Choosing a postgraduate course: What should you consider?

What you need to know before choosing a course that is the right fit

The paradox of choice means that, with thousands of postgraduate options available both here and abroad, deciding what to choose can be overwhelming. So how can you narrow down your choices and ensure you pick the course that’s right for you?

Sinéad Brady, career and coaching psychologist, says that every decision to do a postgraduate course is personal, with some looking for formal accreditation, some looking to change direction and some to build on their existing skills.

“No piece of learning is ever futile, but the wrong reasons to do it is because other people tell you to, and you haven’t stood back and considered what your career intentions really are. Or if you’re doing it just for the money, that can be fine for a few years but, in my experience, money is seldom something that keeps people happy in their career. Ultimately, it’s important to understand why you are choosing a particular course and what your long-term goals are.”

Primary degree

Ruairí Kavanagh, editor of, advises current and recent undergraduates to talk to their college careers service, a service which is free, useful and often, underutilised.


“By and large, if your primary degree is in the area you want to work in, it makes sense to pursue a postgrad in the same or a related area. If you’re hoping for a change of direction — moving from, say, accounting to technology — there are dedicated conversion courses. And if you didn’t really like your undergraduate course, don’t double down by doing a postgrad you don’t like.”

Finance can be a barrier for many postgraduates, as courses can be costly and, where full-time, means that you can’t earn full-time wages for a year.

“There are tax reliefs on courses, and some may be entitled to support from Susi [Student Universal Support Ireland],” says Kavanagh. “Careers advisors and the college may also be able to advise on scholarships. But you may have to get loans and it’s worth considering how long it might take to pay it back.”

As well as finances, of course, Brady says that any course involves a time commitment — some more than others — and this needs to be factored in. Most prospectus will advise potential students on how many teaching and learning hours they can expect to put in, and the time indicated is based on the experiences of previous students or, in a new course, the careful consideration of experienced academics.

One of the big decisions will be whether to opt for in-person classes, hybrid learning or a fully online course.

“Some third-levels have set themselves up brilliantly with hybrid models, but prospective postgraduates should find out about how much in-person learning will be required, and what sort of commitment in terms of travel and time this will involve,” says Brady.

“Some postgraduates will find that online or blended works best for them, but others may find it somewhat isolating, so do consider whether you will like that type of learning and how likely you are to watch the lecturers if they are all online.”

Kavanagh says that hybrid may be the best choice for many.

“It gives you the social aspect that should form a part of every learning experience — you don’t want to be sitting there, thousands of euro poorer, studying something that you can’t fully relate to.

“Remote lectures may seem fine if you have family and commitments, but it’s also important to factor in what they will think if you are coming home from work and then locking yourself away for three hours. So you have to consider the personal price and the toll it will exact on others.”

Some adjustment

Returning to education if you’ve been out of college for a few years — even where you have a primary degree — can take some adjustment.

“There’s a different pace of learning and, if you’ve been away from academic terminology, it can be worth getting up to date with referencing and some other basics,” Brady advises.

(Some of this may be as simple as looking at YouTube videos or some of the free courses available on

Most importantly, Kavanagh says that budding postgraduates should not be afraid to ask questions.

“Between QQI accreditation, the alumni network on LinkedIn, and various online reviews, there are many ways to get information about the course. If you were buying a computer or a car, you wouldn’t hesitate to ask: here, you could be spending thousands — tens of thousands for some MBAs — so ensure you are investing wisely.”

The gold standard of course accreditation in Ireland is QQI so, in general, be wary of any postgraduate course that isn’t approved by them — although this may not necessarily apply to some continuous professional development courses.