People choose to undertake further study for different reasons. Further study provides a chance to progress to a higher qualification, learn new skills, or a way to continue studying a subject you love. Whatever you decide, it is important to think about whether progressing to further study will benefit your career in the long run.
Interest in the subject: It is important to enjoy and be interested in an area of study. Think about the long-term implications of your choice. Does your choice of course fit in with your career plans? All post graduate courses will develop skills that but some will be of much more use to you than others.
Requirement for the profession you want to enter: Some careers require a professional qualification, for example, law, social work and teaching. For some employment a postgraduate qualification is not essential but can provide a distinct advantage especially in competitive industries
Increased skills for job market: Postgraduate study should help you gain number of transferable skills that employers value. These might include project management, working in teams, presentation and technical skills. Think about what skills you want to develop and whether your chosen course equips you with these.
Enhance employment prospects: Research the area of work you are interested in to see how employers view applicants. For some employers postgraduate study will enhance your job prospects whilst others place more value on applicants’ work experience and transferable skills.
Convert to a new area: Many postgraduate courses provide a way of converting to a particular career area or changing your educational direction. These may be taught masters or diploma/certificate qualifications. However it is possible to convert to a new career area through employment and some companies will provide relevant professional training to graduates from all disciplines so do investigate the career area you are considering to find out more.
Postpone making a career decision: Sometimes you might just want to do further study to postpone looking for work. This is not necessarily a bad thing but if it is just down to fear of entering the jobs market make an appointment with your careers adviser / career coach to discuss your options – the phrase “the eternal student” is used to indicate those who educate themselves out of the jobs market! If you still decide to undertake a course for this reason use your time wisely and actively. Research your career options and undertake self assessment to find out what your skills are, what interests you and what you want out of a career. Use the time to develop your employability skills through college activities and work experience
Employers views on postgraduate study: Some employers place great importance in the advanced knowledge and skills gained through post graduate study. The willingness and ability to undertake further training might also be attractive to future employers but is not a guarantee of future employment – employers value employment experience as much as, and in some cases more than, education, depending on the sector.
Taught options: Postgraduate Diploma courses involve nine months of full-time study and usually incorporate a project. Masters Degree is usually a continuation of undergraduate study in a specialised area and involves one year of full-time study often with a major project / thesis. Taught courses generally require a 2.1 degree but in some cases lower degree classifications might be acceptable. Requirements can vary depending on the level of competition. It is also possible to complete a conversion course. A conversion programme enables graduates of one discipline to acquire a qualification in a different discipline at Postgraduate Diploma and Masters Level. Having studied a particular degree you may decide that you wish to change your career path and consider undertaking a conversion programme.
Research options: Masters by research will usually take two years full time to complete and may be attached to an industrial partner where the topic has relevance to industry. This qualification involves in-depth research on specific area and examination is totally by thesis/dissertation. PhD usually takes 4-5 years to complete on a full-time basis. Examination is by Doctoral thesis which is considerably longer than a Masters thesis and has to be of a novel nature. Institutions are now offering what are loosely termed ‘taught’ PhDs but in short, they are programmes which include periods of in-class or guided research designed to help researchers finish their work within a reasonable time frame. Most will aim to complete their work in around three years. PhD and research Masters normally require a 2.1 Honours Degree but some programmes accept a 2.2. Due to competitive factors the minimum grade is no longer a guarantee of a place. If you don’t at least meet the minimum make an appointment with the course director to try and negotiate being, at the very least, considered, if not offered a place. A PhD is usually necessary for lecturing posts and research positions.
Full time or part time?
- Universities are offering an increasing number of options to students – these include full time, part time, on-line, distance and blended learning courses.
- Competition for full time courses is usually harder.
- Part time courses usually have less likelihood of funding.
- Length of time of study is longer with part time.
- Options / modules in courses open to part time students can be more limited.
- You have to stay motivated for longer when studying part time.
- It can be difficult to find the time to study when working full time.
- Access to facilities and benefits can be different according to whether you study full / part time.
- Distance learning courses can be lonely as a result of limited peer interaction.
Courses with the same name don’t necessarily have the same content – get prospectuses and speak with course tutors and graduates in the institution you are applying to and in your own institution. Remember also:
- Choice of subjects within a course will vary from college to college.
- There may be a requirement to spend some time outside the college in industrial placement, or carrying out projects etc.
- Practical content of courses can vary.
- The financial cost can vary widely amongst courses and institutions.
- The reputation of the programme – talk to lecturers, past graduates, employers.
- The employment record of past graduates – the careers service will have first destination statistics of those who have already graduates from the course.
- National/international profile of the course.
- Facilities available to you (IT support, car parking, accommodation for post graduates).
- Possibilities of funding and financial assistance.
- What resources are available – laboratories, technology, library etc.
- Class sizes.
If you're considering undertaking a research qualification you will need to think carefully about what you want to study and where you want to study it. Bear in mind:
- For a research qualification, your research topic will be very specific. You must choose your topic very carefully because you will become specialised in this area. In some colleges you can choose your own topic but often an academic member of staff will choose - make sure it is what you want.
- Try to meet with several staff members before making a decision. Make sure that your supervisors has an area of expertise useful to your project. What is their reputation for research in your field?
- Your potential supervisor is a vital factor. Talk to previous students who worked under the same supervisor. Find out was he/she reliable, available, supportive, helpful. Poor supervision and a poor relationship with your tutor can have a detrimental effect on your studies. Get a few opinions if possible as sometimes a poor relationship can be due only to a personality clash.
- What support structures are in place for research students? Some schools have seminar and training programmes that postgraduate research students can participate in.
- What process will you have to go through to complete a PhD?
- Will you be working alone or as part of a research group?
- Is there the opportunity to earn extra money by teaching undergraduates? Some colleges may expect you to undertake duties as teaching assistants and tutors.
- What is submission rate for research degrees in your chosen department?
- To take on research you need to be very self-motivated. Are you good at planning your work? Can you work effectively to deadlines? There are more unfinished masters and PhDs by research in the world than completed ones. Are you capable of the self-discipline required?
- Be very sure of why you are choosing to do research, does it fit into your career plan? Do you want to become specialised in a particular area?
- Most applications for postgraduate courses are made directly to the relevant institution through their postgraduate admissions office. The application will usually include an application form, documentary evidence of academic achievements and references.
- Some institutions require applicants to use a centralised application system (https://pacapply.com/).
- Closing dates vary from course to course. Some may be as early as December/January whilst others stay open for applications until August. It's best to apply early - November is a good time to start making enquiries. Some courses require you to sit an entrance test/submit a portfolio and / or do an interview – these programmes' closing dates may be much earlier than others.
- Vary depending on the course and institution. The level of fees may depend on whether labs, special equipment or highly expert training is required.
- Don’t forget to take into account the cost of living - food, travel, accommodation etc.
- Check what extra fees you might be liable for – e.g. registration fees, exam fees, cost of courserelated materials/uniforms/equipment etc.
- The best source of information on funding is the postgraduate office or department or institution to whom you are interested in applying.
- Many students finance part or all of their studies themselves, e.g. bank loans, part time work, employer funding.
- A student, who holds a Higher Education Grant (HEG) when completing his/her primary degree, may be eligible to apply for continuation of the grant from the Local Authority.
- Mature students may be eligible to apply for Higher Education Grant from Local Authority where his/her parents reside.
- Students may be eligible to apply for or continue to benefit from a VEC Scholarship.
- Funding through various programmes is often advertised in the national press.
- Scholarships may be available from private and public sector bodies and bursaries, awards, scholarships/studentships and fellowships may be available from higher education institutions themselves.
- For details of all funding and finance information related to education see www.studentfinance.ie
Within Ireland fees alone can range from €3,000 to €10,000 per year depending on the mode and programme you choose and even much more expensive according to the prestige of the programme. Outside of the regular fee support and grant systems traditionally offered by the State there are a range of sources through which you can seek financial support for your studies. These include:
Loans: whilst financial institutions have a bad record in respect of lending at present, depending on the size of the loan, the level of income you can guarantee and your credit record with the organisation you may be able to secure what you need. The UK has operated a student loan system for a number of years (with mixed success) and many are calling for the introduction of such a scheme here.
Employers: if you are in employment your employer may be able to be in a position to support your studies financially, usually in return for some guarantee of your tenure. Postgraduate researchers in academia are often expected to participate in teaching hours, tutorial work or other research supervision as part of the funded research they are undertaking.
Other sources: There are scholarships (also known as studentships), bursaries, grants and awards offered by a variety of bodies to help support you in your studies. These include those granted by the college you are currently studying in or the one you wish to enter. Contact each individual college to find out what they offer. Funding sponsorships are also offered by many other public or private sector organisations. A selection of these is included in the list below.
Other sources of postgraduate funding in Ireland
- Universities Ireland – promotes collaboration between universities in the North and Republic of Ireland and provides awards for students from both parts of Ireland who choose to undertake postgraduate study in the opposite jurisdiction. See
- Irish Marie Curie Office: Advice and support to researchers, research-active Organisations and companies in submitting proposals and in managing their Marie Curie Programmes
- Central Remedial Clinic – offers the annual Dr.Ciaran Barry postgraduate research scholarship for a student with a disability.
- Royal Irish Academy – RIA offers research grants in the humanities and social sciences.
- Irish Research Council –Following the merger of IRCHSS and IRCSET the Government of Ireland Postdoctoral Fellowship subsumes the previous IRCSET Empower Fellowship and IRCHSS Government of Ireland Postgraduate Fellowship. See
- Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) funds oriented basic and applied research in the areas of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), which promotes and assists the development and competitiveness of industry, enterprise and employment in Ireland.
- Health Research Board –The HRB is the lead agency in Ireland supporting and funding health research. It provides funding for postgraduate research students and post-doctoral researchers through post-doctoral research fellowships and the PhD Scholars Programme.
- Enterprise Ireland – provides a range of direct funding and other supports to postdoctoral researchers.
- An Teagasc is the Irish government's research and development agency for the agricultural sciences. An Teagasc currently funds ninety contract researchers and 212 postgraduate students in association with Irish and international universities. The Walsh Fellowships provide up to three years' funding.