Should I do a masters to wait out the pandemic?
Ask yourself these five questions before committing to a masters degree. This will help you to stay in control of your plans for postgraduate study and your future career despite Covid-19.
As the pandemic has put paid to any post-university travel plans and brought about a competitive job market, many students might be tempted to forget all about their future career and distract themselves with another degree. While this is understandable, it’s important to remember that you only get one masters loan; choosing the right subject and university to spend it on – as well as the right time to do so – will ensure you’re making an informed decision that will help you get ahead in your job hunt. A rash decision, on the other hand, might mean you’re stuck struggling through a degree rather than progressing your career.
1. Would you be happy to study while social distancing?
Think about whether the impact of social distancing will significantly alter what you gain from your masters (particularly in terms of preparation for your career) and use this to guide your decision.
Perhaps the idea of replacing a crowded lecture theatre with a comfy bed and settling into your own routine of independent study suits you. However, you might find that, in order to make the most of your postgrad, you’ll need to spend time with tutors and working alongside fellow students. For instance, if your masters involves plenty of lab-based work, you might consider whether the numbers inside labs will be heavily restricted and whether, therefore, your projects might be negatively impacted.
At the moment, it’s difficult for universities to give any definitive answers regarding how much face-to-face contact time you’ll have. However, you can email members of the department or admissions to find out what’s being done to get around problems – eg how they’re making use of tech.
2. Has Covid-19 made you change your career goals?
Perhaps you’re considering a complete change of tack – for example by undertaking a conversion course. While it may be beneficial to you to be flexible regarding the first step in your career in light of the pandemic (and this might mean choosing to apply for a masters rather than jobs), you should think hard before totally changing the job you’ve been pursuing. Is your potential new career path one you’re truly interested in and would be happy in? Or are you only considering a change because you’re worried there’s no other option – and potentially settling for any old job?
Before you make any drastic decisions, do some more research into your original plans. Look at industry or job-specific publications and news to find out whether recruitment and outlook is likely to recover; while it’s difficult to make any kind of long-term predictions at the moment, once you do this and remember that a post-pandemic normal will exist, you’re likely to realise you can pursue the career you want to. Your route there might change slightly – you could, for instance, spend a year carrying out a different type of work, in which you will gain skills transferable to your preferred role.
However, coronavirus could lead you to make a change that’s right for you. Perhaps the news coverage inside hospitals has turned you on or off the idea of working in medicine. Or maybe the focus on how to protect people’s mental health during a time when uncertainty, isolation and grief are so prevalent has made a psychology conversion course seem appealing. If you’re certain that the move is right, make sure you choose the degree that will give you the best head start; the advice in this article should help with this.
3. Will the decision progress your career?
The degree to which you view your masters as a step towards your preferred career is individual to you. Perhaps what is more important to you is delving further into a subject that fascinated you at undergraduate level.
Either way, you’ll need to think about your career down the line. Keeping this in mind and making sure the course and university tick all the right boxes should be a priority. You might consider:
- Whether the course is (and should be) accredited by the right professional body, meaning it will set you up for work in that area. For instance, a psychology conversion course should be accredited by the British Psychological Society (BPS) if you’re looking to work in psychology, while if you’re intending to become a chartered surveyor you should make sure your course is accredited by the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS).
- Whether specific areas of interest are covered by the lecturers and course. Think about the particular type of work you want to do, along with the industry you want to work in. Could improving your knowledge in specific topics give you a head start if you were to work for one of your preferred employers? Taking a look at a few different universities and comparing the specialisms of lecturers and content of modules should help you to make an astute decision.
- If the university has a strong reputation in the area you intend to work in. The course content and whether you’ll be comfortable at the university are important, but it may be a good idea to balance this with a consideration of how employers will view the university on your CV. By carrying out research into university league tables (filtered by your subject) and consulting your careers service, you should be able to find those that are well-respected in your area.
- The industry connections the university and department will provide you with. If the subject department and careers service have strong connections in the industry you’re interested in – and provide networking opportunities – you’re more likely to be prepared for and informed about your career by the time you leave. It’s also a good idea to consider how well the university is moving parts of its careers service online. For example, are they starting to hold virtual careers events?
4. Do you need a plan for your finances?
Just like your undergraduate degree, you’ll get a loan to cover your masters and will only have to begin paying this back when your income is above a certain amount. Nonetheless, you may still find that you need some extra money to help you cover the costs of living (eg rent).
If you’re planning to cover living costs through part-time work, it’s important to take into account any potential barriers the pandemic might put up. Jobs at a bar or in the hospitality industry, for instance, might be difficult to come by. You could investigate whether there are opportunities for paid work online (online tutoring, for example, will often allow you to work around your studies) or consider work in ‘essential’ areas – such as at a supermarket.
5. What are your alternatives?
Remember that a masters isn’t your only option and you shouldn’t rush into it. Maybe you’d actually prefer to wait out the coronavirus before starting your postgrad, get some work experience so you’re sure about your career plans, or start applying for permanent, full-time jobs.
There are graduate schemes, graduate jobs and entry-level positions out there, and our articles on job hunting during a pandemic and recession might help you to secure one. Alternatively, temporary/part-time work or getting involved in career-friendly activities you can do while social distancing will help you to make your CV career-ready.
By fully researching your postgrad options and other opportunities, you can be confident that you’ve made the decision that’s right for you.