The Leap from Undergraduate to Postgraduate Study
Just before the start of this academic year, I overheard two people having a conversation on a train. Person A was a student going into his second year of an Undergraduate English Degree. Person B was a student just about to begin her first year of the same course, at a different university.
Person A began telling Person B what she should expect, and gave her advice about starting uni. Both of them had been reading novels before engaging in conversation, and I couldn’t help but feel nostalgic about when I was an undergraduate.
I decided in my third year that I wanted to continue studying and do a postgraduate course. And there are a few things I’ve learnt about postgraduate study after just over a month…
It’s still okay if you don’t know what career you want
Depending on what course you choose (I’m doing Magazine Journalism) you’ll either know exactly what you want from the course, or you’ll be trying something new.
All I know is that I’d like to write for a magazine one day, and that’s all it takes. I don’t know which magazine; I don’t have a master plan of how I’m going to get my dream job but I do know that my course will help me make that decision.
When you’re an undergraduate, you get lots of career talks and are encouraged to do work experience alongside studying. Some courses even offer a work placement module, but this is optional. When it comes to postgraduate study, you’ll find that a lot of courses have work placements as part of the course. This means if you don’t do a month’s worth of work experience, you won’t graduate.
Again, the nature of your course will determine what kind of work placement you do, and it is there to help you decide what career you’d like. So if you’re an undergraduate and you don’t know what to do next, don’t panic. You’ve still got time to think, and study some more.
Your fellow students are from all walks of life
Most undergraduates are fresh out of college, but postgraduates can be people who have been in a job for years and decided they want something different. They want a career change. Or, in my case, they might already be a qualified journalist, but they want to hone their skills and specialise in a certain area of journalism.
People might have full-time jobs and be studying part-time. People might have a family and kids. But plenty of them will be young and embarking on a new journey just like you. The advantage to working with and alongside a variety of different people is that they bring to the course a wealth of different experiences, views and knowledge.
Your course is your priority
Even before I started uni again I was a busy person. Over summer I got a job, and I’m currently still in that job as well as volunteering for Oxfam one afternoon a week. This means that I only have one day off each week, and I’ve noticed this puts a strain on how well I am engaging with my studies.
Before I applied to do an MA, a student on the course advised me not to have a job whilst studying, because of the levels of commitment required. This is true, and in a few weeks’ time, I will have left my job. Yes, this will affect me financially, but this course is ultimately an investment that will lead to a great job in future (fingers crossed!)
I miss being an undergraduate
Now I am on a postgraduate course, undergraduate study seems a world away in comparison. That might just be because going from a course in English with Creative Writing to Magazine Journalism means going from one world to another, but it is also because of the workload.
I thought third year was hard, but this course is third year and then some. Assignments in undergraduate study were manageable, and I had time to breath and space to think. But now? I have more assignments than I know what to do with, and the nature of my course means it is not as simple as writing a poem or drafting an essay.
If you choose a vocational postgraduate course your assignments, assessed or otherwise, are not just ticking boxes, they are essentially work. You will get an experience that is as close to a working environment as possible. Take it from me, the other week I had an issue with someone I had to interview, my meeting was cancelled, technology failed, and I was unable to contact them until ten minutes before my deadline…
…I got the article in, but that just showed me how intense journalism can be, and how intense postgraduate study is compared to when I was an undergraduate.
So if you’re an undergraduate, yes it’s hard work too, but enjoy every moment, and don’t worry too much about what you want to do next. Enjoy it, put your everything into it, because if you do decide to make the leap to postgraduate study, you’ll be well equipped to deal with everything that gets thrown at you.