A Masters can boost your employment prospects – but only if you match it with work experience

In a tight graduate job market, more and more arts and humanities students are staying on at university to study for Masters degrees. But do these additional qualifications make you more employable? Opinion remains divided, although the stats suggest they can give you an edge. Charlie Ball, deputy research director of the High Education Careers Services Unit (HESCU), which researches graduate employment trends, says that the unemployment rate for Masters graduates in the arts, social sciences and the humanities was 6.5 per cent last year, compared to 10.7 per cent for first degree students in the same subjects.

Courses with relatively low unemployment rates at Masters level include English, history, linguistics, languages, journalism, music and drama. Subjects with higher than average unemployment rates at Masters level are archaeology, design, fine arts and philosophy. Unemployment rates in these subjects, however, are still below those of students who have only first degrees in those subjects.

Some lines of work require Masters level qualifications, such as university teaching and research, librarianship, archiving, working in art galleries, museum curating, interpreting, translating and heritage industry jobs.

A high proportion of new clergymen have Masters in theology and many entrants to journalism now come with Masters in the subject. Masters degrees are also common among art and design students.

Sophie Miller, assistant director of career development at the University of Birmingham's Careers and Employment centre, says the question of whether a Masters degree will increase someone's employability will depend on the area of employment they are planning to go into.

"We don't generally find that employers request it,'' she said. However a Masters degree, she added, can help make a student stand out. "The closer a Masters degree is linked to an occupational area, the more advantage students gain from it,'' she said.

"Students need to be able to demonstrate the skills, knowledge and confidence they have gained as a result of studying for a Masters degree. And some vocational MA courses do help students to get the industry connections they need.''

Jeff Goodman, director of services and employability at Bristol University, said that graduates often pick up new skills on postgraduate courses. It's worth doing your homework on a university first, though: he recommends investigating what graduates generally go on to do after their course has finished. "It's really important that a student thinks through why they are doing a Masters course and what they are hoping to gain from it,'' he said.

Skills needn't always be directly vocational, either: many students will pick up transferable assets, too. "Data collection and analysis, enhanced communication, research and project management skills," are among those listed by Steve Fish, director of careers at the University of Sheffield.

Tom Davie, deputy head of careers at Durham University, agrees that studying for a Masters is an intense experience that can help a student cope with pressure, while developing analytical and problem-solving skills.

The range of employment achieved by Masters graduates from Durham in 2009 certainly back up these claims. Students in anthropology, English, renaissance studies, philosophy, medieval history and international relations went on to become a management consultant with VSO, a sub-editor at the Evening Standard, an advertising account executive, a manager with IBM, a parliamentary research intern and an advisor to Amnesty International.

"Employers are seeking commercial awareness, particularly from arts and humanities graduates," says Dr Paul Redmond, head of careers and employability at the University of Liverpool. While Donna Miller, European HR director at Enterprise Rent-a-Car, warns that: "I would prefer to see a candidate with a first degree and work experience than one with a first and second degree and no work experience." If someone has taken a second degree, she added, the discipline didn't matter as much as whether the student had thought about how it would make them more employable.

"It is important that students doing an MA in an arts subject find ways to build on their employability skills at the same time as studying,'' says Carl Gilleard, the Association of Graduate Recruiters' chief executive.

"An arts Masters degree might make a difference," adds Stephen Alambritis, a spokesman for the Federation of Small Businesses. "But employers might fear that a candidate is more academic than practically-minded."

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

Recruitment Genius: Graduate Marketing & Social Media Executive

£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you a Marketing Graduate or...

Ashdown Group: Graduate Developer (Trainee) - City, London

£25000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: A large financial services company...

Recruitment Genius: Financial Services Graduate Training Scheme

£20000 - £100000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We are a successful and establ...

Guru Careers: Software Developer / Software Engineer

£20 - 35k (DOE): Guru Careers: A Software Developer / Software Engineer is nee...

SPONSORED FEATURES

Day In a Page

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

The honours that shame Britain

Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

International Tap Festival comes to the UK

Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

BBC heads to the Californian coast

The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

Car hacking scandal

Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
10 best placemats

Take your seat: 10 best placemats

Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory
Ashes 2015: Alastair Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Aussie skipper Michael Clarke was lured into believing that what we witnessed at Edgbaston and Trent Bridge would continue in London, says Kevin Garside
Can Rafael Benitez get the best out of Gareth Bale at Real Madrid?

Can Benitez get the best out of Bale?

Back at the club he watched as a boy, the pressure is on Benitez to find a winning blend from Real's multiple talents. As La Liga begins, Pete Jenson asks if it will be enough to stop Barcelona
Athletics World Championships 2015: Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jessica Ennis-Hill and Katarina Johnson-Thompson heptathlon rivalry

Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jess and Kat rivalry

The last time the two British heptathletes competed, Ennis-Hill was on the way to Olympic gold and Johnson-Thompson was just a promising teenager. But a lot has happened in the following three years
Jeremy Corbyn: Joining a shrewd operator desperate for power as he visits the North East

Jeremy Corbyn interview: A shrewd operator desperate for power

His radical anti-austerity agenda has caught the imagination of the left and politically disaffected and set a staid Labour leadership election alight
Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief: Defender of ancient city's past was killed for protecting its future

Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief

Robert Fisk on the defender of the ancient city's past who was killed for protecting its future