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Is postgrad study a waste of your time and money?

There’s a certain stigma surrounding postgraduate study. The conversation usually goes something like, ‘Oh wow, you’re studying an <insert impressive postgrad qualification here>? You must be really, super, MENSA-level smart!’

But how much does a postgraduate qualification really help your job prospects? Will it leave prospective employers as dazzled as your friends? And, perhaps most importantly, will you really earn more dollars than your meagre, bachelor degree-wielding subordinates?

With the average master’s costing anywhere between $20,000 and $37,000, it’s a decision not to be made lightly. Nobody wants to spend the rest of their working life paying off government loans.

To help spare you (and your bank account) any unnecessary anguish, we take a look at what the postgrad fuss is all about, including the industries where it literally pays to pursue further study.

Who's doing it?

Postgraduate student statistics

Graduates who undertake further full-time study within a year of completing their bachelor degree (%)

Will a postgrad degree lead to glory and riches?

Possibly. But if you think that bunkering down for a few extra years will culminate in recruiters throwing themselves at your feet, then you’re in for a rude shock. In fact, your job hunt is more likely to go a little something like this:

It’s brutal out there, young Padawan. The sad reality is that although there are many industries where undertaking postgraduate study can make a genuine difference to your job prospects and skills bank, there are even more where you could probably afford to reconsider your options. Is another degree really the answer?

Yes, postgraduate salaries are, on average, greater than those enjoyed by undergrads, but by just how much? Economics grads will be chuffed to learn that those with a postgrad qualification can expect to take home an average of $37,483 more than their undergraduate counterparts, whereas those in the field of social work have less to be happy about, with an average of $13,174 extra in the bank.

At the risk of sounding like a broken record, research really is your best friend on this one. Get on Google and find out what the community in your field of study recommends, speak to tutors and academics from your faculty, ask friends, family, neighbours… there’s no such thing as too much information.

To save you part of the legwork, we’ve located a handful of industries where a postgrad qualification could equate to greater employability (read: glory) and a sizeable salary boost (read: riches).

Top industries of salary growth for postgraduates
Median salary of graduates in full-time employment in 2012 ($'000)

The outlook isn't so great in these industries, however, so if you're in it purely for a salary bump, then it might be time to reconsider your options.

Lower salary growth areas for postgraduate study

Graduate outcomes in terms of employment status also fluctuate widely from industry to industry, so don’t forget to bear this in mind. Obtaining a PhD in some abstract division of astrophysics probably won’t enhance your job prospects a great deal if it’s too niche for anyone but you to understand.

Are you considering postgrad for the right reasons?

What’s the moral of the story? It’s impossible to adopt a ‘one size fits all’ policy when it comes to postgraduate study. Just as a Master of Accounting is an indispensable link in the chain to becoming a Certified Practising Accountant of Australia, you could probably afford to do away with your aspirations to complete a master’s degree in Beatles, Popular Music and Society (yes, this is a real degree).

Ask yourself the following questions: will this degree help me achieve my career goals (like REALLY help you, not just look impressive on your CV), can I afford the investment, and are there alternatives? If you’ve answered ‘no’ to more than one of these propositions, then there’s a good chance that postgrad isn’t for you.

If you’ve answered ‘yes’, however, then hop to it, and start browsing our range of postgrad qualifications now! 

What's your take? Is a postgrad qualification really worth the bother? Leave a comment and let us know.

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