By Sam Saunders
I’ve opted for something a little bit different this week, as this column will be more of a discussion about whether to do a postgraduate degree, prompted mostly by the open day that took place last Wednesday. It’s a decision I’ve been thinking about a lot this year, having never really considered it previously, but having looked at the courses offered here at Cardiff, it actually seems like an attractive option for next year. With this article I want to offer some insight into my decisions and how they’ve been affected by my course and the options available, as well as some of the main reasons to avoid, or choose, a postgraduate degree.
Let’s start with the positives, why you (or I) should choose to study for another year. Firstly, in certain fields it will definitely give you more experience and lead to more opportunities in later life. A case that will be relevant to many of the people who are part of student media are journalism postgraduate courses, such as magazine journalism, which would be incredibly valuable to anyone who wanted to write for or edit such publications. JOMEC is a good example for another reason, as any postgraduate students will be able to make full use of the facilities in the new building in the city centre, where there will also be the possibility of some sort of collaboration with BBC Cymru, as their new building will be opened and operational from next year. Given the journalism school’s very good reputation, I’m sure this would be valuable to anyone wanting to pursue a career in this field. Similar things can be said of going into more specialised fields; translation or academia for example. The old adage that modern languages students can only be teachers, translators or interpreters is hopelessly out of date, but translation does represent a viable career path for language graduates, and it could be worth exploring this course. Academia, another example, is a field where qualifications and academic work are clearly very important, think about how many of your lecturers (who deliver research-led teaching at this Russell Group university) are doctors of their particular field. In history, almost all of the lecturers are, therefore any sort of academic role is going to require at least a Masters, which you would probably need to qualify for a PhD programme. In terms of what it can open up for your future prospects then, a postgraduate degree can be extremely beneficial, with the caveat that you do have to be sure you want to narrow your focus into a specific field, as many of the courses on offer are very specialised. Choosing a postgrad in Cardiff has the obvious benefit of staying in this wonderful city, staying in touch with friends, and enjoying the student experience for one more year. There’s also the option of studying either full-time or part-time, which could help you balance you studies with other commitments; a job to pay your way through the course for example. As with undergraduate courses, and arguably even more so, there shouldn’t really be any financial barriers to continuing your education, as UK students have access to a generous amount of funding. It’s currently just over £10,000 for English students and around £13,000 for Welsh students, however, this has to cover your tuition fee and any living costs, but at least it’s not means tested. In addition to this, Welsh and EU students were eligible for a £3,400 bursary or tuition fee reduction if they started a postgraduate course in 2018/19. Now, this hasn’t been confirmed for next year yet (thanks Brexit), but there could be an incentive to stay if you would be eligible for this. There are also several bursary schemes offered by Cardiff University, which I’m sure would be worth an application.
On the other hand, I can think of a multitude of reasons why I shouldn’t study for an extra year, even if it’s a subject that I am deeply passionate about. Firstly, it’s another year of my life that I’ll have to spend studying, when my university course has already taken up four due to my year abroad, which was an incredibly valuable experience. It’s probably not that big of a deal in the grand scheme of things, hopefully I have at least 60 years of life left at this point, but I don’t think you can put a value on your time, and a year is a big commitment, so it is a serious consideration. It’s interesting to wonder whether this year would be better spent doing something else, like seeing other parts of the world, or gaining experience in the field you’d like to go into after university. Alternatively, it could give you the opportunity to explore a few different avenues (through internships and such) so you can make more of an informed decision about your future career. If you’ve already decided, it might be the case that this year could be spent on a graduate scheme, so that your foot is already in the door of a large company, so to speak. I also feel that choosing to study for an extra year just to prolong student life and avoid the big choices in your life is quite futile, as you’ll have to leave Cathays and wrestle with these huge decisions at some point, so what is the point in prolonging the inevitable? Whilst I’ve just gone to great lengths to explain the various advantageous financial options available for further study, there’s no overstating the fact that I would be adding at least £10,000 to my already rather sizeable student loan pile. The notion of repaying it all hasn’t even crossed my mind, as I doubt that will happen, but it’s still something that weighs quite heavily on my mind, and will take money away from my paycheque when I do get a job. My other concern is the question of value, as I’ve always wondered what sort of opportunities would be opened up for me in particular, if I chose to do an MA in history or translation, as I’m not too interested in academia or a translation role. People might suggest that a Masters would offer me the opportunity to choose a completely different topic of study that also interests me, international relations, for example. This poses one large problem for me, as whilst I think I would find that extremely interesting, trying to catch up with people who have already studied the various IR theories and schools of thought isn’t terribly appealing to me.
I hope you weren’t expecting some sort of satisfying resolution to all of this, as this article was supposed to be more of an insight into my thoughts and feelings around the opportunity for further study. In a word, conflicted. I’m leaning more towards a ‘no’ at the moment for a postgrad, but I wanted to write this to show that my thinking has been influenced by many things and isn’t as simple as a one-word answer. I’m a huge supporter of postgraduate study, as I think it adds a lot and offers the chance to specialise, I just don’t think it’ll be for me, at least, not next year.