Postgraduate IT conversion courses
Postgraduate IT conversion courses provide a grounding in the basics of IT and computing for graduates who haven't studied computer science at degree level. They are typically a year-long, taught masters course.
For many graduates the IT conversion course is the path to a completely new career, but it could also boost professional opportunities in areas related to your undergraduate degree. For example, if you are a biology graduate, extra computing skills could help you specialise in the growing field of bioinformatics. An economics graduate could gain the technology skills needed to get into financial modelling. But, as the business world becomes ever more reliant on technology, it's no bad thing for any graduate to have a good understanding of computers and IT systems.
In the finance sector, for example, you will find that the Bloomberg NEXT is an extremely prevalent piece of software used right across the industry, particularly when it comes to market analyses.
Focus on your end goal
To get the most out of a postgraduate conversion course you need to give some thought to what you want to do at the end. Conversion courses are intense. You'll be mastering a completely new discipline in a relatively short time, so you need to be motivated.
Researching the IT business sector and listing the main employers that interest you is a good way to start – you need to make sure that you really do want to work in the IT sector before you get further into debt to join it. Take a close look at the different roles offered by IT employers and identify which ones interest you. This will give you an idea of the skills and competences you will need and it will help you compare the course content so that you find the masters that suits your career aims.
Choosing the right course
IT conversion courses vary in focus and content. An MSc in 'computer science' or 'computing' will typically cover core computing principles and be heavier on programming, development and networks, compared to an MSc in 'information technology'. The latter could focus more on building IT applications within business and society. Both types provide invaluable skills but one may be better suited to your career intentions than the other. Look at the content and key modules carefully – while you'll want to be challenged by your postgraduate studies, why struggle with loads of programming if that's not your long-term IT interest?
To maximise the benefits of converting to IT you also need to choose the right place to study. Different institutions will have different emphases and provide different learning environments, so you will need to decide what suits you best.
For example, Brunel University has a number of different courses available in both its Mathematical Sciences and Information Systems and Computing departments. Taking two courses, the MSc in Advanced Computing is strikingly different to the MSc in Computational Mathematics with Modelling. The former is focuses more heavily on group work, including a large project, and generally leads to careers with a software engineering or business theme; the latter is more research orientated, including a dissertation, and leads to more research-based careers such as quantitative analyst or academic posts.
The minimum entry requirements are also different. The MSc in Advanced Computing requires a 2.1 and some experience of software programming. Conversely, the MSc in Computational Mathematics with Modelling asks for a 2.2 in a course with a clear and strong mathematical element to it.
Another thing to check is whether your university has any research ties to businesses. This is commonplace in the IT sector, with universities acting as a natural base for research projects. Birmingham City University, for example, has various partnerships with businesses including with Cisco and SAP, to name just two. These ties can be a especially useful to you as a student, as with their increased presence on campus you may be able to build up a network of contacts that leads to future job opportunities.
Meeting the entry requirements
Check the minimum requirements carefully. You need to make sure that your undergraduate degree will allow you entry onto the course and that your degree classification meets the minimum requirements. Many courses accept graduates from all disciplines. However, those with a deeper technical element may only accept graduates coming from numerate or technical/scientific degrees.
If you have any prior experience in computing or any IT-related work experience, mention this in your application along with the strength of your mathematical and analytical skills. This will help admissions tutors assess your suitability for the course and additionally provides useful practice for identifying the key aspects of your work experience to employers in the future.
What converts can offer
The combination of the technology skills gained through a conversion masters and the general competences developed through your first degree will give you breadth of experience and a skills set that really stands out. It's a winning combination.
The majority of computing applications are in business and graduate employers look for would-be IT professionals that buck the typical computer scientist stereotype. Technologists need to possess strong people skills, business acumen and understand the diverse needs of IT users, as well as having a deep technical knowledge. Conversion graduates frequently display these highly sought after traits.
In addition, non-IT graduates often present companies with a link between their IT specialists and the end-users of their products. Understanding trends and thoughts of users is crucial to IT businesses as a whole. As such, non-IT graduates do not need to know the ins-and-outs of how computer programmes work, but they must be comfortable speaking about them and be able to understand their uses in a broader, often customer-focused context.
Funding your course
- If you have already found a masters course that interests you, check what financial help may be available through the university or department, eg scholarships or bursaries. Make enquiries before or when you apply.
- Professional and Career Development Loans are available through an arrangement between the government and two high street banks (Barclays and the Co-operative Bank). Find out more at www.gov.uk but check the conditions and your eligibility for these loans carefully. The interest is paid for you during your studies, and for one month after you have completed them.
- Visit your university's careers service to find directories of funding organisations and more information on postgraduate study.