Advantages and Disadvantages of Studying for a Masters Degree

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14/11/19 Reference this

There are a number advantages and disadvantages to pursuing a master’s degree, with these pros and cons very much varying depending upon your circumstances and current situation. Amongst those who typically begin master’s level study include existing students who have just completed undergraduate work, mature students who are currently in work, and returning students who have recently had a break. However, for all types of students at this level, there are a number of common positives and negatives, and these should be given some consideration before applying for such post-graduate studies.

Advantages of Studying For a Master’s Degree

  • Provides more opportunities for employment in the labour market
  • Offers a different career path than would otherwise be possible
  • Provides more focused and advanced level studies
  • Is a good introduction to PhD level work
  • Increases in monetary value as time goes by due to rising tuition and living costs
  • Provides the opportunity to experience studying at a completely different university

Disadvantages of Studying For a Master’s Degree

  • It is generally very expensive to complete
  • Sacrifices will inevitably need to be made in all areas of a master’s student’s life
  • Job prospects might not necessarily be improved, depending upon the chosen field of study
  • It can be a solitary experience with less social interaction than an undergraduate degree offers
  • Accommodation may be harder to come by (as most university accommodation is reserved for undergraduate students)
  • It will take considerable time and effort to complete

Some Common Advantages of Studying For a Master’s Degree

There are a number of general upsides of studying for a master’s degree then, which covers most types of students. To begin with, a master’s degree, generally, provides more opportunities for employment in the labour market on completion of such a degree, as some roles in the labour market will demand a post-graduate qualification as a basic entry requirement. At the very least, having a master’s degree will help you to get ahead of the competition who do not hold such a degree. Thus, as education and the labour market becomes more and more competitive in the years to come as a result of a rising population, and as more and more people hold an undergraduate degree, a master’s degree will aid in standing out from the crowd, by going above and beyond what the majority of people are willing to do.

In addition, a master’s degree qualification can also offer a different career path for those who might feel like they are stuck in a rut, so to speak, and are unable to work in a field that really interests them. So, for example, for someone wanting to be involved in business administration, and who are finding it difficult to break in to a business field due to perhaps not studying in this area for their undergraduate work, a Master of Business Administration might be just the ticket towards breaking through in starting such a career. Similarly, for someone who has a bachelor’s degree in psychology, but who has since changed their mind about their chosen career, and want to pursue a career in the field of social work, then enrolling on a Master of Social Work course could be just the ticket. Furthermore, in addition to changing subjects, a master’s degree can also provide a much more focussed and advanced level of studies, whereas an undergraduate degree tends to be much broader, at least to begin with, in order to cater for all interests and tastes. A master’s course therefore provides an opportunity to study in many niche areas, and this can thus also provide a good introduction to PhD work, as such work tends to offer original and unique subjects of inquiry. In fact, for many PhD courses, a master’s degree is regarded as a prerequisite.

To add to this, a master’s degree, just like an undergraduate degree, also tends to increase in monetary value over time, as such degrees are becoming increasingly expensive to complete. So, if you can manage to get such a postgraduate qualification, then it could be viewed as being more valuable in a decade or so, once the cost of attaining such a post-graduate degree becomes too much for many people. In this sense then, obtaining a master’s degree could be seen as a long-term investment, with the returns from it perhaps not being seen immediately, but it could yield a good return over the long term. Nevertheless, in the contemporary era, an epoch in which there is a growing trend for instant gratification, fewer and fewer people may be willing to wait for such returns, and especially if they are not guaranteed.

Finally, studying for a master’s degree also provides the opportunity to experience studying at a completely different university from that which you completed your undergraduate degree at (although you can study at the same university, of course, if you wish), which can also be an enriching experience, and especially if you can enrol at a more prestigious university than your previous one, based upon excelling during your undergraduate work. Therefore, if you have done well in your undergraduate degree, then it might be well worth taking advantage of this, and stepping up a level, in order to get a more prestigious university on your CV, by completing a master’s degree.

Some Common Disadvantages of Studying For a Master’s Degree

To balance the advantages of studying for a master’s degree, there are also a number of notable disadvantages as well, unfortunately. The most obvious of these disadvantages is that studying for a master’s degree can be very expensive, to add to the debts already likely accrued during your undergraduate degree. For example, in the UK, the current average cost per year in tuition fees for a master’s degree is £6,848, but to add to this, one also has to factor in the living costs (such as housing, utilities bills, groceries, etc.), with this estimated at being £12,200 per year. As such, this brings the total average cost, per year, for a master’s degree, to around £19,000 per year for full-time students. This is therefore a significant investment, and particularly as a typical master’s degree will last between 1.5 to 2 years in length (typically one year for taught courses, plus the time it takes to write the dissertation). So, the total cost of a master’s degree in the UK is likely to be somewhere in the region of £25,000-£35,000, including all costs – and so it is important that you can be confident that this investment will reap some significant returns later on, to make it worth your while. Moreover, these expense factors also help to explain why many people choose to do their master’s degree on a part-time basis, so that they can simultaneously get some work experience, and help to fund their continued studies in the meantime. Thus, a number of sacrifices will inevitably need to be made in order to pursue a master’s degree, which will involve giving up a significant amount of time and money, which could impact on both your professional life and your personal life in numerous ways. As such, it is important to choose your master’s course carefully, as job prospects might not necessarily be improved, depending upon the chosen field of study.

Furthermore, it should also be noted that studying for a master’s degree can very much be a solitary experience compared to an undergraduate course, with much more autonomous study being involved, and much less social interaction due to the nature of the course and fewer numbers of students. Thus, this will not be comparable to the early days of your undergraduate course, while you were a ‘fresher’, in which you could go out and have fun and not stress too much about your first year grades. Conversely, a master’s degree will undoubtedly have you working hard right from the get-go, with there being no time to settle in.

In addition, another negative is that accommodation can be much harder to come by for master’s degree students, as the majority of dedicated university accommodation is reserved specifically for undergraduate students, which typically means that private rented accommodation has to be sought – which can be much more difficult to find (at least, if your standards are high!) However, perhaps the most important disadvantage of undertaking a master’s degree is that it will take time, and this may be the most important of commodities when it comes to your career, and your life in general. Therefore, it is a decision that you must weigh very carefully, as it is not for everyone.

The Pros and Cons of a Master’s Degree Specifically For Existing University Students

For existing university students, who are soon to complete undergraduate work, there can be a number of pros and cons of enrolling on a master’s course, which do not apply so much to other kinds of students. For example, the transition from an undergraduate course to a master’s course can be relatively smooth, and especially if one chooses to remain at the same educational institution. Moreover, as one is already well attuned to university and academic life, it can be easier simply to continue your education in this way, without any academic breaks – while the issue of accommodation might also take care of itself if you already have a place to stay in and you can extend your lease on the property. Furthermore, you might also have developed some good working relationships with teachers at your present institution, which could aid in developing your work to a higher standard than might otherwise be possible. However, on the negative side, it might be unwise not to have such a break from academia, as by this time, one has most likely studied for many years, and you might need a well-earned break, just to reset, and come into your master’s degree fresh, enthusiastic, and raring to go. Therefore, before deciding whether to continue straight on to a master’s degree from your undergraduate degree, you must assess any evidence of academic burnout, to ensure that your time and money will not be wasted.

The Pros and Cons of a Master’s Degree Specifically For Mature Students Who Are Currently in Work

For those mature students who are currently in work, a master’s degree can provide a theoretical basis for the practical experience that they are gaining in the workplace. These studies can often be done on a part-time basis, so that such mature students do not experience burnout, and take on too much, and can continue with their employment. Thus, this can provide an additional qualification for those who have become stuck in their current role, who are unable to move up in their company’s hierarchy, and help to get their career back on track. Moreover, doing a master’s degree can also demonstrate a certain ambition to one’s bosses, and show that you are not content to simply sit back and remain in a familiar and easy role. Furthermore, a master’s degree can also serve to spark new ideas, by taking yourself out of your comfort zone, and doing something different. On the downside though, such mature students will be taking on a much higher volume of work if they remain in employment, and this will leave little time for anything else, so a good deal of dedication is required – and this extra work could impact upon relationships, or even health, so it is again important to assess all of these variables before making the decision to enrol on a master’s course. Moreover, for those mature students who have been out of the education system for some time, there might be certain technological challenges to contend with (such as using various software packages that they might not be familiar with), and so this could also impact upon their academic performances; so this is also something to consider when making such a decision for mature students.  

The Pros and Cons of a Master’s Degree Specifically For Returning Students Who Have Recently Had a Break

For those students who have recently had a break from academia, either for one, two, or even for many more years, doing a master’s degree can provide a new lease of life, and can help to provide some well needed intellectual stimulation. Moreover, having had such a break, it might be possible to conduct your studies in a much more energised and fervent way, having been well rested during this period. Thus, this could have a positive impact on your grades as a result of this renewed enthusiasm. Who knows, you might even find that you have missed academic work, having had this break. However, having had such a break, one might also be a little ring rusty, so to speak, and you may need time to get back into the swing of things, and this could negatively impact upon your initial grades and work. Unfortunately, unlike a fresher on an undergraduate course, your initial work does count towards your final grade, and so it is important that this early work is just as good as the work completed later on in the course. Therefore, perhaps it might be best for returning students to take some kind of evening class first before embarking on a master’s degree, just to get into the swing of things and return to academic life. At the very least, this is certainly something to consider, as diving right in to a master’s degree course after having had a significant break like this might not be the wisest option to take.

Final Thoughts…

To close with then, there are a number of advantages and disadvantages of studying for a master’s degree, with the pros and cons tending to vary depending upon your particular circumstances. These upsides and downsides must therefore be carefully weighed when deciding whether to take on a master’s course, with there being a number of factors to consider. In the end though, it all comes down to whether the trading of your time and money is offset by the future gains of having a master’s degree. This then, very much depends upon what your aims are, what your goals are, and ultimately, what you aspire to be; along with what your current position is. If you feel that your career has become stuck in a rut, and that you have nothing to lose in trying to get a master’s degree (as you can simply go back to your old role if you fail), then applying for such a degree may be a good option. However, if you are already in debt, and your choice of course does not guarantee a job at the end of it, then it may be wise to give this some careful thought in order to avoid falling into the trap of doing a master’s degree just because you aren’t sure what else to do.

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