Masters' degrees: Are they worth the bother?

Your degree might be coming to an end, but are you ready to leave university yet? A master's degree may work out for someone like James Franco, but is it right for you?

For many undergraduates in their final year at university, the spectre of graduation is looming ever closer on the horizon. Some will relish the prospect of hitting the job market, armed with a fully furnished CV and a wealth of experience at their fingertips. But with 957,000 16 to 24-year-olds currently unemployed in the UK, and as parents begin dusting down old bedrooms for the return of their qualified kids, the majority will feel shut out by an austere economic climate.

Yet there is hope for the so-called ‘boomerang generation’ stuck at these crossroads. Postgraduate masters degrees have become a popular alternative to mowing the lawn for Mum and Dad, as they offer another year of independence and a chance for further study, enhancing the skills adopted at undergraduate level.

After achieving a 2:1 in English Literature (BA) at the University of Surrey, 22-year-old Imogen Jones opted to stay and applied to do an MA. She is now five months into her chosen course, and while she has enjoyed the freedom of university life, she has also realised it is no easy ride.

“I wanted to do a master's and I felt most comfortable doing it at a place where I was familiar with the department and the staff and also the student life,” she admits.

“I thought it would be like final year but the step up has been enormous. I've got to grips with it now but at the start it was quite daunting to realise you didn't know enough already. I'm planning to do a PhD and then become a lecturer so this is a vital step towards that.

“I don't think it’s for everyone, not because they aren't intelligent enough, just because it’s a bit like being self-employed and you need a lot of motivation.”

Yet just getting on a masters course can be daunting, as different institutions have different application deadlines. LSE’s application process urges students to make a decision in their first semester, as last year applications opened on 15 October and successful applicants were notified in January 2013.

But what does it cost?

Price is also an important factor when considering a masters, with fees varying wildly depending on institution. The cheapest course for an English MA last year was at Leeds Trinity University College with fees starting from £2,000 for home students. In contrast, Exeter University’s cost up to £18,500. For MSc courses such as medicine, the fees increase dramatically. Oxford University quotes fees from £5,970-£30,488 for home/EU students, while the starting figure for overseas students ranges from £16,788.

While the cost of a masters is not to be shirked, students willing to shop around may find grants they were not otherwise entitled to.  Edward Gough, 21, is studying for an MA in Environmental and Regional Policy at the University of Aberystwyth. His choice was partly a fiscal one; having been offered Access to Masters funding, a scheme backed in Wales by the Convergence European Social Fund (ESF), it enabled him to take the course at his former place of study.

“The availability of funding was a huge factor in my decision, and I don't regret it as I think it's greatly increased my options,” he says.

“It's also furthered my interest in the policy making sphere; I've been inspired to move on to PhD level study as a postgraduate.”

Will it help you get a job?

Yet perhaps the most important question is, will a masters get you that dream job? Or is it just vital for teaching where a PGCE is desired? Cyrus Engineer, 23, who has an MA in Twentieth Century History from the University of Liverpool, is sceptical.

“I guess it shows to people that you have a certain degree of self-discipline, but I think employers prefer to see experience on a CV rather than a load of educational merits,” he explains.

“Whilst I did enjoy it, looking back if I could do it again I probably wouldn't. Given the fact that I ended up doing an NCTJ journalism diploma, I would probably rather have just gone straight into it and missed out the MA.”

However, Beth Nightingale, 22, who did an MSc in marketing at University of Nottingham, thinks it can make a difference to graduate job prospects.

“I got to stay at uni and extra year. It was a great experience as I met new friends and it looks good on your CV,” she says. “It does make you stand out a little more. Pretty much everyone now has a degree, but not many have a master's.”

Overall, it seems a master's can be beneficial for those who feel their future lies in academia, or even those who want extra responsibilities or a new challenge. Although the financial burden may appear risky, students currently stuck at those all-important crossroads should not despair. With an ever-increasing number of people donning the robes for a second time, postgraduate study is not to be sneered at.

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

Guru Careers: Graduate Marketing Executive / Marketing Assistant

£18 - 23k (DOE): Guru Careers: A Graduate Marketing Executive / Assistant is n...

Recruitment Genius: Graduate Trainee

£20000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This leading provider to the fa...

Ashdown Group: Graduate IT Analyst - Global ERP Implementation - London

£25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful & reputable global business is l...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £45K: SThree: At SThree, we like to be differe...

Day In a Page

How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth: Would people co-operate to face down a global peril?

How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth

Would people cooperate to face a global peril?
Just one day to find €1.6bn: Greece edges nearer euro exit

One day to find €1.6bn

Greece is edging inexorably towards an exit from the euro
New 'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could help surgeons and firefighters, say scientists

'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could become reality

Holographic projections would provide extra information on objects in a person's visual field in real time
Sugary drinks 'are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year'

Sugary drinks are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year

The drinks that should be eliminated from people's diets
Pride of Place: Historians map out untold LGBT histories of locations throughout UK

Historians map out untold LGBT histories

Public are being asked to help improve the map
Lionel, Patti, Burt and The Who rock Glasto

Lionel, Patti, Burt and The Who rock Glasto

This was the year of 24-carat Golden Oldies
Paris Fashion Week

Paris Fashion Week

Thom Browne's scarecrows offer a rare beacon in commercial offerings
A year of the caliphate:

Isis, a year of the caliphate

Who can defeat the so-called 'Islamic State' – and how?
Marks and Spencer: Can a new team of designers put the spark back into the high-street brand?

Marks and Spencer

Can a new team of designers put the spark back into the high-street brand?
'We haven't invaded France': Italy's Prime Minister 'reclaims' Europe's highest peak

'We haven't invaded France'

Italy's Prime Minister 'reclaims' Europe's highest peak
Isis in Kobani: Why we ignore the worst of the massacres

Why do we ignore the worst of the massacres?

The West’s determination not to offend its Sunni allies helps Isis and puts us all at risk, says Patrick Cockburn
7/7 bombings 10 years on: Four emergency workers who saved lives recall the shocking day that 52 people were killed

Remembering 7/7 ten years on

Four emergency workers recall their memories of that day – and reveal how it's affected them ever since
Humans: Are the scientists developing robots in danger of replicating the hit Channel 4 drama?

They’re here to help

We want robots to do our drudge work, and to look enough like us for comfort. But are the scientists developing artificial intelligence in danger of replicating the TV drama Humans?
Time to lay these myths about the Deep South to rest

Time to lay these myths about the Deep South to rest

'Heritage' is a loaded word in the Dixie, but the Charleston killings show how dangerous it is to cling to a deadly past, says Rupert Cornwell
What exactly does 'one' mean? Court of Appeal passes judgement on thorny mathematical issue

What exactly does 'one' mean?

Court of Appeal passes judgement on thorny mathematical issue