Reasons to study a masters course

Deciding to study a masters degree is a big step to take. There can be a number of reasons why it makes sense to do it, but it is always an individual decision. If you are ready to get started, still wavering or just wondering what’s the fuss is all about here are six reasons to study a masters course whenever you are ready to start. Let’s go!

I’m fast approaching the roundabout – which exit shall I take?

First thing to remember is that having doubts is normal. It's perfectly OK to think seriously whether you should take on the responsibility, commitment and expense of a masters degree. Knowing what a masters will do for you in the future is great, provided you actually get there. It’s like taking the wrong exit off the roundabout in the hope that it leads to your destination.

Life after a bachelor’s degree

You could be among the group of graduates that have everything planned out. You are ready to join the job market or take a gap year to volunteer and travel.

Maybe your course didn’t live up to expectations? Lots of university graduates get to the end of three years of study and they can’t wait to finish. You may have spent the best part of 15 years in ‘education’ so enough of textbooks and revision timetables!

So, let’s consider some popular reasons to study and choose a masters course.

Reason one: To earn more money

The good news is yes - graduate students earn more on average than their non graduate peers. UK Government figures show postgraduate workers regularly have the highest employment rate. Nearly 78% of all working-age masters students in professional or high-skilled employment. This translates to postgraduates earning an average of £6,000 more per year than graduates with an undergraduate degree. In 2019 working-age graduates aged 16-64 earned a salary of £34,000 on average, while their non-graduate peers who chose a different path earned a salary around £24,000.

Be that as it may, the salary situation changed after the pandemic began, leading to subsequent lockdowns. More recent research shows a big boost in graduate vacancies in early 2022 which then fell back in the autumn caused by economic challenges.

It’s important to recognise salaries vary greatly according to region, regardless of global economic factors. Starting a graduate role in a financial consultancy or law firm in London pays a different rate to the equivalent role in Liverpool for example, even though both roles require the same skills and experience.

Reason two: To get a qualification

A postgraduate qualification in a specialised vocational subject is a winner. It allows you to compete for jobs that pay more than standard living wages. For that reason, a role in a sector like professional services is one of the most popular career pathways open to graduates.

If you want to practice as an accountant you need to complete a series of qualifications in order to achieve chartered status. If you plan to work in a legal capacity you have a number of routes to professional legal status, including the Legal Practice Course (LPC) or Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL) and the new SQE training exam. This pathway is based on work experience as well as an examination.

Careers in healthcare and medicine require staff to continually update their skills. Accumulating additional qualifications is a clear way to improve salary and career outcomes.

Reason three: Because I’m not sure I will get a job without one

Having a masters degree does make a difference but a masters is not required for every job. This is a technique often employed by recruitment agencies to aim for top candidates. You have relevant skills and expertise in your degree field so don't be put off into thinking you won't be considered without a masters.

It helps if you think about possible careers before you finish your degree. Starting a job search immediately after your last day at university is quite late. Course tutors and careers advisors will be offering coaching from the start of year two. Listen and act on their advice. Stepping neatly into a job that utilises the skills you have acquired at university takes patience.

A lot of the techniques you have accumulated are not ones covered in your modules. For that reason CV and career planning is an important process.

Top employers spot graduates with these skills:-

  • Project management
  • Good teamwork
  • critical and lateral thinking
  • advanced research skills
  • data-handling
  • independent working, self-motivation and determination
  • enthusiasm and commitment to your work

There is also the small matter of student debt.

You are likely to have been living on a budget for some time. Getting salaried work as quickly as possible is very important. In any case very few students that have taken out UK student loans start making big repayments straightaway. You need to earn a minimum of £21k before you do. The rate of salary deductions to repay the loan depends on when you started your degree.

Reason four: Because it’s a subject I have always wanted to study

Building an emotional connection with a particular subject often leads to further study. This is one of the prime reasons to study a masters course. Love of the subject is a motivation for postgraduate research – to be able to go all the way with a particular topic, and perhaps become a full-time research academic.

While taught masters degrees focus on completing modules and assignments, your time studying at university can also open up research opportunities for you.

To complete your written projects, you'll still need to conduct secondary research and learn to use your findings appropriately. Some business and management courses also include a mini-thesis module called a 'capstone' project to give you a taste of academic research.

A programme can include a semester on work experience, so the university will supervise this period of your course and expect you to undertake a research project that relates to the specific needs of the organisation you are volunteering within.

If you find that research is something you're passionate about, you can develop one of your assignments into a PhD. Alternatively, you can join a research project and make a contribution that way, which then results in a PhD.

If your passion for a subject comes from a different source that’s fine too. You may have chosen a conventional degree topic as an undergraduate but at some point you steered towards something completely different.

Lots of students choose conversion courses at masters level. These programmes recruit students with skills in design, business, sport or languages and then offer them the choice to retrain in a different area such as Artificial Intelligence and Data Science.

Reason five: Because I want to come to the UK to study

Achieving a masters degree from a UK university is a significant boost to any students career prospects, particularly if you are from overseas. This alone makes it one of the top reasons to study a masters course. UK remains one of the top destinations for international students. Over 532,460 international students applied to study in the UK in 2021, and the trend continues to grow.

After the UK left the EU the UK Government relaxed the requirements for international students, A new scheme for high potential students from reputable universities offered generous study and work visas, allowing students to seek employment in the UK after their qualification.

A total of 72,893 Graduate route extensions were granted to previous students in 2022. The scheme applies to the dependents of students, and this has also proved to be very popular. Whether these schemes remain as accessible as they currently are is unknown. While they remain open for application many international students will use these routes.

Universities offer generous merit-based scholarships to home and international students. Bursaries of up to £3,000 are offered at key times of the academic cycle, so we encourage students to sign up for our regular newsletters to receive details of these when they are announced.

Studying in the UK is a very different experience from studying in a home country. Not only is the language, culture and environment very different from home the teaching style is designed around a model that encourages discussion, team working, and self-discovery.

Some universities prepare their international applicants with both language programmes (e.g. IELTS) and modular study methods. It's is a good idea to take advantage of these services if they are offered to you.

Reason six: Because I want to have a fresh start somewhere new

If you have spent three years studying in one location then a masters degree offers you an excellent launchpad to relocate somewhere completely new. Not only will this broaden your learning experiences it will also expand your outlook on study, where you live and making friends in a completely new location.

Relocation can be key to a future career plan, because employers in specific industry sectors are often aligned to local universities. For example, marine engineering and design is close to important coastal cities. Traditional manufacturing had been based in the midlands and northern cities. Arts, media and creative industries have long established themselves in London, Edinburgh and Manchester for example.

You may also find that work opportunities in other cities can be more attractive, as the costs of living can vary significantly. Major employers have established new hubs away from the Southeast, such as the BBC. The influence of brand sponsorship has revolutionised industries such as sport.

Concluding thoughts

The reasons to study a masters course remain as important as they always have. You must make up your own mind based on your individual circumstances.

Since the pandemic the need to commute for work five days a week has been turned upside down. For now, employers are applying a hybrid model where remote working is perfectly acceptable at least two days a week. This change has coincided with a reappraisal of traditional family responsibilities, and many parents now prefer to share childcare responsibilities more equally.

Fitting the study of a masters degree around the responsibilities of home and family is more achievable than ever. Online masters programmes are just one example of this.

These changes will affect the career and lifestyle decisions we take both now and in the future. Modern economies will need to pivot away from traditional long term career models to embrace a more dynamic workforce.