What are the benefits of a postgraduate degree?

Completing a postgraduate course can open doors to new opportunities and increase the earning potential of graduates

A postgraduate degree has traditionally involved some element of sacrifice. The cost of studying, as well as the cost of another year out of the full-time workforce, meant it was out of reach for many. Others, of course, simply could not commit the time and energy to more study.

The Covid-19 pandemic accelerated many changes and innovations in how education is delivered. Large chunks of learning have moved online, making education more responsive and flexible to the reality of student lives. In addition, postgraduate grants and financial support – once out of reach for all but a small number of PhD students – have become more commonplace.

So, what are the benefits of a postgraduate course?

1. A career and skills boost

“Postgraduates are [often] motivated by career opportunities”, says Professor Martine Smith, dean of graduate studies at Trinity College Dublin.


“I am now four years in this role, and we are seeing greater diversity in the postgraduate space than ever before. They want to switch to a new career track or enhance the career track that they are already on or return to a career after a gap.”

For some students, of course, a postgraduate degree may be completely necessary to get a formal professional qualification allowing them to work in their chosen area. For others, however, it may simply be to deepen their learning and acquire and formalise a range of transferable skills that were not developed during their undergraduate programme.

2. Flexibility

There was a time when postgraduate courses generally came in two forms: one year full-time or two-year part-time. While this is a format that suited many learners, others baulked at the commitment.

“Today, postgraduate courses come in all shapes and sizes,” says Smith.

“In Trinity, as well as in other third-levels, you can dip your toe in your water with a microcredential, which could be completed in six to 12weeks.”

Microcredentials are one of the biggest innovations in education for decades. Rather than demanding learners commit to long courses, microcredentials allow them to study a particular module that can provide them with the specific skills and knowledge they need to move into – or move forward – in a role.

“You can accumulate a few microcredentials over time and emerge with a certificate, diploma or masters,” says Smith.

“So if a potential student is unsure, it’s really worth looking at these postgraduate certificates and microcredentials and then seeing if the course is right for you.”

3. An earnings boost

Data gathered over decades by the Higher Education Authority is consistent: graduates, on average, earn more money – a statistic that applies across the world.

And postgraduates, you will not be surprised to hear, earn even more, with the additional qualifications allowing them to progress into better-paid roles within their career.

4. Financial support is available

One of the biggest challenges facing prospective postgraduates has always been: how do I pay for the fees – and the time that a postgraduate course may take me out of the workforce?

Although further study can be expensive, the past decade has seen new ways for prospective postgrad students to get support.

The Student Universal Support Ireland (Susi) system provides means-tested grants for some postgraduate students.

Springboard is a Government initiative offering free courses in certain areas of the economy where there are key skills shortages.

Meanwhile, many third-level institutions offer scholarships and funding support.

Some of these are offered at individual department and subject level, so if there is a particular course you are eyeing up, don’t be afraid to contact them and ask about scholarships.

Many mature learners, amongst others, realised that they were not put off by the technology involved in studying online

—  Professor Martine Smith

Others are available to particular groups including mature students, asylum seekers and refugees, members of the Traveller community, disabled students and students from socio-economically disadvantaged backgrounds.

5. Different ways to learn

The pandemic shifted a lot of learning online, opening new opportunities for students who may otherwise have struggled with an in-person commitment.

“Many mature learners, amongst others, realised that they were not put off by the technology involved in studying online”, says Smith. “It created a flexibility for them to learn on their own time, and no longer required them to live close by.”

Today, Smith says that most learners want some degree of flexibility, but that in-person learning provides opportunities that exclusively remote learning cannot, with many educational providers now offering a hybrid mix.

6. Build a network

Many of us – understandably – groan at the idea of “networking”. But it doesn’t have to be a dirty word: doing a postgraduate course allows you to meet like-minded people interested in similar career areas. As well as developing professional contacts, many postgrad students make lifelong friends. Increasingly, postgraduate programmes in Ireland have attracted many international students, helping all learners to develop greater cultural capacity and awareness of working with people from different backgrounds.

7. The student experience

For generations, postgraduate learners had already had the student experience. They often wanted to get in, get their qualification and get out – without being as engaged in college life as an undergraduate may be.

But Smith says that, with undergraduates having lost out on the student experience due to lockdowns, some postgraduates see their course as an opportunity to “be a proper student”, joining and getting involved in clubs and societies and having the nights out that they missed the first time around.

8. Recognition of prior learning

Postgraduate courses aren’t only open to students with a relevant undergraduate degree, says Smith.

“While there used to be a requirement for a 2.1 or 2.2, many third levels now recognise that life experience helps learners too. Indeed, this life experience can be even more relevant, as they really know what they are interested in, and they bring diversity in terms of age, experience and socio-demographic background.”

9. A statement of intent

Finally, while it should not be the main reason for taking on a course of learning, committing to a postgraduate indicates to current or future employers that you are motivated, committed to your career and willing to commit your time and energy to progress in your chosen field.

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