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When should you reconsider a master’s degree?

PostgradAustralia

We’re big fans of postgrad, but that doesn’t always make it the right decision. Here are some circumstances where it’s worth re-evaluating your options.

No matter the strength of graduate outcomes for master’s graduates, it’s not always a good idea to make that next step into higher study. Although we’ve written before on the opposite, such as our article on knowing when master’s degrees might be a worthwhile next step, we feel balance is important. Just like with that article and the others we’ve written however, it’s up to your best judgement in determining which considerations are most applicable to you and weighing them accordingly. Here are just some of the more pressing signs that master’s degrees may not be your best choice.

You’re working full time and have a family

These days, it’s quite possible to do a master’s online and part-time. This makes them more accessible than ever before, with plenty of useful resources like dedicated tutours and learning management system, video chat group discussions, class wikis and more. With that said, they still require a lot of effort. There’s no denying there are myriad career advantages to taking one up, particularly when you’ve intelligently considered your options in regard to your current position. What’s equally if not more important is time with your family. Juggling full-time work, familial commitments and part-time postgraduate study is most certainly not for everyone, requiring energy at the end of your busy days, cramming in study during commutes if possible and catching up on assignments over the weekend. Regular evening classes are not unheard of either. All this amounts to a huge requirement of patience and serious drive.

If you think you’ve got the ambition to put in this level of continuous effort, fantastic. More power to you. However, this isn’t trivial. If you can’t see yourself giving up a year or more of weekends and evenings, or simply don’t have the time between all your other commitments, it’s definitely worth reconsidering, or at least electing a less demanding program to start with. Something like a graduate certificate or diploma will give you the chance to experience what a full degree would be like while also counting credit toward that degree should you choose to take it up later. If not, that’s fine too. A graduate certificate or diploma is a valid qualification in its own right. 

You’re unsure it’s the best option

Master’s degrees come in all shapes and sizes. Even within coursework degrees, each can serve different purposes. We talked about this in the last article; something like an LLM is fairly distinct from a JD for instance, despite both being AQF level 9. The former is designed for existing lawyers wishing to specialise, whereas the JD is for those outside the legal field wanting to become lawyers. There’s also the choice between coursework and research degrees, or going outside a master’s altogether. Maybe you’ve done honours and want to do more research, so a PhD is better suited? Perhaps you’re the person in the previous section wanting to “trial run” a master’s before committing feet-first. If you’re unsure a master’s is the best option, trust your instincts. That uncertainty is happening for a reason, but don’t let it completely rule you either. All you can do is make a decision based on the information you can gather and your current goals. With that said, there are several questions you can ask to understand the nature of your uncertainty and better resolve whether or not a master’s degree in some form really is the right choice. Some questions to ask yourself include:

  • What is my goal?

    • Am I trying to progress in an existing career?

    • Am I trying to pivot into a new career?

  • Is there a more time-efficient option?

    • Will a time-efficient option serve my goals to the same extent?

  • Would an alternative allow me to satisfy my goal(s) to a greater extent?

If throughout the course of this reflection it seems a master’s degree isn’t the right idea, then by all means consider something else, be it another line of postgraduate study, work or training. Just make sure you’re aware of as many options as possible! 

You don’t feel prepared for the course content

There are several situations in which the demands of a master’s degree might feel out-of-reach. For instance, if you’re coming from a completely unrelated discipline into just about any kind of STEM degree, there will be almost always be a level of assumed knowledge, be it in physics, biology or branches of mathematics. While these degrees may simply indicate a bachelor’s degree from any discipline is a requirement, this assumed knowledge can still be quite the stumbling block. If you’ve gone out of your way to look up the requirements of your desired master’s degree, seen the course content and no longer feel as confident, this isn’t necessarily an indication you shouldn’t do it, but it is an indication you should re-evaluate. Do you know the kind of mathematics, physics or otherwise this course requires? If not, will it be taught throughout the course? If the answer is no to both, then deferring to the second section of this article may be helpful.

Alternatives such as university-run catch-up courses or onlines free MOOCs can do wonders for bolstering your knowledge, but will be enormously difficult to complete in parallel to a master’s degree that requires those learnings. If this concern sounds like you, then it’s worth reconsidering a master’s degree, but only temporarily. As long as you can find a way to supplement your knowledge and get it to the standard required, you can then consider that master’s degree a little later down the track.

You should now be better equipped to decide whether to reconsider a master’s. Remember: there are plenty of types to choose from. Outside of those, postgraduate courses are plentiful. There are bound to be many that can serve your needs, but ultimately it’s up to you to decide which would better serve your interests, if at all. We of course love postgraduate study and all it can do for graduates, but what we want more than anything are people making good decisions. So no matter where you go, master’s or not, if you’re making an informed decision, that’s the best you can hope for. Good luck!

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