Choosing the right Postgraduate Course for you
Undertaking a postgraduate programme is a big investment in terms of time and money, so it's worth exploring all options before making a decision. Also, the range of post graduate options here and abroad is vast, so it takes time to consider all the options and possibilities.
The following factors come into play when selecting the option that's right for you:
- Interest - Your level of interest in the area: while cost may be a big factor, the most important thing is whether or not the programme is of interest to you. This may seem obvious but it is crucial.
- Mode(s) of study offered: if you already have a full and busy life even before you take on postgraduate study, then the mode of study you choose can make all the difference. Many educational providers offer options other than full-time study including part-time, distance or open/virtual learning environments with flexible approaches - Check this out first.
- Opportunities for Graduates: most providers will be able to provide you with a copy of their "first destination survey". This will tell you where previous graduates have gone and what they are doing.
- Supports for students and graduates: Does the provider have a career service and other supports (such as counselling, disability support, pastoral care, library, on-line access) that you can avail of during your studies?
- Cost: How will you fund your postgraduate study? Many postgraduate programmes come with a high price tag, so it is important to explore your funding options before you apply.
Eligibility Criteria - Note any academic and/or other criteria specified, for example:
- Minimum 2:1 award
- Good honours degree
- Appropriate primary degree
- Professional experience
- Evidence of interest
- Personal Statement / Letter of recommendation (especially UK)
- It is always advisable to investigate individual university /college websites for details of any research scholarships that may be available as well as for detailed descriptions of the postgraduate course, application procedures and closing dates for application.
Taught or Research Postgrad Programme?
Post graduate qualifications can be achieved through both taught and research programmes. Before you decide what you want to study, it's worth considering how you want to study for it - whether a Taught or a Research-based postgrad is the best fit for you. The decision regarding which to undertake really depends on the way you like to study.
Taught postgrad courses can be a continuation of your undergraduate studies or the study of an entirely new area. The duration of a course usually determines its qualification:
- A Higher Certificate is generally a 30-credit programme over six modules
- A Postgraduate diploma is generally 60 credits
- A Master's degree requires 90 credits and results in a Master of Science (MSc) or Master of Arts (MA) qualification
Delivery - Similar to an undergraduate bachelor's degree programme, they are delivered and assessed through a series of taught modules and may include independent research in the specialised subject area.
Assessment - a taught master's may include continuous assessment and examinations. Taught masters often include a research component, possibly during the summer and in some cases in an industry setting.The final assessment for a master's degree is usually based on the submission of a dissertation, typically between 10,000–20,000 words.
Entry requirements and application deadlines - these vary from college to college. It is recommended that you aim for a 2.1 degree (although a 2.2 may be acceptable) and research your postgraduate study opportunities early in your final year to ensure you do not miss any important deadlines.
If you prefer the idea of intensive research and a more independent approach to working towards your master's degree without the constraints of attending timetabled lectures, then you may prefer to study for a research degree, usually resulting in a Master of Philosophy (M.Phil). If you opt for a research-based course, explore the available courses in your research area and the quality of the support and supervision offered. It can also be useful to contact potential employers in your research area for views on the programme’s strengths.
Duration - Research masters, (including the M.Litt) generally take 15 months to four years, depending on whether it’s full-time or part-time. The research M.Phil takes 18–36 months full-time and 36–48 months part-time.
Assessment - Research degrees are generally assessed entirely on the basis of a piece of individual research and an oral examination called a 'viva'. Qualification is achieved through the critical investigation and evaluation of an approved topic. You will also need to demonstrate an understanding of research methodologies appropriate to the chosen field. The starting point for an MPhil is a research proposal. You then work under supervision (usually by a senior academic) and carry out extensive research, using detailed research methods. You will analyse your results and publish your findings.
Entry requirements and application deadlines - Those planning to undertake a research degree should aim for a 2.1 grade in their undergraduate degree (a 2.2 may be acceptable, depending on the college). Closing dates vary from early in the academic year, right through to the summer months, depending on funding. Advice is to check the various institution websites for research masters on offer and, if you have a research proposal, make contact with a suitable department in the college where you would like to carry out your research.
Over 9,600 students engaged in full-time and part-time postgraduate research in 2014/15 across a wide range of disciplines:
Source: HEA, Key Facts and Figures 2017/18 Fulltime and Part-time Master's by Research
If you are interested in a masters by research, reflect on what aspects of your undergraduate studies you enjoyed most and which areas you would like to study in greater depth. The main question is would like to be involved in extensive research, working on your own initiative under supervision for at least 18 months.
Progression to a Doctorate
A particular incentive for completing an M.Phil is the possibility of furthering your research studies and completing a Doctorate of Philosophy (PhD).
While taught masters largely follow a structured timetable and a series of lectures, tutorials and seminars with your peers, research students will be self-motivated to assert themselves to carry out their investigations, analyse their results and meet regularly with their supervisor.
Some masters programmes will facilitate an immediate transfer on to a PhD., which takes a minimum of three years. The topic is generally determined by your area of interest and those of your supervisor. Some PhDs are designed for the lone scholar under the direction of a single expert supervisor. There are also structured PhDs where groups of students come together for transferable skills.
It is advisable to talk to the programme director to get help with deciding which structure best suits you and your work-style.
The links below will take you to the Postgraduate Studies area of the individual college websites:
Contacting the graduate studies office in each university and college is useful in identifying the best match for you.
Other Useful Links
The principle source of information on postgraduate courses is Qualifax from this link. Other sources of information include:
- Irish Universities Association - Graduate Education area (4thlevelIreland.ie)
- Euraxess - Researchcareersireland.com
- Masterportal.eu (Europe)
- Prospects.ac.uk (UK)
- Postgrad.hobsons.com/ (UK)
- Studylink.com (International)
- Ploteus (EU)
- Internationalgraduate.net/ (International)
Also, visit Graduate Careers Fairs, especially those specifically aimed at postgraduate study.
Applying for Postgraduate Courses
In most cases application is made directly to the University or Institute. While there is no central system in place for applying for all post-graduate programmes in the Republic of Ireland, the Postgraduate Applications Centre (PAC) hosts application pages for a limited number of higher education institutions including DCU, NUI Galway, NUI Maynooth, UCC, CIT, GMIT, WIT, and the 3U partnership (Greater Dublin Universities of DCU/NUI Maynooth and RCSI).
For certain programmes such as teaching, including The Postgraduate Diploma in Education (PDE), which is the required qualification for all teaching posts in secondary, community and comprehensive schools, application is through the PAC. In some cases, you will need to apply directly to the institution. Applicants to Trinity's Postgraduate diploma in education apply directly to TCD.