Considering further study

Further study can be a popular choice for graduates; a 2020/21 analysis found one in eight (12.4%) of those who graduated in 2017/18 were in further study, around half studying a masters.

Although further study can be an attractive option for many undergraduates, there are a number of factors to consider and doing your homework is key to ensuring you make the right decision for you.

Consider your motivation

It's worth taking some time to think about what is motivating your interest in further study before pursuing a masters, PhD or other postgraduate qualification. Further study can involve a serious commitment in terms of time and finance so understanding your motivations and undertaking research is essential.

There are many positive reasons behind a decision to pursue further study, these could be:

  • to satisfy intellectual curiosity and explore a subject in greater depth
  • a requirement for a particular career for example law, teaching, medicine, dentistry
  • to improve your career prospects, earning potential or to change career direction
  • to gain a new skills and experiences – perhaps the chance to acquire technical skills or live in a different country
  • to pursue a career in academia.

If you are considering further study for any of the following reasons, you might want to discuss your decisions with a careers adviser in more detail:

  • delaying entering the job market, perhaps while the labour market refreshes or to give you more time to clarify your direction. Take some time to think about how realistic this option is, as you may need to make career decisions in the early part of your course. There are graduate schemes, graduate jobs and entry-level positions out there and the Careers Service is here to help you secure them
  • to extend student life - life as a postgraduate can be even more academic and time demanding
  • because someone else suggests it’s a good idea but you are not sure.

Types of postgraduate study

There are four different types of postgraduate courses: taught courses, research degrees, conversion courses and professional qualifications

Taught courses

Postgraduate taught courses are most comparable to your undergraduate degree in terms of teaching style. The majority of your learning will be delivered through lectures, practical sessions and seminars.

Research courses

Research degrees, or doctorates, can be taken after a master’s degree and sometimes after a bachelor’s degree, where the master’s is earned at the same time as the bachelor’s. They will have a heavy focus on research to explore a topic in depth.

Professional qualifications

Some postgraduate courses lead directly to a professional qualification required for entry into a particular career. For example the PGCE for teaching.

Find out more about study routes into specific career areas - what can I do with my degree.

Conversion courses

Conversion courses give you an opportunity to enter a profession that you have not studied at undergraduate level or let you transfer to a different subject area. They are usually one-year taught courses and cover subjects like teaching, law, medicine, dentistry and property. If you are thinking of changing career then a conversion course could be the perfect way to transfer your skills to a new field.

Ways to find out more

It is important to explore the options available to you and to undertake research to decipher what the best route will be for you to take:

  • explore where could your degree subject take you to help you to decide on the right route for you
  • ask tutors, supervisors and others for their view on your suitability for further study, and for recommendations of courses and institutions
  • have conversations with current postgraduate students in the course you are interested in
  • use Plymouth connect and the University LinkedIn alumni tool to find contacts and ask questions
  • attend careers fairs, presentations and speaker events to ask recruiters and those working in the sector for their view on the value of a higher degree
  • discuss your options by booking an appointment with a careers consultant.


Experience as many universities as possible before deciding, and if possible, go and see the city. The reality is you are spending a good chunk of time living and working in that place, if you don’t like the place you live, there is a good chance you won’t enjoy the whole experience.

Toby Clayton, MSc Planning graduate

Further research

  • Prospects Postgraduate Study offers useful advice on how to apply for courses by type of qualification, as well as tips for writing your personal statement, getting references and preparing for course interviews
  • TargetPostgrad is a particularly good website for finding postgraduate taught courses
  • Find a Masters – comprehensive advice and information, including a blog
  • MastersDegrees.net is a comprehensive guide for planning and getting a master’s degree
  • Find a PhD – a good overview of the reasons why you might do a PhD, events, funding and PhD opportunities in the UK and globally
  • Vitae – Comprehensive advice and information for those considering doctoral research. It also has a wide range of Researcher career stories which gives an insight to the different career paths which researchers take
  • For those looking to study abroad Prospects study abroad guide and the Target Careers article – going to University abroad are good sources of information
  • Thinking about using a conversion course to change career find out more about what is involved
  • Prospects have an in-depth article on the different professional qualifications available

Funding your studies

Once you have completed your research and decided on studying further you will need to consider how you will fund your studies. There are a range of possible options including student loans, bursaries, competitive scholarships from research councils and other research organisations, universities, charities and trusts.

For information on postgraduate funding including student loans, there is a range of sources:

Many universities offer a discount to its graduates who study further at the same institution. As a University of Plymouth student, you may be eligible for up to 20% discount in tuition fees. More information can be found on the University Funding webpages

International students and further study in the UK

Studying a postgraduate qualification in the UK is a popular choice for many students from across the globe. The UK Council for International Student Affairs (UKCISA) offers advice and information on what is involved. Another useful source of information is Prospects: study in the UK guide, which includes an overview of the UK education system, funding and Visa advice

How can postgraduate study improve your employability

I think one of the main motivations for undertaking postgraduate study is about improving one’s employability and opening up new career options for the future. That was certainly one of the main drivers for me.

Find out more about Dan's journey

The impact of COVID on undertaking postgraduate study

With COVID-19 impacting employment opportunities, some students are also wondering whether to do a masters to delay their job hunt. While this can be a positive choice, the decision should be well thought-out, in order to make an informed decision, ask yourself these key questions.