The simple answer to this question is that it depends on the employer. But there are some general rules (and they probably won’t surprise you).
An employer will invest in training that benefits their business. That could involve sponsoring promising graduates to earn necessary professional qualifications. Or it could involve supporting employees with continuing professional development.
That means that the kinds of degrees an employer will support can be quite limited. It’s not impossible that an organisation might cover the cost of a Masters in Eighteenth-Century Poetry. But they’re a lot more likely to sponsor a Masters in Twenty-First Century Business, or Law.
So, what are the most likely scenarios for postgraduate employer sponsorship?
Professional qualification and accreditation
In some jobs, a period of postgraduate study and further qualification is a minimum requirement for professional practice.
This is most likely in so-called ‘regulated professions’ such as education, or law. To work in these fields, you’ll usually need to complete further qualifications on top of an undergraduate degree.
Teachers, for example, often study a Postgraduate Certificate in Education (PGCE) or similar qualification. Solicitors, meanwhile, usually complete a Legal Practice Course (LPC) or its equivalent.
Other professions such as architecture, accountancy or social work may also require accredited qualifications. These are often earned through postgraduate study.
In most cases students pay for these extra degrees themselves. But, if you can demonstrate significant potential in your intended career path, an employer might invest in your training.
A private company (such as a law firm) will usually do this in order to hire you when you qualify – and benefit from your skills.
Public sector professions (such as education) may also offer graduate training schemes in order to attract high quality candidates.
The best way to find this kind of employer sponsorship is to research your intended profession carefully. Are Government sponsorship schemes available? Are there any suitable businesses and firms with their own sponsorship schemes?
Continuing professional development
It’s common to think of postgraduate study as an extra step between undergraduate study and work. That’s not always the case.
Many postgraduate courses are actually offered as continuing professional development, or ‘CPD’, opportunities. These tend to be shorter Postgraduate Certificate or Diploma qualifications designed for people with existing professional experience – and employment.
There are two main types of postgraduate CPD:
- Some courses allow you to ‘upskill’ or ‘reskill’ yourself in order to move into more senior positions within your organisation – or shift to a different role.
- Other courses allow you to keep pace with dynamic professions by learning best-practice or new techniques.
The nature of the modern workforce means that both types of continuing professional development are becoming increasingly common. Many careers are now fast-moving, influenced by new technologies or changes in policy and business practices.
CPD allows employers to ensure their employees’ skills are up-to-date and their businesses are competitive.
As such, CPD is probably the easiest form of postgraduate study to secure employer sponsorship for. Provided, that is, that you can make a strong case for the benefit this training offers them (not just you!).
The MBA (or ‘Master of Business Administration’) is intended for business and management professionals seeking to acquire top-level leadership skills.
And, unlike a standard Business Masters degree, an MBA requires substantial existing experience as well as appropriate undergraduate qualifications.
You might think of an MBA as an extreme form of CPD - and most courses have a price-tag to match. Average fees for an MBA in the UK are over £18,000 (many programmes are much more expensive).
This means that employer sponsorship is actually one of the most realistic ways to ‘fund’ an MBA. You’ll need to be an exceptional candidate to receive this kind of support, with the potential to contribute a great deal to your company (perhaps literally).
But, if you’re ready to complete an MBA, you probably already have these qualities.