Do's and Don'ts When Choosing a Postgraduate Degree

Sabrina Collier

Updated December 4, 2020 Updated December 04

If you’re looking to study a postgraduate degree, deciding on a program isn’t always easy. There are numerous factors to consider, from the university and its location, to the costs and funding involved, to what career your postgraduate degree could lead to, and that’s barely scraping the surface. To help make your decision a little easier, here are some suggestions of do’s and don’ts to consider while you’re choosing a degree.


Think about what you want, and why

What do you want to get out of your postgraduate degree? You should consider your options with your career goals in mind: are you looking to change careers, or do you need the degree for your preferred career? Will your proposed degree provide you with a big boost to your career prospects and salary potential? Is it worth the cost?

Another aspect is deciding which type of postgraduate degree you want (research or taught) – taught degrees follow a similar format to undergraduate degrees (you’ll take a mix of core and optional modules per term, taught through lectures, seminars or laboratory sessions), while research masters are far more independent, with few set teaching hours. Once you’ve got a clearer idea of your goals, you’ll be able to more accurately research the universities and courses that match them.

Make sure you’re doing a postgraduate degree for the right reasons

For example, while many students simply enjoy university life, using grad school as a way to avoid joining the working world isn’t the best idea. If you’re unsure about your career path, you might prefer to take a gap year to take time out to research your options, or spend some time working in a role in your preferred sector. Check out the worst reasons to do a master’s degree here.

Attend university event days

University events like the QS World Grad School Tour are extremely useful in helping you choose a postgraduate degree: you can meet official representatives from the universities you’re interested in to get personalized answers to your questions, allowing you to find out more about the course, including information on the entry requirements and how you can increase your chances of being accepted. You should also try to attend your prospective university’s own open days, which will give you a feel of what being on campus is like, including what facilities the university offers.

Talk to past students

This will give you an honest view of how students have found the course, what they’re doing now, and how they funded it. Or, if you’re unable to find a past student to speak to, try and research the career outcomes of past students to give you an idea of how their careers have progressed since graduating.  


Rush into any decisions

Depending on where you study, postgraduate degrees can be expensive as well as time-consuming. So, take a step back, and as mentioned earlier, evaluate what your wants and needs are from your postgraduate degree. Whatever you do, don’t pick a course or a university without thoroughly researching it first.

Just rely on university rankings

Although university rankings such as the QS World University Rankings® can be really helpful for getting an idea of the most prestigious universities both overall and for your subject, it’s best to not place too much importance on rankings when choosing a degree. Ideally, you want to be as sure as possible that the course, student ethos, location and lifestyle are all a great match for you.

Forget to think about funding

Another factor in the process of choosing a degree is how you’re going to afford it. Grad school can set you back a lot of money, so you need to be absolutely sure your course is right for you before you make the investment. While choosing a degree, you should try to consider how you’re going to fund your prospective course. A good place to start is your prospective university’s official website, as it may offer its own scholarships, grants, fellowships, bursaries, awards, or assistantships. It’s also worth checking home-and-host-country government websites, charities, trusts and other external scholarship sources, student loans and employer sponsorships – read more here. You should also research the typical living costs in your host country, so you can get an idea of how much you should budget (there may also be a minimum amount you need to meet the country’s student visa requirements).

Underestimate the effort required for your postgraduate degree

You’ve probably heard about how challenging master’s and PhDs are compared to undergraduate programs, but many students are surprised by just how intense their course is, requiring them to motivate themselves and work more independently than before (with fewer contact hours with tutors). This means you’ll probably spend less time going out socializing than you did as an undergraduate. So, when you’re choosing a postgraduate degree, be sure it’s one you can commit to without losing interest, even when the work gets really tough.

Find your nearest QS World Grad School Tour event here, and download the latest QS Top Grad School Guide here

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This article was originally published in October 2017 . It was last updated in January 2020

Written by

The former Assistant Editor of, Sabrina wrote and edited articles to guide students from around the world on a wide range of topics. She has a bachelor's degree in English Literature and Creative Writing from Aberystwyth University and grew up in Staffordshire, UK. 

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