How to find the right postgraduate course for you

Differentiating between what’s on offer and ensuring your course has credibility in the labour market is key


Prospective postgraduate students have a vast range of programmes to choose from in Ireland, abroad and online. Differentiating between what’s on offer and, more particularly, ensuring your course has credibility in the labour market, is key.

But, before you decide what you want to study, ask yourself what type of programme you wish to follow. Most postgraduate programmes can be divided into two categories across a range of academic fields. Choosing the right option between a research-based course or a taught course can help to position you well in the jobs market once your studies have been completed.

Taught courses are usually undertaken on a full-time basis and can take up to 12 months to complete and part-time study can take up to two years. Research courses can take longer to finish.

Taught programmes

“Students choosing a taught master’s programme tend to fall into one of three categories: those who are specialising in a certain discipline to target specific job opportunities; those returning to education to build on experience gained in the workplace; and those seeking a programme following a broad-based undergraduate programme who wish to side-step in a certain direction,” says Prof Lisa Looney, DCU dean of graduate studies.

“The most important question for any applicant to ask is – what is this degree doing for me? It is a very big investment in your career and you should be strategic in your decision-making with an eye to emerging job trends, looking for opportunities to challenge and stretch yourself,” she adds.

Research programmes

Finding out the labour market’s opinion of the quality of support and supervision at this stage will pay dividends when engaging with potential employers near completion of your programme.

Some master’s programmes will facilitate an immediate transfer on to a PhD. A doctorate takes a minimum of three years. The topic is determined by your area of interest and those of your supervisor. Some PhDs are designed for the lone scholar under the direction of a single expert supervisor.

There are also structured PhDs where groups of students come together for transferable skills. Research and professional development planning is an integral part of the structured PhD. Students are encouraged to choose from a range of taught modules, online modules and workshops covering a wide range of transferable skills and research skills, with credit-bearing activities recorded on the academic transcript.

Talk to the programme director to get help deciding which structure suits you and your work style best.

Validation and credibility

Department of Education and Skills

Postgraduate diplomas, master’s degrees and PhD programmes offered by Irish colleges and leading to qualifications on the NFQ are listed on pages 8-11.

The validation of any programme and associated qualification is central to its value – a quality assurance measure to assure standards are being met. In Ireland this is usually overseen by the NFQ.

The universities and Dublin Institute of Technology make awards in their own right and the institutes of technology make most of their own awards under “delegated authority” from QQI. These awards are on the NFQ for both undergraduate and postgraduate level, and are listed by the higher education institutions on their websites.

QQI also makes awards in higher education, mainly for programmes offered by private or independent higher education colleges. The database on lists higher education offerings from programmes leading to QQI awards at levels 6 upwards.

The website has information on all postgrad opportunities in Ireland, including those not validated by QQI (for example, courses in Northern Ireland that fall outside the remit of QQI).

Qualifax lists 2,627 courses at postgrad level in 79 institutions in Ireland, including Northern Ireland – 11 more than last year. They range from accounting in UCD to zoology in NUIG, with 2,354 courses in the Republic and 273 in the North.

There are 186 courses offered by private colleges, with degrees awarded by external awarding bodies such as UK universities.

Aside from programmes on Qualifax, highly reputable postgraduate degrees are offered online by top-ranking universities worldwide. Unfortunately, there are also many worthless postgrad offerings online from colleges with little or no academic credibility. So for those considering programmes which are not validated by QQI or other recognised awarding bodies, caveat emptor, or buyer beware.

It can be difficult to verify the recognition of an academic qualification in another country. NARIC Ireland ( which is based at QQI, provides information and advice on the academic recognition of foreign qualifications in Ireland. is also a portal which promotes mobility, helping guidance counsellors and individuals to better understand the opportunities available to European citizens throughout Europe. Euroguidance Ireland is located in the National Centre for Guidance in Education.

Researching your options

The Qualifax website is the source for all postgraduate courses in Ireland validated by QQI. You can search for programmes under a range of criteria, location, cost and key search words relevant to your area of interest.

For courses in Northern Ireland and the UK, has a comprehensive postgrad section. There’s a growing number of postgrad programmes through English in European universities – see

Online, highly reputable postgrads are offered by bodies such as the Open University and prestigious universities internationally.

Students select one of three types of course, according to Eilis O’Brien, director of communication at UCD.

Progression students wish to become more expert in their bachelor subject; conversion students will have a degree in one area but want to add skills and knowledge from another; and professional students will want the qualification that goes with a particular graduate course.

This third group generally have a career path mapped out so the choice may be more about where and when. The first two groups start to think of postgraduate options around now in the final year of studies.

Job-ready courses

For high-achieving Stem graduates who are planning to apply for graduate courses this autumn, UCD is offering a range of EU scholarships for MSc courses, with the award covering up to € 3,000 of the tuition fees per candidate.

This suite of graduate-taught MSc degrees is ideal for candidates who want to upskill and enhance career prospects in the ICT and software industry sector; biotechnology, biomedical, pharmaceutical and chemical industries; financial services and insurance sector; energy, climate and environment sector; and space science and technology sector (see

Science graduates with a background in life sciences or chemistry, and thinking about setting up on their own, may consider a hybrid conversion degree such as a MSc in biotechnology and business, including completing a business plan with a biotechnology company.

As a hub of biotechnology, Ireland is a good place for science graduates and an increasing number of international students are enrolling here. Biotechnology master’s and doctorate programmes with appropriate internships are also offered by DCU, UCC, NUIG and DIT.

With more than 40 per cent of undergrads going on to postgrad, careers offices in colleges are crucial in advising undergraduates of their options by running events to promote master’s and PhD options to their final-year students and preparing applications for graduate studies.

According to the European Commission, 80 million jobs will be created in Europe over the next 10 years and seven million of those will be in new technologies.

How our third-level sector responds to the economic and individual needs of undergraduates shows their awareness of the need to be ahead of the curve in developing Ireland’s postgraduate sector.