Postgrad study can unlock new opportunities – but how do you know if it’s right for you?
The thought of returning to study when you’re already mid-way into your career is exciting, if a little daunting. You probably have a lot of questions: How much has university life changed since your undergrad? Is everyone else going to be in their early 20s?
There are definitely some big advantages to postgrad study — it can boost your earning power, expand your critical thinking, or even put you on the path to a totally new career.
But how do you know if it’s the right fit for you? Keep these five things in mind when you’re weighing up whether to head back to the classroom.
You’ll study alongside other experienced students
Students come to postgrad at different life stages. You’ll meet people from various professional backgrounds – often those who have already made some headway into their careers. For instance, at the University of Southern Queensland (USQ), 75% of all students are over 25 years of age.
If you’re doing postgrad to switch career paths and are feeling nervous about entering a new field, you’ll likely be studying alongside many people who are doing the same.
Dr Nathan Beel, Senior Lecturer in counselling at USQ, said students in his postgrad counselling courses come from a wide range of fields.
“Many come with undergraduate degrees in human services and psychology, but we also have students from accounting, law, and many other unrelated degrees, who are ready to change directions,” he said.
In a time when many of us are reassessing our personal and professional values, postgrad study is helping people make changes.
“We initially saw an increase in counselling students when the pandemic hit,” said Dr Beel. “It seemed many students reflected on their existing situations and occupations and saw the pandemic as an opportunity to pursue a dream that they had not had the opportunity previously to pursue.”
Flexible and online study are the new norm
Rather than being a fallback option, online study is truly the new normal, and it allows unprecedented flexibility for students.
Sam Wright completed his Master of Business Administration (MBA) online at USQ – graduating as a 2021 valedictorian.
Online study helped him juggle his roles as partner at Ambrosiussen The Business Accountants and Vice President of the Toowoomba Chamber of Commerce, alongside a busy family life as a husband and father of three.
“Thankfully, online delivery was very flexible,” Mr Wright said.
“The lectures and independent study work are able to be done at whatever the best time is for you – you can listen to lectures late at night, early in the morning, in a lunch hour, on the weekend.”
Today, over 75% of USQ's students study online – and that number jumps to over 80% for postgrad students.
You can gain vital professional opportunities
Mr Wright said the MBA expanded his thinking in a way that could have taken years in his professional life. He built on his core accounting knowledge to include areas like marketing, organisational behaviour, AI and information systems, and economics.
“It was really interesting to learn about those areas that you wouldn't ordinarily come across in a defined way, just on the job,” he said.
Having a deeper understanding of the big picture helps him when advising his clients, mostly small and family businesses.
Dr Beel added that postgrad counselling students at USQ are supported to pursue professional opportunities in the industry. For example, Master of Counselling students complete a real-world placement, and those in shorter postgrad courses are also given insight into what to expect in the industry.
“At USQ, we discuss ideas for enhancing employability so that students can strategically prepare themselves to gain maximum success in applying for counselling related jobs,” he said.
Work-life balance is possible – just don’t overload yourself
Postgrad study can be a big commitment and, after starting a new course, it may be tempting to throw yourself into your uni work.
Dr Beel suggested staying realistic about how much energy you have to give.
“For example, most of our students are studying counselling because they really want to help people. They are highly motivated and want to learn,” he said.
“My recommendation is not to overload yourself with courses and life responsibilities but be prepared to make your learning journey about quality. As counsellors, we wouldn't overload our clients and, as students, be careful not to overload yourselves.”
In a comprehensive degree like an MBA that’s designed to challenge you, dedicating some nights and weekend time to study may be unavoidable, but there are strategies to help you stay on track.
Mr Wright recommended carefully planning your semester to include some downtime.
“Have a plan for when and how much you're going to study and when you're actually going to have some breaks – some leisure time and catching up with friends and family – and hold those sacred,” he said.
There are options beyond the two-year degree
You may have always had a particular degree, like an MBA, on your bucket list. But, if you’re not ready to embark on a one or two-year postgrad course, there’s a huge range of other study options that could suit you.
Short courses, single subjects, and microcredentials can help you quickly gain a very targeted skill – and offer a taste of what it’s like to be back in the classroom again. Or, with most USQ postgrad degrees, you can start with a shorter Graduate Certificate or Graduate Diploma and transition into the Masters degree if you want to continue to study.
Whether you’re into nursing or blockchain, there’s truly something out there for everyone.
Want to learn more about postgrad study options at USQ? Visit usq.edu.au/postgrad to find a course that could help get you to where you want to be.