Q: I graduated two years ago with a degree in international business and now want to do a Masters in economics and finance at a British university. But the university in question seems to perform very well in accounting and finance, but not so well in economics, which worries me. What should I do?
A: You don't say where you're getting your information from, but your question highlights how much weight we should give to performance tables. My view is that they are a good starting point in any decision on postgraduate options, but they should never be relied upon exclusively. Before allowing yourself to be swayed, it's important to drill down into the exact nature of these conclusions. For example, are they based on the success rate of research departments? If so, does that tell us anything about the quality of teaching? Were the results based on responses from students (undergraduate or postgraduate) or employers? Look back into previous versions of these performance measures and see if there's any change from year to year. But most of all, try to talk to people who have done, or are doing, the courses you're interested in and get a first hand view from someone in whose steps you might be following.
Q: Six years ago I got a Bachelors degree in marketing, which was rather general in content. Now I want to concentrate on digital marketing, because I think the job prospects would be much better. Can I do a postgraduate course which would give me this leg up?
A: There are hundreds of postgraduate courses with digital and web-based techniques at their core. However, some come to the subject from a technological direction; others from a largely business perspective; and still more are rooted in academic areas linked to the creative side of communications. So your first choice is to decide which areas most fit your existing strengths and corresponds to the type of job you see yourself doing in the future. But don't rule out a more vocational route. The Institute of Direct and Digital Marketing (theidm.com) runs courses leading to a variety of tailored qualifications, many of which are less than a full Masters, but which nevertheless may be just as useful in securing a job. The IDM offer these courses via a range of study options all of which, can be undertaken while staying in full-time work.
Q: Is there any sense spending time and money on a postgraduate course that is not in some way linked to an employment path?
A: I can see where this question comes from. The proliferation of postgraduate programmes in the past decade has been driven by the demand, in the UK and abroad, for courses that offer enhanced prospects in the job market. But this doesn't mean that what we might call the purely academic Masters has disappeared. Universities still need to spot and nurture intellectual talent across all disciplines, from mathematics and medieval history, to classics and biochemistry. Just where the postgraduate students who choose these options end up varies wildly. Some take vocational turns, into marketing or law, for example. Others stay in more cloistered surroundings for the rest of their working lives. But my main advice is that if you love a subject and have already shown real flair at it, then pursue it, for the love of learning itself.
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