Postgraduate study is not an easy option, and the decision to spend another year or more at university will require considerable thought. Our experts share some advice on how to make that decision.

Why do postgraduate study?

The first thing to ask yourself is why you want to enter the world of postgraduate study. Good reasons to pursue a course include a thirst for knowledge, gaining a qualification to enable you to change or pursue a different career path psychology, for example and the need to improve your skills in a particular field.

You should not pursue a course simply because you dont know what to do, however, or because you are encouraged by staff or by the desire to stay with friends. There are many constraints placed on postgraduate students, including financial, so you will need to give it some careful consideration.

When it comes to making your decision, start as early as you can and make use of Open Days and postgraduate fairs where you can gather off the prospectus information. You will be able to meet staff and maybe even some current students who will be able to tell you what to expect. It will also give you a chance to check out the facilities.
Josie Grindulis, Career Consultant, Cardiff University

Sources of information

There are many factors you should consider when choosing a postgraduate course. You will need to think about tuition fees, course structure and content, teaching quality, the institutions reputation and what the career prospects are for someone completing such a course.

The internet is a good place to start when researching a particular course or institution, as most universities offer an online prospectus. There are also a number of independent websites that produce UK course listings. You can check an institutions reputation on www.hero.ac.uk, which gives information on the course and the institutions research rating.

It is also worth speaking to your current tutors and lecturers to see if they recommend a particular course or institution. In terms of how well previous students have got on, you should contact your prospective course organiser and find out what the employment rate of your chosen course is.

Joanne Cooper, Admissions Officer, London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine

The right environment

As well the obvious issue of the research and teaching reputation of the university, department, and course youre applying to, its also important to think about what kind of institution you want to be a part of for the next stretch of your student career.

Find out if the university youre considering is small or large, whether it is on a campus or spread around the city, and what the facilities and support services are like. These things affect postgraduates as much as undergraduates, but are often overlooked by them: use your undergraduate experience to judge whether you want more of the same kind of place or a change; if there were important things missing in your undergraduate experience, they why no try to fulfil them during your postgraduate years?
John McWilliams, Graduate Liaison Officer, University of Bath

Studying overseas

Students who are looking to study overseas are generally not just motivated by academic or career factors but also the experience factor. The destination appeal of the institutions location is a primary consideration but the lifestyle also needs to be carefully considered from each individuals point of view. This relates to costs, city/institution size, clubs that operate through student guilds, support services particularly for students with specific needs or even part-time work opportunities if one has the intention.

Take the time to research the reputation of the institution including the achievements of both academic staff and students. A number of resources are available to prospective students to do so, including local representatives, overseas alumni chapters, and institution websites, which include media release sections.
Chris Hogg, Marketing Development Manager, Curtin University of Technology, Perth

Keep your social life

Postgraduate study means a lot more work than your undergraduate days, and the chances are, the price of a pint in the students union will not be the deciding factor in where you go to study. But that doesnt mean that you wont want to have some sort of social life when you finally resurface from the library!

Check out the social side of an institution, especially if you are going to a different university from where you studied your first degree or are returning to education after a break, as you wont have the same network of friends to fall back on. It is important that you study at a university that provides a way for postgraduates to integrate fully into university life.

Consider universities with a range of societies and sports activities for you to get involved in as a postgraduate - not only because these are a great way to make friends, but also because such activities provide valuable CV material.
Victoria Bartholomew, Graduate Recruitment and Publications Officer, University of Essex