show motivation and interest in a specific field and, in some cases, develop enhanced technical or specialist skills. It may indeed be a requirement for certain roles. Even when it’s not a prerequisite, the postgraduate qualification can enhance your application and give you an edge in comparison with those applying directly from undergraduate study.
It’s important to note, nonetheless, that a masters does not guarantee a job. Many employers do not specifically target master’s level students and will place more emphasis on a very good first degree and an application that’s balanced overall. They will be very interested in the kind of work experience you have, how well you have used your time at university, your involvement in extra-curricular activities. Of course, taking more time to study can give you the opportunity to gain more useful work experience before applying for a permanent role.
Keep in mind too, that in many cases there is no initial salary boost for a postgraduate qualification even if it might help enhance longer term prospects.
Research your preferred career area to check entry requirements. In some situations a master's degree is essential, in others highly beneficial. Consider carefully whether the course will give you specialist knowledge and if employers value the programme. All universities maintain graduate destination information, so you should be able to see what graduates from the programme/department you are considering have gone on to do.
Unfortunately, for many graduate employers there’s relatively little evidence to suggest that a good master’s result will counterbalance a disappointing undergraduate degree unless you can cite mitigating circumstances for your earlier results or convince that those earlier results don't accurately reflect your potential.
As suggested above, you can certainly take steps to improve your employability while you are studying, but it’s important to assess whether further study is going to be the best use of your time; perhaps gaining more practical experience in your chosen field would actually be more useful. You might find it helpful to talk through the pros and cons with a careers consultant.
We wouldn’t recommend taking a master's degree just because you don’t know what you want to do or haven’t organised anything else. It’s an expensive way of spending a year, and there is no guarantee that you will be any clearer on your next steps when you finish! Make an appointment to talk through options and alternatives with a careers consultant.
Yes, definitely! In-depth study of something you’re truly passionate about, perhaps doing some research and completing a dissertation on a topic you are genuinely curious about can be very rewarding. It may lead to PhD research, it may enable you to make contact with professionals in this field, it may help you convince a potential employer of your interest in their sector or specialisation.
Where the course is not directly related to your career interest it’s important to be able to articulate to a prospective employer the broader benefits you have derived from it.
There is no central clearing system for postgraduate study, so be prepared to spend a bit of time on your research. Looking directly at university websites can be a useful starting point. Prospects has a searchable database of postgraduate courses. FindAMasters includes a directory of master's degrees and postgraduate qualifications at universities around the world. TARGETjobs includes profession specific advice including Master's in Management (MiM), law and IT conversion courses and teaching.
How to choose a course
As well as researching in detail the content and structure of the course, it’s worth also thinking about location, cost and institutional reputation.
If your primary motivation is to help you in your career goals, then it’s important to look at what graduates from the course do and where they go on to work. Do these reflect your own career interests? What opportunities are there for experiential learning though projects or being taught by industry professionals? What careers support is available?
Other criteria will include the reputation of the institution (and the individual programme). There are many league tables and world university rankings available. FindAMasters includes a ranking guide for postgraduate study.
Applying for further study
Universities each have their own systems and approaches to applying for further study. Some will charge a fee for each application. Once applications open, many courses fill their places on a rolling basis, with popular programmes filling quickly, so early application is advised.
Funding further study
Funding postgraduate study is complex. There are a variety of funding sources available and it’s worth spending some time exploring the options. While grants and bursaries are comparatively scarce, many students fund themselves from a variety of different sources.
The best starting point is to first check the bursaries and scholarships offered by the institutions to which you are applying. If that includes LSE, speak to academics in your current department in the first instance or book office hours with someone in another department if you're interested in exploring alternatives.
Government funding will be available for some courses such as teaching, but in general funding for arts and social science-based courses can be hard to secure. Check out charities and other grant giving bodies, remembering that these will often have quite specific criteria attached. Postgraduate loans are available for some applicants, and career development loans are available through high street banks.
If funding constraints mean full-time study isn’t an option, you could consider combining part-time study with working. Make sure you’re well informed about the different options available. Prospects provides the most detailed guide to funding. This includes funding further study in the UK as well as further study abroad where you'll find advice on studying in different countries including typical course fees and potential funding sources. FindAMasters also has a useful funding guide, including international funding.