Making the grade again

Q. I graduated in media production five years ago, and have been working in the TV industry. I now want to pursue something with the Foreign Office or an NGO in international relations. I'm considering an MA – but is my 2:2 good enough? Or could I retake a final year to improve it?

Upgrading your degree is really neither possible nor indeed advisable. You say you missed the 24-month deadline for the submission of a claim for mitigating circumstances, and it's very unlikely that other universities would consider such a claim after a five-year gap. They won't allow you to parachute into a third year, missing the first two, because all courses are designed differently. Trying to jump back in after such a gap might also be demoralising academically as courses will have changed.

It is, however, not impossible to be considered for a Masters with your grade, especially if you have practical experience. Contact colleges and ask to speak to admissions tutors.

You might want to consider the relevance of a Masters, though. You won't need one to apply to the Foreign Office via the Fast Stream entrance route, and NGOs place more emphasis on experience than qualifications. Your priority at this stage should be getting relevant practical experience. Consider something such as a Voluntary Service Overseas posting, using your experience in the media, and networking with NGOs once you are overseas. After you have built up knowledge of the sector you would be in a better position to choose a Masters. Look up, a site devoted to careers in international development, with advice on choosing a Masters and gaining experience.

Concentrate your energies

Q. I am desperate to forge a career in the marine or renewable-energy sectors. I have a 2:1 in environmental management, and a Masters in environmental economics, plus four years' commercial experience. So why can't I find a job?

You are running up against the problem that employers in this specialised area need applicants with relevant experience who can hit the ground running. You are likely to have to work in the field on a voluntary basis for several months at least, to enhance knowledge and practical skills, develop contacts, and demonstrate a commitment to the cause.

You can volunteer for evening or weekend projects, or for a few weeks at a time, so you wouldn't need to give up your job. See for paid project work in local environmental initiatives; and uk for volunteering placements (some are aimed at graduates with an environmental degree and/or a Masters). The Green Directory is particularly good for finding vacancies (paid and unpaid) and short courses to update knowledge and skills: The Ends directory is good for tracking down consultancies in specialised fields (see www.endsdirectory. com).

You might have to do more research to find opportunities in renewable energy – although it is a burgeoning field, it does not have quite the same culture of volunteering. Write to employers speculatively, explaining your skills, knowledge and interest. For employers in the sector, see Bear in mind that you have skills that a recent graduate doesn't. Pay attention to the skills employers are asking for – such as teamworking and business awareness – and pull out clear examples from your years of work, study and outside interests.

Careers advisers: Anne-Marie Martin, director, the Careers Group, University of London; Deborah Fowlis, careers consultant

Send queries to Caroline Haydon, 'The Independent', Education Desk, Independent House, 191 Marsh Wall, London E14 9RS; fax: 020-7005 2143; e-mail