Are Postgrads Really Worth It?

According to a 2013 report by education charity The Sutton Trust, entering the job market with a postgraduate degree will boost your earnings by “approximately £5,500” a year.

Which, on the surface, looks good. But is all the extra work worth it?


The positives

The statistics would like you to think so. The Sutton Trust’s report goes on to estimate that over a typical 40-year career, you can expect an extra “£200,000 of added lifetime earnings” popped onto your salary because of your postgraduate degree.

It makes sense – you’ve spent an extra year or more honing your speciality and refining your skills in your chosen field. It seems right that for that extra effort you should be earning more than someone with just an undergraduate degree.

Great, right?

Obtaining a graduate position

What the statistics fail to assess is the first hurdle: obtaining a graduate job. The Financial Times reported that “more than one-in-three [graduates are] in low-skilled jobs.” It’s not uncommon for recent graduates to take their gap year post-study in an effort to remedy this situation – something which The Telegraph is calling a “career crisis,” as the moment of unemployment is prolonged as graduates “opt for a “quick-fix” job or spend time travelling,” rather than seeking out employment based on their degree.

It seems that there is a misalignment between what students are told from their universities whilst still in education, versus what the workplace tells them once they graduate and start applying for jobs.

The result? If an individual is lucky enough to attend an interview for a suitable graduate position, their feedback is likely to contain a variant of these nine words: “Unfortunately, you don’t have enough experience at the moment.”

It’s baffling.

You can spend three years in an undergraduate degree; complete with a high 2:1 or First Class Honours, move on to a postgraduate study for a further year or more and complete with Distinction, and still not be deemed worthy of a graduate position – a position with the graduate’s name literally in the title.


Let’s talk “experience”

It all comes down to one factor: “experience.” An article on The Guardian analyses a 2013 report made by High Fliers Research which states that: “More than half of recruiters say graduates who have no previous work experience are unlikely to make it through their selection process and have little or no chance of securing a job offer for their graduate programme.”

Martin Birchall, managing director of High Fliers Research, concluded the report saying: “…in a highly competitive graduate job market, new graduates who have not had any work experience at all during their time at university have little hope of landing a well-paid job with a leading employer, irrespective of the academic results they achieve or the university they’ve attended.”

This news shouldn’t come as a surprise to the finely-tuned cohort of graduates who face this reality day after day.


So, is a postgraduate degree worth it?

The question is: is a postgraduate degree worth it? The statistics would have you think so. An independent review on How Higher Education Can Advance Social Mobility comments how the lifetime earnings for a postgraduate could be 9% higher.

The figures certainly add up; but does the reality?

What we need to consider is the truth of the situation. Graduate degrees are hard to obtain – a First Class Honours distinction on its own is not a one-way-ticket to employment. When choosing a degree, ensure that the course enables you to have workplace experience with placements, otherwise all your hard work and tuition fees may be wasted.

Then, as the research suggests, a post-graduate degree with workplace experience will give you a higher chance of obtaining a role, versus a candidate with the same intellectual ability without experience. This in turn promises a 9% hike in your income.

Your education can show you the door; but your experience holds the key to open it.


Inspiring Interns is a graduate recruitment agency which specialises in sourcing candidates for internships and giving out graduate careers advice. To hire graduates or browse graduate jobs, visit their website.