Whether you’re an undergraduate contemplating staying in higher education or a professional considering a return to study, if you’re thinking about postgraduate study then you’re not alone. The last five years have seen more students jostling for places on postgraduate courses than ever before. Given the turbulent nature of our economy and our challenging job market this means that it’s more important than ever to be sure that the postgraduate experience is the right choice for you. For many, it can be a stepping-stone to a dream job, but there are no guarantees. It may sound obvious, but probably the best reason for taking the postgraduate plunge is because you are genuinely stimulated by academic study – there’s little point otherwise.

While a postgraduate qualification can be intellectually satisfying, there is no guarantee that it will improve your employment prospects: it is worth noting that the gradireland Graduate Salary and Graduate Recruitment Trends Survey 2013 points to recruiters largely favouring work experience over fourth-level study. This means you need to consider carefully whether your degree will give you the employability skills you need. Some postgraduate qualifications may offer professional recognition or exemption from professional exams. For some professions – for example law, accountancy, teaching, medicine and academia – further study is essential (see page 10 for more on conversion courses), while in other areas, such as journalism, politics and economics, it can give you a valuable head start. In other areas, postgraduate study can add a more specialised dimension to your undergraduate degree. For example, a business and finance degree followed by postgraduate study in accounting, or a chemistry degree followed by a masters in biomedical science show a clear development of academic interest.

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