Why do postgraduate studies? Isn’t it enough that you have suffered through all those years of school and received that college degree everyone says is necessary to get to the good life (even though you may not agree but you do it anyway to please your parents)? Isn’t it time to get a job, build your working experience, and start climbing up the corporate ladder to the corner office?

Well, there are three main reasons why people go for postgraduate studies:

1) Better career prospects

It is a sad but true fact that most employers like to see many letters behind your name: MBA, CFA, PhD, CPA….. Especially in highly specialised industries, the greater your expertise as exhibited by your qualifications, the more valuable you are.  While work experience counts, with just an undergraduate degree, you rapidly hit a glass ceiling and you will be watching enviously as postgraduate degree holders crash effortlessly through, past you while you are still plodding along.

2) Increased technical skills and knowledge

There are some fields that are extremely niche and require strong technical knowledge and training beyond the undergraduate levels. Postgraduate qualifications are strongly encouraged even for entry-level jobs, such as in the fields of medicine, law, architecture, academia or academic research, scientific research or psychology.

3) Career switch

Postgraduate studies are a nice “break” where you can attempt to change from your current industry to another one. For example, many engineering students try to switch to finance after doing a MSc Finance or MBA, but be warned that it is not really that easy a switch.

Postgraduate studies are divided into two broad types: degrees by coursework or research, or postgraduate diplomas and certifications. Postgraduate degrees by coursework are also known as taught degrees, similar to your undergraduate degree where there are seminar-based teaching and tutorials, with assignments/reports/presentations and group projects. Postgraduate degrees by research are those where instead of being taught, you do research under guidance by professors. These types of degrees are usually involved with the sciences – they give students the opportunity to be involved in cutting-edge research.

Postgraduate diplomas and certificates are usually not linked to any university, but are taught programmes, usually part-time, conducted at an educational institution or through self-study. They are either vocational courses or linked to professional qualifications, and are usually specific to a profession. The cost of these diplomas/certificates can be quite hefty but because they are not usually affiliated to any university, it is usually tougher to get study grants or bursaries. Popular professional qualifications are:

Accounting/Insurance/Finance

Engineering

Property

Social Work

Teaching

While postgraduate studies are useful, as with everything in life, there are factors to consider: money and time. An MBA these days can easily set you back S$50K to S$60K for an NUS/NTU/SMU course, whereas super-brand-name MBA courses run into the S$100Ks, such as those at INSEAD, Stanford, Harvard, Columbia etc.  Time is also a major factor – the time commitment is often a big put-off, as this is also the time of your life when you are dating or getting married or planning to have kids. Do you do it full-time (give up your job), part-time (give up your sleep/wedding/kids), or forget it?

And if you decide to do it, you come to another set of decisions to make: when do you do it? Do you do it straight after your undergraduate degree or do you do it after working for a couple of years? It depends on the type of postgraduate study. For MBAs and other business-related postgraduate degrees, it is probably more useful after a few years of working experience, as many of the topics discussed during coursework relates to what happens at the workplace. Having experienced it first-hand would provide a greater appreciation of the problems and also more insight to possible solutions and improvements. For other postgraduate degrees, as mentioned earlier, they may be needed for even entry-level positions, so doing it straight after your first degree would be better, or even necessary.

So do you really need it? In this ultra-competitive day and age, I would say yes. Maybe not immediately, but eventually. It’s all about upgrading and upsizing – you need to upgrade, so your paycheck can upsize.