● By Vivian Chong
You’ve decided to pursue a postgraduate degree. What’s next? These are the most important questions every potential student should ask themselves.
WHY DO I WANT TO DO THIS*?
Getting a postgraduate degree shouldn’t be just about adding an accolade to your résumé. What are your top three reasons for wanting to pursue it – to boost knowledge or skills, for better job prospects, or scale up your salary? It’s imperative to identify your main reason because that’s what will keep you going and stay motivated throughout the course. Once you’re clear on that, you will be able to make the rest of the decisions more easily as you have an end goal in mind.
DO I HAVE THE FUNDS TO SUPPORT MYSELF?
If you’re planning to pursue your study full time, start doing the calculations now to ensure that you have enough money to pay for tuition and living expenses. It’s idealistic to tell yourself that you can sacrifice creature comforts for books and research, but be realistic – how much can you really give up without feeling miserable, which could then lead to a lack of inspiration to stay on track? The good news is there are study grants and scholarships that you can apply for. The bad news? Everyone will be applying for them too.
HOW DO I CHOOSE WHAT COURSE TO STUDY?
You may be interested in a particular field but is it the right one for you? Let’s go back to why you want to pursue a postgraduate study to begin with. Will the course take you there? If your answer to the former is to aim for a higher income, check that the related industry does indeed reward postgraduate degree holders or that the company you’re hoping to work for has a need for master’s or PhD graduates in that field.
DO I MEET ALL THE REQUIREMENTS?
The application process varies from one university to another and also depends on the course. Some may involve lengthy procedures, multiple interviews, and lots of supporting documents. When finding out about the course, look into these details as well to save yourself the heartache of having set your sights on a course only to realise that you’re short of an important criteria.
DO I KNOW ENOUGH ABOUT THE COURSE I AM SIGNING UP FOR?
Information is readily available online but Google is not the only friend you can call on. Nothing compares to personal experience so talk to people – professors, lecturers, current and past students – to find out what the course entails and what you can expect from it.
It’s crucial to surround yourself with people who support your goals and want to see you succeed.
CAN I MAKE TIME FOR IT?
Everything takes time and in the case of a postgraduate study, it takes all that you have and more! You have to think of it as working a job that requires you to clock in 9 to 5 (or longer hours) and often on weekends and holidays too. A master’s degree may be less demanding and many opt to do it part-time while keeping up a desk job. It’s not impossible, provided you have sound time management skills and the discipline to stick to a schedule.
WHICH INSTITUTION SHOULD I SIGN UP WITH?
After you’re certain of the course you want to pursue, the next important thing is to determine which university offers the programme that’s suited to your interests and goals. Don’t just read up on the syllabus; find out what facilities are complementary and available to students. It’s also important to consider location and environment; make sure that it’s conducive to your lifestyle, student needs and even your personality.
SHOULD I STUDY LOCALLY OR OVERSEAS?
Aside from obvious differences (such as cost), the real question is the environment that you will be living in. Locally, everything is familiar, and you have family and friends to call on in times of need. Studying overseas can mean having to start from scratch socially but the experience and change of pace will enrich you on a personal level. Again, ask yourself what it is that you truly want to get out of your postgraduate study.
DO I HAVE A SOLID SUPPORT NETWORK?
As committed as you may be, there will be times or days when you feel as if you simply can’t go on. What then? How will you pick yourself up or who will be there to push you through? It’s crucial to surround yourself with people who support your goals and want to see you succeed. Speak to your immediate family and closest friends prior to embarking on your studies to gauge their reactions and figure out who you can rely on.
WHAT ARE MY CAREER PROSPECTS UPON GRADUATION?
You can’t predict the future but you can ask experts in your chosen field for their projections. First of all, speak to those who are already working in that industry to find out how much employers value postgraduate qualification. Find out the type of skill or expertise they hope to hire.
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