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 by Mark Bennett
, posted on 24 Oct '19

How Can You Tell if a Masters is Worth It?

More and more people are choosing to study a Masters these days – that's a fact. Increased funding is definitely one reason for this trend (spoiler). But let's be honest, no one chooses to study a Masters just because they really like student loan debt.

So what actually makes a Masters worth doing? And how can you really tell if a specific course is worth it for you?

These can feel like pretty philosophical questions (even if you aren't doing a Masters in Philosophy) but this post is here to provide a few practical answers.

#1 Do the Maths

(Even if you're going to study English.)

If 'worth it to you' means 'worth £ to you' then the most sensible place to start is by looking at what you might earn with a Masters.

Just bear in mind that earnings data is a loose guide to value. People with a Masters do generally make more, but correlation doesn't necessarily imply causation: they could be the kind of people who'd make more anyway, due to their skills or the careers they choose to pursue.

And anyway, earnings aren't the only thing that determine 'worth'. There's also. . .

#2 Think how much it's going to cost

Postgrad fees are a bit odd. Unlike undergraduate fees, they vary by university, by course and by year. Postgrad loans are a bit odd too, as it happens. And all of this can make it quite tricky to tell how much a Masters is actually going to cost.

You really should though, which is why I've put together a separate post explaining how to work out the full cost of a Masters.

After all, you can't really decide if an extra degree is worth paying for until you know how much you'll actually be paying.

#3 Speak to an employer

There's good evidence that Masters graduates are highly employable, but don't just base your decision on statistics: find out what actual employers think.

Let's say you want to work in event marketing and you've found a Masters course covering programmatic campaign management, SEO, media buying and a range of other topics that may or may not be relevant to the specific role you're interested in.

There's nothing wrong with asking an employer if these are the skills they're looking to hire for. Careers fairs are a good way to do that, but so is a short, polite, email. Replies aren't guaranteed, but asking sensible questions is never going to make you look bad.

#4 Or speak to a PhD supervisor

A Masters degree isn't always a prerequisite for a PhD, but it usually helps. Some courses also help more than others.

This is where a quick chat with a prospective PhD supervisor can be handy. They don't have to be the person you eventually apply to study with, just someone in your field who can take a look at course content and say whether a particular Masters is going to give you the sort of subject knowledge and skills you'll want to demonstrate on a research proposal one day. If it isn't, they'll probably know of another course that will.

#5 Get specific about transferable skills

Regardless of what you want to do with a Masters, it's also worth thinking about what that Masters will train you to do. What specific transferable skills will you get out of it? What can you put on your CV? What can you include in your answer when a future interviewer asks "so, what made you choose to do a Masters degree?"

This matters for all subjects, because all subjects develop transferable skills:

  • Thinking about a Masters in English Literature? – You won't just learn a lot about poetry; you'll also learn how to to analyse different kinds of information and communicate your findings clearly and persuasively
  • Interested in a Masters in Biosciences? – You'll become an expert in collecting hard data and drawing clear conclusions from it; this matters as much in the boardroom as it does in a wet lab
  • Tempted by a year studying your Masters in Sociology? – You're about to learn complex methodologies for conducting quantitative and qualitative research, as well as how to deal with real people in an ethical and empathetic manner; this matters for everything from PR to HR

And so on.

#6 Ask yourself whether you'll enjoy it

Look, you probably shouldn't decide on a Masters just because you can't think of anything better to do with the next year of your life. . . but there are definitely worse ways to spend your time if you genuinely don't know what else to do.

I mean, a year studying Politics at uni is better than a year arguing about politics on Twitter, right? If only because Twitter doesn't award degrees.

So don't feel that you can't spend a year studying a subject you really care about and getting an extra qualification in the process. Maybe that's what makes a Masters 'worth it' for you – and more power to you if so.

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