Postgraduate courses are a big commitment. Whether one-year of full-time study or two years part-time, students have to invest significant energy and money in their course. But there’s fresh evidence that postgraduate students earn both a better salary and have stronger employment prospects than those with an undergraduate degree alone.
We spoke to two career experts about whether a postgraduate course can really boost your career prospects. Mary Hosty is a career guidance practitioner with over 20 years experience, and the founder of SouthDublinCareers.ie. Laura Walshe is a trained guidance counsellor and social care practitioner offering career guidance in Dublin and Limerick and she runs FindYourPath.ie.
With unemployment currently so low and many employers offering graduate training programmes to many people straight out of college, is it worth doing a postgraduate course?
Mary Hosty: If you've done a primary degree with a specific professional focus, such as engineering, medicine, education, nursing or actuarial finance, then in most instances you are qualified to enter directly into the workforce. For graduates with broader degrees, a postgraduate qualification will sharpen the focus of their career interests and skills, making them highly attractive to potential employers. In science, for instance, there is now such a broad spectrum of degree of degree options that graduates are often snapped up quickly into pharmaceuticals, biotechnology and related fields, and these graduates can be better off going directly into the workforce.
Laura Walshe: They are an excellent career progression tool for the individual who is wishing to specialise within a specific area, once the individual is committed to that area of expertise and it is reflective of their interests and values. For some sectors, it is a requirement to have a postgraduate qualification and can make the difference in the earnings for an individual. Saying that, there is no value in committing to postgraduate study for
the sake of having the qualification if it does not correspond to your interests or your career goals.
Might graduates be better off going straight into the workforce?
Laura Walshe: From working with clients and in my own personal career journey, professional experience tends to be valuable than academic experience. Graduates tend to benefit more, both personally and professionally, by entering into the workforce following completion of their undergraduate studies. Most graduates enter into entry-level positions, which can be low-level, low-skilled and low-paying positions, but the experience gained can make the difference for the graduate in the long-term to advance their careers. A graduate will get an opportunity to discover where their interests lie and may decide to specialise in a particular subject, continuing on to postgraduate study. The workplace experience can often focus and direct a graduate's career roles.
There are costs involved in a postgrad: are they worth it?
Mary Hosty: Many postgrads work in full-time jobs and complete their studies in the evenings and at weekends. Part-time study is a big commitment but it pays dividends in the long term and provided it is in a relevant field, working full-time while studying in your spare time tends to send a very positive message to potential employers.
Do employers place a real premium on people with postgraduate qualifications?
Mary Hosty: It depends on the qualification and the individual. Some people are really good at selling themselves at interview and even though they may lack a specific skill, they convey a dynamic quality that appeals to employers. But lots of people require the additional knowledge, expertise and confidence that comes with doing a post graduate course to get them into their chosen field. All companies and organisations have their own ways of doing things. No Masters can substitute for the training, experience and common sense that comes with being in the actual workforce.
Laura Walshe: Yes, it really depends on the sector. If it a specialised area, a postgraduate qualification can make a difference to the career prospects of a graduate. Some positions require postgraduate training as a minimum, but the real value is placed on the graduate's professional experience. It is often the professional experience that employers are after. Once a graduate can demonstrate that the skills from their previous roles are transferable to the role they are applying for/interviewing for, they will have a better chance of succeeding in getting a more advanced role. Yes, a postgraduate qualification can be important, but it will be worth nothing if the individual can not show how their skills and experience is important, relevant and applicable to the role they are applying for/interviewing for.
If you do decide to continue to postgraduate study, it is important that you are doing a course because you can see how it will complement your career goals and your values. It is a huge commitment, in time, money and energy, so choose a course because it is your passion and not because it is your obligation.
Nine months after a postgrad: Salaries and employment prospects
In 2017, 14,707 students graduated with a taught postgraduate qualification, while 1,733 secured a research degree. The largest number of taught postgrads were from business, administration and law, followed by arts and humanities.
The figures are contained in a new Graduate Outcomes Report carried out for the Higher Education Authority, which found that 18 per cent of all postgrad taught graduates who responded to the question were earning between €30,000-34,999 within the first nine months of graduation, 31 per cent earning less than €29,999, 43 per cent earned between €35,000-79,999 and 5 per cent earned over €80,000. One per cent were in an unpaid position. The survey found that 86 per cent of taught postgrads and 91 per cent of research postgrads were working or due to start a job.
By contrast, 24 per cent of graduates with an honours undergraduate degree who responded to the survey were earning between €30,000-34,999, 59 per cent were earning less than €29,999, 16 per cent were earning between €35,000-69,999, and nobody was earning over €70,000. One per cent were in an unpaid position. Three-quarters of those with an honours degree were working or due to start a job.
It’s clear from these figures that there’s a definite salary boost available to postgraduates, even within the first nine months after college, while job prospects also improve.