If you are considering studying for a masters level course, you may also be wondering when is the best time to move on to postgraduate study. Whether you are carrying straight on from your undergraduate studies, or returning to study, here are a few areas you may find it helpful to think about:

Cost – Masters Fees and Funding

Let’s get that one out of the way first – whatever happens to the fees for postgraduate courses over the next few years, one thing is guaranteed: they wont be going down! The fees for different courses will rise by differing amounts over the next few years, and that will depend on all sorts of factors. However, that does not necessarily mean you should rush to postgraduate study immediately on the basis that the costs will go up, if you think it will suit your financial situation better later. In general, more Universities are making funding available for masters courses than previously, although this remains unpredictable, as does government funding for masters courses. If you know that funding for the course you want to do tends to be available each year, that can give you a bit more flexibility. If you can, and we know that it is not always possible, try not to let cost be the deciding factor on when (or what) you study.

Continuing your study or waiting a while

If you are finishing your undergraduate you may wish to continue on to postgraduate study immediately, but if you are uncertain, you may like to think about: – whether your chosen career area requires it or it would be an advantage to do a masters course first – check with your industry websites and careers advisers if you have access to them – whether you would be better working for a few years to get a clearer idea of your career first, and then studying for a masters, perhaps in a specialism that appeals to you or will give you a particular advantage – whether you need to ‘upgrade’ your undergraduate degree in order to enter your chosen career – in which case a masters level course sooner rather than later could be a good idea – whether you are likely to want to continue to a PhD, and whether you ‘need’ a masters course in order to do that. In some subject areas (most science and engineering subjects) you can continue straight on to a PhD from undergraduate study. In arts, humanities and social sciences, you are more likely to find that a masters is necessary before applying for a PhD, although some PhD’s are longer and incorporate masters level study as part of the programme. Whatever your subject, a masters course could help you decide if you want to move on to a PhD. – whether you personally would be better taking a break from study and carrying on immediately, if you are in the mindset of studying and enjoy it.

Returning to Study – how long should you leave it?

If you are returning to study some time after your undergraduate degree, there are no right answers about when to study for a masters – it really depends on you and your preferences, and on the courses available. Increasingly, universities are aware they need to be flexible in their teaching and provision so that people from a range of circumstances can study at postgradute level. If you want to advance in your career and think a masters course would help, either in terms of the qualification itself, and/or because you have been seen to study and show commitment, then timing may be related to your career stage and to your own personal circumstances. If you need to study part time to fit in with work or for financial reasons, then this will take longer than a full time course. If you want to study at masters level but are worried about whether you would have the study skills to return to postgraduate level study, and whether you will fit in, the sooner you start looking into your preferred course options, the sooner you will be reassured: in most UK universities, postgraduate students come from a range of ages and stages and there is increasing emphasis on the postgraduate community. Ask the course tutors and administrators about the mix of students on the courses you are interested in, and see if you can talk to a current or former student with similar circumstances to your own. University staff will also be able to help you with information about extra study support and skills training if you need it – most universities provide this in some form and will be able to advise you.

One Masters course – and then another?

If you are considering a masters course, with a possible plan of studying for another in a more specialist area later in your career, you may find it helpful to be aware of the rules currently in force about Equivalent Level Qualifications. If you study for a second masters level course (and this applies if either course is a postgraduate certificate or diploma as well) you are likely to find that the fees for your second masters course will be much higher, unless the course is in one of the exempt subject areas. This is because Universities do not get funding for the government for students on these courses. If in doubt, ask the University you are considering, whether this would apply to you.

Your choices and preferences

As more and more students study at postgraduate level, universities have increased the support they have available for masters level students, and can accommodate students from different career and life stages. This really means that – unless your career has specific requirements – you should find you have plenty of options and can choose to carry on immediately with study, or return to study after some years, when it suits you and your own personal circumstances.

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