Should you bother with postgraduate study?

Graduate employment has hit a low of around 65 per cent, with more than a third of bachelor degree graduates still seeking full-time work four months after graduation. For many of these students, or those in the workforce looking to upgrade their qualifications, postgraduate study is a popular option. In fact, close to 380,000 domestic students were enrolled in postgraduate degrees in 2014. But what’s the true value of postgraduate study — and is it worth the time and expense? Let’s look at the latest figures from The Good Universities Guide to find out.

In almost all cases, without looking at areas where further study is a requirement for practice, there’s much to be gained from completing a postgraduate degree — including improved employment rates. In humanities and social sciences, where 45 per cent of graduates struggle to find work after a bachelor degree, the unemployment rate drops to 20 per cent and salaries see an increase from $51,585 to $77,202. In engineering, committing to further study sees unemployment drop from 36 per cent to 28 per cent, while salaries climb more than $40,000 to an average of $103,785 — second only to dentistry, which tops the ranks at $108,263 and boasts an unemployment rate of just two per cent following postgraduate study.

Heading back to uni pays off most in psychology, at least in terms of job prospects, where the 53 per cent unemployment rate among bachelor degree graduates falls to just 17 per cent. From a salary perspective, business and management grads enjoy the biggest pay jump — from a modest $50,000 for bachelor degree grads to more than $100,000 with a higher qualification. This is followed by economics, where the $56,000 starting salary soars to the top bracket at $99,576. A word of warning, though: it’s fair to assume that many of these top earners would have gained experience on the ground before taking on postgraduate study.

Looking at these figures, you can understand why so many students stay on at uni to boost their prospects. It’s just not without its hurdles — one of these being cost. Government-subsidised places (CSPs) are rare at postgraduate level, which means that students might pay anywhere from around $10,000 for a short graduate certificate to more than $100,000 at masters level. At the higher range — when tuition fees start to resemble a sizeable home deposit — further study decisions require careful thought. Is there a direct benefit to postgraduate study in that field? If the salary difference is minor or there’s little improvement in employability, could time be better spent climbing the corporate ladder? And when upskilling is the agenda, is a degree the most economical option — in place of a short course, online module or on-the-job training? The non-monetary costs are another hurdle, taking into account the time spent in class, completing assessments and, for many students, away from family.

The final verdict? Completing further study won’t do students any harm, and it certainly comes with its advantages. Grads can expect a stronger salary and, in all but a handful of fields, greater likelihood of finding full-time work. This adds to the opportunity to upskill or broaden a skill set, explore research or change careers. But with the positives laid out on the table, return on investment is still a vital consideration.

 

The Good Universities Guide rates Australian undergraduate and postgraduate courses and their providers, including comparing employment outcomes and graduate starting salaries across 30 fields of study. To find out whether further study is worthwhile for you, visit www.gooduniversitiesguide.com.au.

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