The tough economic climate is causing many university students to consider embarking on further study as a way of improving their job prospects. In a survey we are conducting of our own students, we have found so far that 46 per cent say that the recession has made them more likely to think about postgraduate study.

This finding was confirmed in a recent national study by the Higher Education Careers Services Unit which polled careers service professionals about trends among students graduating in 2009. The great majority (81 per cent) of those replying reported an increase in the number of students choosing further study as an option in response to the recession.

But the increased demand for places makes it especially important for students to research their options early. Generally, admissions tutors are looking for applicants who can provide evidence of relevant interests and skills in addition to a good first degree. If your CV is on the sparse side, you need to use your time to develop what you have to offer – get some work experience (paid or unpaid), study relevant modules and take on extracurricular activities.

The forthcoming Postgraduate Study Fair in Manchester is a great way to discover which courses are available and to find out stuff that is not contained in prospectuses or on websites. It takes place at Manchester Central later this month, and it is free for students and graduates from any institution.

More than 90 universities (mostly from the UK but also some from overseas) will be promoting their postgraduate courses, so this is your opportunity to seek advice from the professionals; to discuss admission requirements and tuition fees; to get application advice; to ask about facilities and to find out what graduates from the courses you're interested in have gone on to do.

Advisory bodies such as The Australian Trade Commission, Study Overseas, Study Options and US-UK Fulbright Commission will be exhibiting. You can get expert advice on studying in Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the USA, as well as in Europe. Organisations such as The Training and Development Agency for Schools can give advice on specific courses such as those leading to postgraduate teaching qualifications.

There will be some useful talks at the fair to help you decide if postgraduate study is the right option for you. Topics include finding out more about teacher training and why undergraduates choose to study for a Masters or PhD.

With the credit crunch squeezing balances around the globe, competition for funding will be intense. Start looking for opportunities as soon as you can and search all possible sources. Advice at the fair will be provided by PostgraduateStudent, and you can also ask individual course providers if their institutions offer scholarships or bursaries. The Learning and Skills Council will be there to give advice on professional and career development loans.

Some words of caution – don't be tempted to see postgraduate study as a foolproof way of riding out the storm of recession. It's all too easy to continue down the same path in order to put off thinking about a career or dealing with increasing competition for graduate jobs. Embarking on a course with only the vague hope that it will "generally improve" your job prospects is unwise. Instead, think about what you want to do in the future and find out if doing a particular postgraduate programme will help you to achieve your long-term career aims.

The Postgraduate Study Fair is on 28 October at Manchester Central, Manchester, 10.30am – 4pm:

Martine Storey is an information officer for The Manchester Leadership Programme, Careers and Employability Division at The University of Manchester