One degree or more? Making the call on post graduate study options

As the soon-to-be-graduates from the Class of 2019 near the end of their studies, they need to start considering their options for next year. While many are getting ready to enter the workplace, the question about whether they should pursue postgraduate studies or not will be on the minds of tens of thousands of students.

โ€œGraduating from your first qualification is an important milestone, but it should be viewed as just that โ€“ a milestone, not the end of the road,โ€ says Dr Felicity Coughlan, Director of The Independent Institute of Education, SAโ€™s largest and most accredited private higher education institution.

Coughlan says oneโ€™s first qualification should be considered a foundation upon which to design and build oneโ€™s vision of the future.

โ€œYour success now depends on what you build on top of that foundation, and for successful people that often includes further study and development of skills.  In a world where demands on professionals in the workplace change constantly, this is even more true than it was even a few years ago. Success will, for most people, require them to keep building on their foundations and to commit to an attitude of lifelong learning,โ€ she says.

Coughlan notes that while being a graduate significantly improves a personโ€™s chances of finding employment, holding a postgraduate qualification significantly boosts their prospects in a tough job market.

โ€œIt is all about differentiating yourself from your peers,โ€ she says.

โ€œSo it is really important to understand that your next steps will make a difference.โ€

Particularly those graduates with relatively generic undergraduate qualifications must seriously consider investing a little more time to earn a postgraduate qualification. For many, a Postgraduate Diploma may well be the next best step, she says.

โ€œPostgraduate Diplomas are intended to help you focus, diversify your skillset and even change direction, so the entrance requirements are often more open than would be the case for an Honours degree,โ€ says Coughlan.  

She says in Postgraduate Diploma study, theory and practical application are combined, with the emphasis on the latter. 

โ€œA Postgraduate Diploma also allows students to progress straight to a Masterโ€™s Degree. It is therefore the ideal qualification type for students who want to wrap up and consolidate their undergraduate qualifications with a career-specific focus.โ€ 

On the other hand, new graduates who want to increase their academic depth in a particular subject, or those who are already sure they want to pursue a Masterโ€™s or even progress all the way to a Doctorate, should seriously consider going the Honours route next.

โ€œThese are more academic and theoretical than a Postgraduate Diploma, and they include a compulsory research component,โ€ she says.

โ€œAs a result, you will be ready for a Masterโ€™s afterwards and you will already have had experience conducting research โ€“ which is a very valuable skill for anyone in the workplace.  In the world of false information, the ability to ask the right questions and get valid and reliable answers is a highly marketable skill โ€“ and that is really what research is about.โ€

Coughlan says that the advice also holds true for those who have already entered the workplace.

โ€œThere is an increasing trend for working adults to seek formal qualifications later in their working life, to remain competitive with a current and diverse skillset. Short courses have real value for narrow and defined skill sets but a new qualification โ€“ particularly one that should not take you more than a year to 18 months to complete, is a great career and CV enhancer while it also builds really deep skill sets for you,โ€ she says. 

Coughlan says that as the Class of 2019 approach the end of their final year of undergraduate studies, they should focus on doing as well as they can.

โ€œParticularly immediately after graduation, the results you get will strongly influence your immediate options and what you are able to study next.  Once you have some work experience, your results become less important and your experience and work performance more so. But in the long run, the better your results are the stronger the impression they create on others โ€“ whether that be on future employers, or the institution at which you start the next leg on your lifelong learning journey.โ€

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