Postgraduate study can provide a great opportunity to further develop your knowledge and skills within your area of interest. It can also prepare you to enter the employment market with additional knowledge and expertise. With a wide range of options available, you can choose between taught or research-based postgraduate study, and some programmes also offer practical placements in addition to academic experience.
Deciding to pursue postgraduate study
Postgraduate study can enable you to build on your existing skills and knowledge, or it can help you to redirect your career path. Students wishing to change their career path can choose to study a conversion course, which is a postgraduate degree designed to prepare students from different academic backgrounds for a new career in a wide range of areas such as law, psychology, finance or fintech, to name a few. See here for information about the requirements to enter different career sectors.
Whilst postgraduate study brings a lot of benefits, it is important to think about your motivation for further study, and to decide if you are prepared to commit the time and funding, before making a decision. Some programmes may require you to undertake studies for 1 to 2 years (masters) or up to 4 years (PhD). When researching postgraduate programmes, think about how you feel this would benefit you. Define what you hope to achieve as a result of doing further study, and then investigate whether the course(s) you are considering are likely to lead you there. There will often be some alumni profiles on course pages, but don’t limit yourself to that information. Use LinkedIn to find people who have studied the course(s) and look at their career paths before and after the course – did it lead them to where you want to go? What was their background before the course? Where are they working now? This type of research can be very helpful in deciding what route to take to reach your own career goals.
If you’re not yet sure what you would like to do in the future, it might not be the best idea to do postgraduate study simply to delay career decision-making. For support in planning your next steps, see Career Planning and book and appointment with your Careers Consultant via MyCareer.
Choosing a postgraduate study option
Some factors to take into account when choosing where to undertake postgraduate study include:
- Course content
- Interest in the subject
- Likelihood of the course leading to desired career outcomes
- Prestige of the institution
- Reputation of the course
- Research track record of your supervisor (for postgraduate research)
- Language requirements
Types of postgraduate course
- These may help you to move into something more vocational
- The subject area may be different to that studied in your first degree
- Sometimes it is possible to convert into a masters on completion of the diploma through further study
- A degree is required, the quality of degree required will depend on the course entry requirements
- Taught programmes generally involve course work plus thesis, the average time to complete is 1-2 years
- May include placement experience
- Can be required for certain career paths or to convert into a new career direction
- Intensive self-directed research guided by a supervisor, and more independent approach towards learning compared to the taught option
- It takes less time and is less demanding than a PhD
- An original contribution to knowledge
- It takes several years to research and write a doctoral thesis
- A very good quality degree, i.e. first class or upper second class honours, is usually needed
Financing postgraduate study
- Postgraduate Diploma and Masters you may have to pay in full out of your own funds.
- PhD: universities may have funds (studentships, scholarships) to attract the best students. Funding can come from national governments, funding agencies and from within universities. See our list of funding opportunities to find out more.
- Note: 1/3 postgraduate students are funded by parents initially
Some postgraduate courses require you to complete an admissions test, either online or in-person. They are used by course selectors to assess how well a candidate’s attributes match those required to do well on the course (and future career in this area). Your admissions test score is taken into account, along with other important factors such as your academic record, personal statement and academic references.
Overview of common postgraduate admissions tests:
The Graduate Record Exam (GRE) is typically used for selection to university postgraduate programmes in the US, Canada and Australia, as well as Business School masters programmes and other postgraduate programmes in other countries including Ireland and the UK. The GRE General Test measures your verbal reasoning, quantitative reasoning, critical thinking and analytical writing skills and is relevant to a range of graduate programmes. There are also some GRE Subject Tests, which measure your knowledge in a particular field of study e.g. Chemistry.
The exam has three sections in total:
- Analytical Writing – measures your ability to:
- articulate complex ideas clearly and effectively
- support ideas with relevant reasons and examples
- examine claims and accompanying evidence
- sustain a well-focused, coherent discussion
- control the elements of standard written English
- analyse and draw conclusions from discourse; reason from incomplete data; identify author's assumptions and/or perspective; understand multiple levels of meaning, such as literal, figurative and author's intent
- select important points; distinguish major from minor or irrelevant points; summarize text; understand the structure of a text
- understand the meaning of individual words, sentences and entire texts; understand relationships among words and among concepts
- understand, interpret and analyse quantitative information
- solve problems using mathematical models
- apply basic skills and elementary concepts of arithmetic, algebra, geometry and data analysis
The Graduate Management Admissions Test (GMAT) is typically used for selection to Business School postgraduate programmes, such as an MBA. It measures your critical thinking and reasoning skills, which are relevant to graduate business programmes.
The exam has four sections in total:
- Analytical Writing Assessment—measures your ability to think critically and to communicate your ideas
- Integrated Reasoning—measures your ability to analyse data and evaluate information presented in multiple formats
- Quantitative Reasoning—measures your ability to analyse data and draw conclusions using reasoning skills
- Verbal Reasoning—measures your ability to read and understand written material, to evaluate arguments and to correct written material to conform to standard written English
The Graduate Record Exam (GAMSAT) is one of the main admissions tests used for selection of students to participate in graduate-entry Medicine and other graduate health professional programs (e.g. Physiotherapy) in Ireland, the UK and Australia*. It is designed to assess the capacity to undertake high-level intellectual studies in the medical and health professional programs. It assesses the ability to understand and analyse material, to think critically about issues and, in the case of the Written Communication section, to organise and express thoughts in a logical and effective way.
The exam has three sections in total:
- Reasoning in Humanities and Social Sciences – tests skills in:
- the interpretation and understanding of ideas in social and cultural contexts. Questions demand varying degrees of complex verbal processing and conceptual thinking, logical and plausible reasoning, and objective and subjective thinking.
- produce and develop ideas in writing. Each task offers a number of ideas related to a common theme. The theme will be general rather than specific in nature. Written Communication is assessed on two criteria: the quality of the thinking about a topic and the control of language demonstrated in its development. Assessment focuses on the way in which ideas are integrated into a thoughtful response to the task.
- Stimulus material is presented in a variety of formats including text, mathematical, graphs, tables and diagrams. In addition to testing reasoning and problem solving within a scientific context, this section examines the recall and understanding of basic science concepts. The skills assessed include the ability to identify knowledge in new contexts, analyse and interpret data, discover relationships, translate knowledge from one form to another, formulate and apply hypotheses and make generalisations, deduce consequences from models, follow and evaluate a line of reasoning, evaluate evidence, categorise and select information relevant to problems, generate and apply strategies to solve problems, make comparisons, extrapolate, interpolate, estimate and recognise limits in accuracy.
* Other course providers in the U.K. may use the UCAT or BMAT.
The Law School Admission Test (LSAT) is typically used for selection to Law Schools in the US, Canada, and some other countries. The purpose of the LSAT is to test the skills necessary for success in the first year of law school. Those skills include reading comprehension, reasoning, and writing.
The exam is structured in two parts:
- The first part of the test is a multiple-choice exam that includes reading comprehension, analytical reasoning, and logical reasoning questions.
- The second part of the test is a written essay, called LSAT Writing.
6 step plan to making an effective decision about postgraduate study:
- Talk to academic and Careers Service staff.
- Decide on the subject matter you would like to study.
- Think about your goals and research whether the programme is likely to move you in the right direction
- Decide on the type of postgraduate programme you want - taught or research.
- Clarify funding options.
- Find out more about:
- Closing dates to apply for courses/PhDs and to apply for funding
- When offers are made
- The timeframe for accepting offers
More information about personal statements.
How to find a PhD
More information about how to find a PhD.