How to choose a master’s that will put cash in your pocket

here are many benefits of studying a postgrad degree: the opportunity to study something you love, to specialise in an area of interest or to gain personal and professional skills. However, a master’s is expensive, meaning you may have to consider its value in purely financial terms too. So let’s take a look at whether a postgrad degree will benefit you financially in the long run.

Better prospects

The good news is that the job prospects for postgrads are getting better. The latest research, from higher education careers service Prospects, shows that unemployment rates for master’s students six months after completing their course has fallen nearly two percentage points, from 9.4 to 7.5.

Figures from the Higher Education Statistics Agency (Hesa) confirm the upturn: in 2014 there were 7,550 more postgrads in professional jobs after graduating than in 2011.

Employers’ view

Doing a master’s may take time but is a great investment for your career. Taking an online np , for example, will give you an edge among other jobseekers as it will equip you with an advanced skill sets you need in the industry.

That’s because some employers may not want to pay more money to a master’s graduate if they can appoint someone with a first degree who brings essentially the same skillset. That’s the view of Charlie Ball, head of higher education intelligence for the jobs site Prospects.

A lot of business and services employers don’t care much whether you have a degree in fine arts or in physics, says Ball. They are after the skills you’ve built up in your time as an undergraduate, not your specific set of knowledge. Similarly, having a master’s in something like history “doesn’t generally open up a different area of the jobs market”, he says.

Some graduates have the misconception that a postgraduate qualification will directly boost their earning potential, says Stephen Isherwood, chief executive of the Association of Graduate Recruiters. “The reality is that many employers often don’t treat postgrads any differently from those with a first degree unless they have a specific need for specialist knowledge.”

It is true that figures from the Hesa destination of leavers survey 2013-14 show postgraduates earn over £8,000 more than graduates. But this figure is so high because it includes those who’ve taken vocational postgrads, such as teachers; PhDs moving into academic roles; and MBAs – who are paid well when they move back into the commercial sector after gaining their qualification.

Clever choices

So choosing a course that will get you specialist knowledge or skills is important if you want to become a postgraduate jobseeker that employers will fight for.

Alison Armstrong, a careers advisor at Bournemouth University, says many students she talks to choose to do a master’s to improve their career prospects. “Often students are focused, have chosen a specific area to study, and have already researched the content and the destination statistics of that particular course,” she says. “They have a clear idea about why they’re studying and where the postgrad will get them.”

A nurse who takes the time to specialise will leap a few salary rungs, and will gain access to promotions and opportunities that would otherwise be unavailable. A maths or science graduate who chooses a master’s that fosters quantitative skills, or helps them learn how to manipulate big data, is likely to find employers are keen to recruit and prepared to pay more for abilities that are currently in high demand.

There is a particular shortage at the moment of social workers, teachers (in certain subjects) and quantity surveyors. So an extra qualification in those areas puts postgraduates in a strong position to find a job in a location they want, as well as some negotiating room when it comes to salary.

But what about if you’re not sure of the next step after university, have enjoyed your first degree, and are thinking of continuing with your subject at postgraduate level?

Think hard before taking the leap, experts advise. “If you want to do a master’s to deepen and explore your fascination for the subject, then that is fantastic. But it’s best not to do it because you don’t know what else to do,” says Armstrong. “Postgraduate study can be extremely rewarding, but it’s also tough, so it’s important to know exactly what you are letting yourself in for.”

Getting ahead

Studying a postgrad degree abroad may be a smart financial move. “My friends and I are applying to European universities, where a postgrad costs around €1,500 (instead of around £6,000-£9,000),” says Saul O’Keeffe, who is currently working in communications. Several of O’Keeffe’s friends have already left the country to embark on further study. Others intend to follow. “Most of them are enjoying it so much they don’t want to come back,” he says.

Research from the UK commission for employment and skills suggests that by 2022, 14% of all UK jobs will require a postgraduate qualification, (pdf p.111 table 5.8), so even if you don’t do a postgraduate course right away, you may want to embark on one mid-career. This can have major advantages, in that employers may be willing to pay the fees, and even give you time off to help with workload.

Having a master’s “can give students an edge”, says Armstrong, but this always needs to be coupled with work experience and a range of extracurricular activities. If you’re going to do a postgraduate course, she says, make the most of every opportunity you can find or create for yourself.