So You’ve Decided to do a Postgraduate Degree

by Christine Chadwick

The decision to take a postgraduate degree should not be made lightly. Once you are certain that you are going for the right reasons - because you need one for your desired professional field, it can improve your career by increasing earning potential and responsibilities, and satisfies your intellectual curiosity and passion - another question looms. Which degree is right for you?

Start with your ultimate goal in mind. What career do you want to achieve in the long-term? Research the careers available in your field and the combination of credentials and experience it took people to get there. Consider setting up informational interviews with people in those positions to establish that you're on the right track.

Determine your specialisation. There are no general degrees at the graduate level. For example, a Ph.D. candidate in English literature will pursue a specific area of Medieval, Renaissance, 18th century, 19th century, 20th century, modernist, or contemporary literature. Or perhaps the scholar would prefer to pursue work in women's studies, ethnic studies, cultural studies, theory, criticism, or rhetoric and composition. A prospective psychologist can choose to specialise in clinical, developmental, educational, environmental, forensic, or health psychology. Make sure that the course that you are considering matches your particular area of interest. Your success in even being admitted accepted is largely contingent upon your selection of the correct university and course as determined by your goals. Too many students select a degree based on factors of lesser significance, like geographical location, general reputation, or word of mouth.

Taking the time to determine whether a university is right for you requires checking websites, doing independent research, and contacting individuals informed enough to provide the right background data for your decision. A campus visit is also highly recommended. Start a spreadsheet with the specifics on each programme, including your correspondence with the admissions department. Note how quickly, courteously, and thoroughly they reply to your queries. If you're treated unprofessionally as an applicant, it's unlikely to improve once you're a tuition-paying student.

If you have to stay in a specific city for any one of a variety of reasons - family commitments, a mortgage, or access to affordable housing - be aware that you may have fewer opportunities to choose from. A degree may be available, but not necessarily the specialisation you desire. If moving is not an option, realise that you may not find what you're looking for at a given university.

Be wary of selecting a university based on reputation alone. In most areas, there is not a "best" university or course. The best fit for you is based completely on your particular interests and goals. Look at the faculty's areas of expertise to decide. If no one is a specialist in your area of your interest, the program may not help you achieve your goal. Make certain that an appropriate supervisor or advisor is available for your studies. The right graduate school will be a good "fit" in area of study, opportunities, culture, and resources. Your time and effort are too important to waste.