What can I do with my masters?

What can I do with my masters?

Gaining a masters degree demonstrates commitment and the capability to complete an intensive and demanding qualification. If your masters is related to your chosen professional area you will also gain relevant knowledge in that field.

What can I do with my masters?

As a masters graduate you'll face the same competition in the job market as first degree graduates, but your chances of success are potentially increased by your postgraduate qualification, as this provides added value to your CV. Employers welcome the transferable skills as well as the more technical/vocational skills gained through higher level study.

Masters degrees can be a prerequisite for certain jobs and higher level study opportunities and can also be useful for career changers as they provide specific knowledge and skills. They are also valued in Europe and other countries across the world.

Completing a masters does not guarantee that you are more employable or that you will enter the job market at a higher salary level. However, it can enhance your career prospects.

How can I increase my chances of getting a job?

Employers value knowledge, qualifications, skills and experience. It is essential that you demonstrate how your qualification can be of use in the job you are applying for. As well as knowledge, you will also have picked up many transferable skills from your masters course. You should include details of these skills in your application along with examples of how you developed the skill, for example:

  • Communication skills (written): produced a high quality dissertation or project, effectively summarised relevant research and arguments.
  • Communication skills (oral): delivered presentations or explained complex terminology/ideas to peers.
  • Research methods: searched journal databases, designed appropriate experimental or survey methods, selected appropriate methods for analysis.
  • Critical and analytical thinking: interpreted and drew conclusions from various data.
  • Planning and organisation: completed a dissertation/project which required a realistic plan of action.
  • Team work: worked in a group and took responsibility contributing to team success.
  • Advanced IT skills: developed familiarity with specific research software packages over the course of the masters.

Explain how the skills you have gained through your studies and key projects are relevant to the job you're applying for and also consider other qualifications, work experience, responsibilities and your achievements in leisure activities. If you feel you have gaps in your skills, think about how you can fill them through volunteering, paid work or additional courses before the end of your masters.

Where can I find a job?

  • Most employers do not have separate recruitment strategies for postgraduates. Exceptions are usually research-based opportunities which can be found on specific websites, such as Jobs.ac.uk.
  • Look on your own university careers website or on individual company websites for vacancies. Graduate schemes tend to be open for applications between September and December although some recruit all year round.
  • Check adverts in local and national newspapers and relevant trade journals.
  • Explore the Recruitment and Employment Confederation (REC) and Agency Central websites for lists of recruitment agencies by location or specialist area.
  • Attend graduate careers fairs – generally in the autumn term and then again in the spring/summer.
  • Be creative. Advertised jobs are likely to attract higher levels of competition so look for jobs through speculative applications and via networking.
  • Use LinkedIn to widen your network; by making connections, joining groups and linking to alumni. Make use of the search function to get an idea about the career paths of people with similar qualifications to you and to identify potential employers in your field.  
  • Seek out business or industry events as a way to meet potential employers. Follow up any contact with an email or letter to enquire about potential vacancies.

Should I consider further vocational, professional or postgrad study?

Some graduates decide to continue with further study after their masters degree. Various courses can be completed, some academic, some vocational.

You might decide to undertake further study because:

  • you need to gain an essential qualification required for your chosen career;
  • you want to enhance your skills and knowledge and specialise in your subject area;
  • you want to progress in your existing role/field.

Before deciding, there are some issues you should consider:

  • Cost: you need to ensure that you have the money to pay the fees and enough money to cover your living costs. With the increased availability of government loans for postgraduate study you should be aware of the repayment terms. For example, in England you have to pay back your postgraduate loan at the same time as you are repaying your undergraduate loan. 
  • Entry requirements: find out whether you have the academic requirements and experience asked for – some courses, such as a PGCE or MBA, require work experience.
  • Timing: allow yourself plenty of time (up to 12–18 months) for planning applications, especially if applying abroad.
  • The institution: consider both the research and teaching reputation of the academic department/institution. Look at the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education (QAA) to find assessments of many universities.
  • The course: consider whether you prefer lectures, seminars, practical sessions or a mixture. Examine the student to staff ratio as well as timetabling and assessment methods.
  • Career prospects: check out how relevant the qualification is to your career aspirations as well as graduate destinations from the course. Find out about employer perceptions of certain qualifications and whether they are essential/desirable.

What are my options for further study?

Various courses can be undertaken after a masters degree, usually through different modes of study. Courses may be available on a full-time, part-time or distance learning basis.

Qualifications to consider after a masters include:

  • PgCert/PgDip: a vocational postgraduate certificate or diploma such as the PGCE (Postgraduate Certificate in Education) or GDL (Graduate Diploma in Law) can be an entry point into relevant professions.
  • MBA: an MBA (Masters of Business Administration) provides grounding in all aspects of business management. An MBA may be useful for management roles and/or consulting.
  • MRes/MPhil: a Masters of/by Research (MRes) or a Masters of Philosophy (MPhil) can include taught elements but focuses on research methods. It could help to improve your research skills and pursue a research topic in which you are interested in preparation for a research-based role or a PhD.
  • PhD/DPhil: a doctorate (PhD/DPhil) involves intense research for at least three years full time or six years part time. A PhD is necessary for many academic careers and scientific research careers.
  • Professional doctorates: professional doctoral programmes with a taught core element are available in some vocational areas, such as engineering (EngD), education (EdD) and business (DBA). These tend to be designed for experienced practitioners seeking to enhance their professional skills and profile.
  • New route PhD: these PhD programmes include formal training which can include research skills and transferable skills such as leadership and enterprise. Most take at least four years to complete.

Will I get funding for further study?

  • The government in England has launched a postgraduate loan scheme and Northern Ireland and Scotland are set to follow. You should check the funding arrangements and eligibility criteria with the awards agency where you are ordinarily resident.
  • If you are seeking further study at the university where you completed your first degree, an alumni discount may be available. Ask your university for further details.
  • Research councils collectively award approximately 10,000 PhD studentships per year although most funding goes towards STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) subjects.
  • Explore options for salaried employment within a department as a teaching or research assistant which incorporates studying for a PhD.
  • Applications for popular PhD studentships and salaried/funded awards and grants are competitive. Ensure you write a convincing personal statement to optimise your chances of success in your application.
  • A Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP) may fund or part-fund further qualifications. KTPs provide salaried graduate roles within university-business partnerships.
  • Some employers will provide funding support for staff to do relevant postgraduate study.
  • Other funding options include grants and awards from charitable trusts, a professional and career development loan from a bank, other bank loans, part-time work or employer-funded qualifications.

Written by Fiona McNamara, University of Liverpool, November 2016