Editor’s note: If you’re a final year student, or if you graduated already, you’ll have come across this question a few times for sure. Your family asks it, your friends ask it, you ask it yourself. In this blog post, Laura Tucker, online content writer for www.TopUniversities.com answers the question: Why go to graduate school? Why apply for a Master’s degree?
“Why go to graduate school?” This is a question many students ask after completing their undergraduate degree, unsure of whether a Master’s programme is really the best option to help them achieve their career goals. Both the cost in tuition fees and the extra length of time out of employment can mean that this is a decision not to be made lightly.
For this reason, it is essential that your overriding reasons to apply for a Master’s degree are firmly founded. Below is a list of 10 of the most common reasons to study at graduate level, which, depending on your field and mindset, should help you decide whether applying for a Master’s degree is the best next step for you.
Although it’s not strictly necessary to have a firm plan for your future career before applying to graduate school, it certainly helps. This is because grad school often acts as the academic version of professional training, enabling students to graduate with all the right knowledge and skills, ready to jump straight into their desired careers. Either way, students applying to graduate school should do so with their eyes on the future, seeing further study as an investment in their own potential – and not simply as a way to postpone the end of student life.
More people than ever are enrolling in graduate degrees today, and because of this an undergraduate qualification alone can sometimes fail to get you noticed alongside equally or more highly educated candidates. With university education presently viewed as more a rite of passage than a luxury, and 11% of the workforce (in the UK) now holding a graduate degree, those holding only a bachelor’s degree are struggling to appeal to employers even at entry level in certain industries.
Although most undergraduate degrees allow students the opportunity to choose modules of personal interest, a Master’s degree does this to a much greater extent. You will be expected to conduct independent research in order to develop your thoughts and ideas regarding a field that deeply interests you. Attending extracurricular activities and meetings, hearing from guest speakers and lecturers, and often benefitting from one-on-one supervision, ensures plenty of opportunities to engage with your subject from multiple angles. For many students with passionate academic interests, there’s little need to question the value of a Master’s degree; the experience itself provides ample satisfaction.
If you’re keen to contribute to the world within any field, professionally or academically, you’re going to need to know your subject inside-out — and this starts with a Master’s degree. Kylie Rochford, a graduate student at Case Western Reserve University, USA, explains that the desire to become a contributor, not just a learner, was one of her main motivations for continuing in higher education: “Undergraduate study gave me the opportunity to understand existing knowledge in my field. Graduate school gives me the opportunity to contribute to that knowledge.”
While undergraduate-level student life is widely associated with socialising, sleeping late, and cramming alone in the library, grad school is much more about connecting with people professionally — not just fellow students, but faculty members too. You may have locked yourself away in the darkest corner of the campus library during your years as an undergraduate, but as a Master’s student you’ll need to learn to network like a pro and sharpen your “people skills”. If that sounds scary, remember that networking doesn’t have to be a dirty word! In the professional world, networking is simply a way of getting your feet in the door, connecting with likeminded people in a professional context, and finding ways to collaborate, discuss and develop your own knowledge, skills and career.
Higher earning potential is one of the most-cited reasons for enrolling in a Master’s degree, and even if this isn’t your main driver, it’s likely to provide an added incentive. A graduate degree has been found to improve the financial prospects of UK workers by over £5,000 more each year, compared to someone holding just a Bachelor’s degree. Although this may not seem like a life-changing amount, the additional money accumulated in a working lifetime works out at around £200,000. And that’s just the extra!
Grad school provides a stable forum in which to research and explore theories and ideas. If during your degree you conduct any research that is particularly exceptional, you may be recognised for that achievement by the academic community — perhaps by being invited to present your paper at a conference, contribute to a research project, or even receive accreditation in a piece of work published in a journal. International recognition is also a prospect for those who continue their research; if you pursue this route, you may one day become a prominent expert in your field.
At grad school you’ll be surrounded by leading thinkers in your field — including both the faculty members and guest experts at the front of the lecture hall, and the fellow graduate students around you. When working with people we’re inspired by and respect, staying motivated and working hard is much, much easier. In addition to all these talented people, you should also have access to excellent material resources, potentially including the latest technologies and high-end equipment being used within your field, such as spectral imaging scanners or nanotechnology systems.
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Are you considering a Master’s degree in the near future? Let us know your favourite in the comments. And remember: if you’re looking for student accommodation in the best cities of Europe, like Lisbon or London, you’ll find the perfect student home on Uniplaces.