How having a Masters degree may not guarantee success

A new survey reveals that students with a Masters don't always get the jobs they expect

No one doubts that postgraduate study enriches your life, but what about enriching it in riches? When it comes to the crunch, it does not mean the guaranteed, professional job that students might expect, according to a new survey by the Higher Education Consortium for Special Education (HECSE) out this week.

The report, "What Do Postgraduates Do?" looked at the career destinations of 2005 postgraduates in the first six months after graduation. It found that nearly a quarter of graduates in arts and humanities disciplines left postgraduate courses to take on school-leaver jobs. And 17.4 per cent of Masters graduates found themselves six months after graduating either unemployed or stacking shelves.

While, on average, taking a first degree gives students a 45 per cent boost on their lifetime earnings, even professional postgraduate programmes only boost salaries by 5 per cent on average. That might explain why the study also found that while undergraduate numbers are booming, postgraduate student numbers have stayed relatively steady, with Masters programmes growing by 3 per cent and doctorates up less than 1 per cent.

Postgraduate study is a serious investment. Fees alone can run to more than £10,000 with some business Masters costing over £50,000. Add to that living costs and a year's lost income; even if they take out a career development loan, student loans are not available to postgraduates, making the extra degree an expensive proposition.

The expectation of many is that their postgraduate study will pay a premium, snagging them a well-paid job. Look at the averages and you might think they are right. Masters graduates earn over £5,000 a year more than first-degree graduates six months after graduation. But, say the experts, this is skewed by the many older Masters graduates and by the vast sums of money commanded by the MBA crowd.

"A Masters degree is not a passport to a highly paid career," says Charlie Ball, the labour market analyst who wrote the report. Ball says that many employers will be more interested in a year's work experience than a postgrad qualification.

Only a little over a quarter of postgraduates are going into the occupations that traditionally often require postgraduate qualifications. Most of the others will be competing with first-time graduates for jobs. Almost all graduate recruitment now goes through assessment centres. The Association of Graduate Recruiters (AGR), which represents over 600 employers, reckons that 90 per cent of their members now use these centres. That means qualifications are only good to get you through the door.

The Civil Service recruits graduates and postgraduates through its "Faststream" recruitment process. This consists of online tests and a day at an assessment centre. Only a few of those jobs require Masters degrees. "When we select we don't look at CVs," says Margaret Prythergch, chief assessor at the Cabinet Office. "Having a Masters makes no difference."

Some postgraduates who were advised to take the courses for their career can feel a little cheated. Megan Cuttriss, 28, did a full-time Masters in biological sciences at Bradford University in 2001-2. "I'd been 18 months without sciences and I felt I needed to get my foot in again to be taken seriously by employers," says Cuttriss. "By the end of it I realised it was less useful than I'd thought."

Cuttriss found herself working alongside first-degree graduates at LGC, a UK chemical analysis laboratory. In career terms Cuttriss thinks her Masters was hopeless, but it did remind her how much she enjoyed academic research. After a few years at LGC she quit to take a PhD in molecular microbiology at the University of Surrey.

So how can you make sure your Masters pays its way? It is up to students to use that extra year to set themselves apart from the pack, says Carl Gilliard, chief executive of the AGR. One approach is simply to excel. Gilliard says that City banks look for brain power, so getting a first and a distinction in a subject you love may be the best approach. Or you can go for a professionally targeted Masters programme which builds employability into the course, getting students to make presentations and practice soft skills, like communicating ideas.

Once you have finished studying and find yourself in the interview room the important thing is to know why you did the course that you did. There are few things more off-putting, says Gilliard, than a postgraduate who shrugs their shoulders and says "I didn't know what to do next...".

If you get it right, the rewards can be considerable. Marianne Moore graduated in January from a part-time MA at Middlesex University in youth justice, community safety and applied criminology. She had been interested in youth justice since undergraduate days and says that her Masters brought her passion and her work together.

She now works for Tribal Consulting on youth offending issues. "Doing the essays disciplined me into concentrating on difficult subjects and allowed me to work out what I thought about them in a structured way," says Moore.

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Student

Recruitment Genius: Graduate Software Developer

£18000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Graduate Software Developer i...

AER Teachers: Graduate Primary TA - West London - Autumn

£65 - £75 per day + competitive rates: AER Teachers: The school is seeking gra...

AER Teachers: Graduate Secondary TA - West London

£65 - £75 per day + competitive rates: AER Teachers: The school is seeking gra...

Ashdown Group: Graduate Developer - Surrey - £25,000

£20000 - £25000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Graduate Developer - Croy...

SPONSORED FEATURES

Day In a Page

The long walk west: they fled war in Syria, only to get held up in Hungary – now hundreds of refugees have set off on foot for Austria

They fled war in Syria...

...only to get stuck and sidetracked in Hungary
From The Prisoner to Mad Men, elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series

Title sequences: From The Prisoner to Mad Men

Elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series. But why does the art form have such a chequered history?
Giorgio Armani Beauty's fabric-inspired foundations: Get back to basics this autumn

Giorgio Armani Beauty's foundations

Sumptuous fabrics meet luscious cosmetics for this elegant look
From stowaways to Operation Stack: Life in a transcontinental lorry cab

Life from the inside of a trucker's cab

From stowaways to Operation Stack, it's a challenging time to be a trucker heading to and from the Continent
Kelis interview: The songwriter and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell and crying over potatoes

Kelis interview

The singer and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell
Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

Britain's 24-hour culture

With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

The addictive nature of Diplomacy

Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
8 best children's clocks

Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea