Postgrad Queries: 'Should I continue to study? Do I need a degree in fashion?'

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Credit conundrum

Q. It's my final year as an undergraduate, and I was all set to continue studying as a postgraduate. However, the credit crisis has hit me hard and I'm now reconsidering. What are the financial benefits and disadvantages of a postgraduate degree, and is now a good time to do one?

A. Postgraduate courses have never been cheap – they cost anything from £3,000 to £15,000 a year in fees. Add the cost of living and it adds up to a hefty burden, especially for recent graduates who are often penniless anyway.

The credit crisis has led to more people questioning the wisdom of undertaking a postgraduate course, but many people see higher education as a worthwhile investment in times of financial strife: it makes you more employable, so you can be more certain about securing a job. And of course, you can't be made redundant at university.

The same arguments for and against postgraduate study would have applied even before the recent financial turmoil. If doing a masters or a postgraduate diploma is the only way for you to progress in your chosen career, you might as well bite the bullet now, rather than becoming involved in a job that could be difficult to leave a few years down the line. If recent trends continue, the course is also likely to have increased in price by then.

On the other hand, if the programme is not essential, then paid or voluntary work experience could be a faster and more cost-effective way of giving yourself a career boost. The practical experience and exposure to potential employers could mean it is of more use in the long term than another academic qualification.

This is all assuming the aim of your postgraduate degree is to kick-start a career. If you are merely interested in the topic, then it might be better – and more fun – to wait until you can afford it.

Walk the line

Q. I've decided that I'd like to work in fashion, possibly as a buyer. I've done some work experience but my undergraduate background had nothing to do with fashion or retail. Will this be a problem? What courses are there in this area?

A. The good news is that your academic background should not pose a problem, as you can enter fashion buying with degrees in most subjects. You will need to demonstrate knowledge and commitment to the sector, but you have already done this through your work experience. Reading fashion and retail industry journals is also essential.

However, the commercial awareness that a postgraduate degree in retail management or business would give you might be an advantage when it comes to finding a job. The alternative is to find a company that offers training in fashion buying, but such opportunities are rather scarce and highly competitive.

Most people hone their skills through a general store management training programme, before specialising in fashion buying when they are more confident in their business skills.

Manchester Metropolitan University offers an MSc in strategic fashion buying aimed at graduates from most academic backgrounds, but there are many more in related areas. For a full list of postgraduate courses in fashion, search the database at www.prospects.ac.uk.

Music to my ears

Q. I did a degree in psychology about five years ago, which I enjoyed, but I decided not to become a practising psychologist and went into an unrelated career. We recently had a music therapist visit our workplace, and, as I'm quite musical myself, I'm considering a course in the subject. What are my options?

A. If you would like to join the UK's 600-strong community of music therapists, you should do a course accredited by the Association of Professional Music Therapists. There are currently eight of them to choose from, at institutions in Edinburgh, Bristol, Cambridge, Manchester, Cardiff and London. All of them are listed in the directory on the association's website (www.apmt.org).

Your psychology degree should prove useful, as most music therapists work in clinical settings, helping patients address physical, social or emotional issues through music. Without it, you would probably need a degree in music, but in this case you will simply have to prove that you have reached a decent musical standard of grade five or above to reach the interview stage.

Thanks to Irena Jennings, Deborah Millan and Mike Cox, careers consultants for Domino Careers (www.dominocareers.co.uk). Send queries to c.green@independent.co.uk

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