Liam Brolan, MA Criminology student

May is the month that strikes fear into the hearts of undergraduate students across the country. Assignment deadlines are looming and students everywhere question whether they should be paying rent to their landlord or to the university library. Late night study sessions fuelled only by red bull, coffee and sheer panic seem to be increasingly common and stories of “all-nighters” dominate the conversation.

But if you are a final year student, this time of year can lead to feelings of uncertainty and insecurity about more than just your impending deadlines. The reality is that you no longer have the safety of another year to think about what it is that you want to do. You begin to realise that as soon as that last piece of coursework is submitted, you will find yourself with some pretty big decisions to make, decisions that can no longer be put on hold.

If like me, your degree has not paved out a clear road of employment such as teaching or nursing, then it can seem quite confusing as to what you can do next. There is of course the option of finding a full-time job and this may appeal to some. But if you are feeling as I was, that you are not quite ready to leave the wonderful world of academia to enter into full-time employment, then it may be worth considering postgraduate study.

I am currently two months away from completing a Master’s degree in Criminology. The decision to continue into postgraduate study was not one I made lightly. Looking back I am glad I decided to go ahead with it – in fact it was probably one of the best decisions I have ever made. That being said there were a number of important factors that I had to take in to consideration before applying. Below, you can find out what I believe to be the top 3 issues you may have to consider before embarking on your own postgraduate journey and my top tips for overcoming them.

1. Money

You guessed it, money. The very thing you have spent the last three years wishing you had more of! Well, unfortunately it’s about to get worse! You’ll probably have more of it, but you’re going to have to work for it! Unlike the previous three years, Student Finance will not be there to cover the costs of your course fees or even to provide the financial backup of a maintenance loan (I miss those days) – unless you will be studying for a PGCE teacher training qualification in which case you may be eligible for further funding from Student Finance. The vast majority of postgraduate study is completely self-financed but you should not let this put you off as there are ways to ease the financial pain.

First, (if you haven’t already) you can find part-time employment. Working whilst studying is not actually as bad as it may seem and actually works better at postgraduate level. Through my own experience, I recommend looking for work on your university campus. Many unis now have roles that are reserved specifically for students. The jobs available can range from working in the SU bar to providing ICT support and often allow students the opportunity to work in a variety of different areas. These jobs are based on the idea that your studies come first and the levels of flexibility that accompany them far surpasses anything you will find outside of the university. Of course, a level of commitment is required, as with any job, but if you play it right, you can establish a healthy work/study balance that works for you and your employer. So be sure to find out if your university has anything going!

Scholarships or bursaries may be available from charitable trusts and organisations for taught postgraduate courses. There is usually a high level of competition between prospective students when applying to try and secure such funding, and funding sources, types and availability will vary depending upon the subject area you’re looking to study. It’s a good idea to research what’s potentially available in advance to find out when you will need to apply for this type of funding in relation to when you’re looking to commence your course. Further information about seeking these types of funding opportunities for postgraduate study can be found on the Prospects website.

As well as employment or external scholarships and bursary opportunities you may be able to can apply for a career development loan off the government, although if you can I would try to avoid this!

More information on career development loans

Thankfully, you will not be expected (or at least you shouldn’t be) to pay the total sum of your fees in one go. Many universities offer instalment plans which can mean that the payments can be spread out rather than being paid all at once. For example, I was able to pay an initial deposit of 10 per cent and pay the remaining balance in six monthly instalments which made managing the cost much easier. Check with the university beforehand to find out what options they may offer for making payments by instalments.

It’s also worth bearing in mind that your university may offer a loyalty bonus for existing students. This is basically an incentive for those already studying at an undergraduate level to continue their studies with discounts of up to 20 per cent being offered depending on your final degree classification!

2. The transition

Just like the jump from A-levels (or equivalent) to university, there is a jump between undergrad and postgrad study. The transition from one to the other can be a daunting prospect and does take some time to fully adjust to. Studying at postgrad is different to undergrad in a number of ways.

First, do you remember that term ‘independent study? Well there is going to be a lot of that. You will be expected to dedicate sufficient time to your studies and progress efficiently through your workload without constantly seeking advice from your tutors or lecturers. Group work and Google scholar are there to lend a helping hand, however your lecturers will be there to offer advice and support if you are a really struggling.

Second, many postgraduate courses have a practical assessment requirement. This means putting down the books and applying theory to practice so be prepared to push your self out of your comfort zone and get stuck in! Hey, that’s what life at university is all about, but of course you know that by now! It’s also important to bear in mind that practical modules can result in you making useful contacts in your chosen area, this potentially could lead to many different opportunities.

3. The workload

The next big thing to consider is the workload. How are you going to ensure that you manage your time effectively so as to be able to study, work and still find time to chill out? Trust me, allowing for time away from your studies is essential! I currently work 19 hours a week and dedicate the two spare days in the week to my studies. This frees up the weekend and means that I can relax and not have to worry about having a game of FIFA or heading down the gym. Of course, as deadlines approach you may have to juggle your commitments but that has always been the way, right?

I find that using a diary is a really good way of keeping track of any upcoming deadlines or meetings I have to make. I use my iPhone too but sometimes it’s nice to have things written down in front of you! Spending an hour writing up a revision or study timetable is also worthwhile doing, again it just acts as a visual reminder and helps you stay on track.

So that’s it… the three things I would advise you all to think about when considering postgraduate study!

If after reading this article, you have decided that postgraduate study is the right choice for you then I wish you good luck! Making the decision to stay on at university requires two things: passion and dedication – as long as you are passionate about the subject you are studying and dedicated enough to stick it out you cannot go wrong. Remember that by choosing to stay in education you are making an investment in yourself and despite all the late nights and the stress of writing assignments – one day you will look back and realise… it was all worth it.

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Find out more about being a postgraduate student at our next Open Day – 22 April, 2-7pm. Register now.

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