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How to pick the right postgrad course for YOU

Further education can be a worthwhile commitment – but take careers expert Eoghan McDermott’s tips on making the right choice.

BACK IN MARCH, a 91-year-old French woman became one of the oldest people to obtain a PhD proving that it’s never too late to pursue an additional qualification.

I assume the ideal for everyone is that you’re in a job that you enjoy. We all would love to work in something we love. I hope many of us eventually get there.

An additional qualification is one element that can help get you where you want to be - higher up the food chain in your current organisation, more senior elsewhere, or in a completely different field.

Be clear on why you’re doing it

To make sure you choose the right qualification for you, be sure to have a good think. Think about what the qualification will help you achieve. Rather than just ‘I think I should do one’, ask yourself ‘why, what’s the point?’ And are you sure further studies will give you that? Have that plotted out.

For example, I recently worked with someone who completed their accountancy traineeship and was going to do a MBA in Sports Management in Switzerland. This had always been their plan and long-term ambition.

Is a postgrad/Master’s the answer?

shutterstock_273382307 Check that you're not switching careers because you hate the commute, not the job. Shutterstock / antoniodiaz Shutterstock / antoniodiaz / antoniodiaz

I recently met a guy who told me he hated his job, wanted to get out of banking and get a masters. However, when we drilled down into what he liked and didn’t like, it turned out that he hated the two-hour commute to work. Not the work. Further education at this point for him may not have actually given him what he wanted.

Get a handle on what it is you want to do, and then figure out what qualification will help you get there.

Know what needs strengthening

For example, a lot of clients who are trying to make the step up into senior management feel the need to get a masters in an area that they’re weak, or perceived to be weak. For example, if you’ve worked as an engineer, you may need a general business masters to broaden your skills.


Any further study is a massive investment of time and money. Be sure you’re doing the right one for you. Research is key. Attend open days or evenings to get a feel for the place. Find out more about teaching methods and style and whether they’ll suit you and how many students are on the course.

Would you prefer a large class, or an intimate group? Look into the quality of the department, lecturers and teachers on the course, and their reputation.

shutterstock_288806693 Check out the prospectus for the college you like the look of to get an idea of what campus life might be like. Shutterstock / sevenke Shutterstock / sevenke / sevenke

Check out the various college and course prospectuses in detail. See how the programme is made up – compulsory subjects and electives, and are you guaranteed to study the options that you want. Find out how previous students have fared. The college will always paint a good picture but it’s worth delving into this to be sure the outcomes are as hoped for.

It’s also worth having a peek at the criteria, there’s no point applying if you don’t meet those. In certain cases you might not need to enrol full- or part-time in an accredited programme.

If you have just identified an area of competence that’s lacking but don’t need the external validation or expert insight to fix it then there are 100s of sites that offer top class educational programmes that can help build that skillset.

For example, simply Google MOOC (Massive Open Online Courses) and you’ll find a smorgasbord of study seminars and courses that might fill the gap from finance to flower arranging.

When making a decision to go and study, figure out what you want from it, how much time can you dedicate to it and research it.

Eoghan McDermott is a Director of The Communications Clinic and is Head of Training and Careers there. 

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