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Do you need a Masters to get a good job these days?

Whether you need a Masters degree depends on what you want to do with your career. A postgraduate qualification can give you the edge – or may even be essential…

A Masters course is usually a year long (if you take it full-time) and a bit of a step up from a first degree. Don’t underestimate the amount of work it takes to succeed on a good Masters course!

You might hear the argument that with so many graduates out there these days you’ll need a Masters degree to stand out. And with the graduate jobs market not in the best of shape at the moment, a lot of graduates are, unsurprisingly, heading back to university to arm themselves with an extra qualification. But do you need one?

 Where a Masters can really help

There are certainly areas where a Masters degree will give you a real advantage.

If you want to be a social worker, a town planner, or go into HR, psychology, conservation, librarianship, museums, meteorology (yes, you can have career in weather, if you’re good enough at maths), translation or research, amongst other careers, you’ll find a postgraduate qualification useful. And sometimes vital!

For some other careers – going into academic work, scientific research or clinical psychology, for example - you’ll need to start thinking beyond this and towards getting a doctorate.

Postgrads help scientists and engineers shine

In some fields – the sciences and, especially, engineering – you can take a four year course that gives you a kind of Masters qualification at the end. These are usually called things like MPhys (for physics) or MChem (guess which science that is) and designed to help would-be researchers to do a PhD.

 
Industry and academics like them, and students with these four year qualifications tend to do rather better looking for jobs than their three-year equivalents. In engineering, many courses nowadays are four years and award an MEng, the qualification you need to become a chartered engineer. Essentially it is the difference between being a professional engineer, rather than just someone who has a degree in engineering.
 

Does a Masters mark you out?

But what about Master of Arts (MA) or Master of Science (MSc) courses – should you do one of those? Apart from a few areas already mentioned, there aren’t many jobs that ask specifically for a Masters as well as a first degree. On the other hand, there are quite a lot of jobs for people with first degrees that don’t specify a particular subject.

This means most Masters graduates find themselves going for the same jobs as first degree graduates and potentially finding that having a Masters doesn’t magically make them more employable (sometimes what else you’ve spent your time doing can be just as important as the qualification itself).

The stats for 2012’s graduates back this up. More than 120,000 first degree graduates managed to get a professional-level job without a Masters. Young graduates aged 21-24 (the usual age for people who go straight from university to postgraduate study) currently have a first degree unemployment rate after sixth months of 8.5% - and Masters graduates of the same age have the same unemployment rate.

It’s not just about jobs…

That doesn’t mean a Masters is a bad idea, of course. You might want to take one to boost your chances of getting on to a doctorate, for starters.

It could also help you later on in your career, especially if you get into management. And there’s always the strong argument that loving your subject is a great reason in itself to spend an extra year studying it intensively.

Which? University provides guest spots to external contributors. This is from the Higher Education Careers Services Unit (HECSU), an independent research charity specialising in higher education and graduate employment. 
 

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