Gaining advanced qualifications will boost your career, but choose your course realistically, writes Ronda Naidu
ostgraduate education, which relates to study undertaken after completing a first degree or diploma, is considered almost a necessity in today’s workplace.
With volatile markets and technological advancements leading to rapidly changing organisations, mid- and senior-career professionals are increasingly turning to postgraduate studies to advance their careers and contribute proactively to their organisations.
From a macro perspective, postgraduate students are integral to modern industrialised societies.
The first step when embarking on this road in the higher education journey is to choose your type of postgraduate study realistically.
This is often the most challenging part of the process, as numerous factors need to be taken into account. Let’s examine some of the more important ones.
There is little doubt that any money spent on a postgraduate education should be a good investment for both you and your career. However, it is important to do your homework upfront. Will your employer be carrying the costs of study? What are the payback terms if this is the case?
If you plan to fund your own studies, it may be worthwhile to draw up a budget, and make sure that all your family and personal expenses are taken into account.
You certainly do not want to get halfway through your postgraduate studies and realise you can no longer afford to continue.
Postgraduate study fees are generally dependent on the field of study and the institution, so they can range from a few thousand rands to more than R100 000 a year.
There are few individuals who can afford to embark on postgraduate studies full time. The majority have a permanent job, families to take care of, and extended community and social commitments.
It is critical to fully understand the time requirements of postgraduate study. Do some research before enrolling and find out about classattendance requirements, assignments and project deadlines, as well as the after-hours and weekend availability of resource centres, among other things.
It is also worthwhile to find out which study leave options you may be entitled to from your employer if you have a permanent job.
Many established tertiary institutions have dedicated individuals to assist postgraduate students with queries, accommodation bookings or advice if classes take place out of town.
Once you have registered for postgraduate study, develop a timetable. Use it as a tool to plan how you will spend your time. Include professional, personal and study commitments.
Tertiary institutions are becoming increasingly strict about students who do not complete their studies in the allocated period. Make sure that you understand the full duration of the postgraduate course you have in mind.
For example, research-based postgraduate courses generally take longer than a year. On average, master’s studies take between one and two years, full time, while a doctorate (also known as a PhD) takes a minimum of three years.
Some institutions do offer additional time and opportunities to redo courses. However, this is likely to adhere to strict criteria and could be accompanied by additional costs. It is imperative to understand these requirements before committing to a postgraduate course.
It is worthwhile to do your research on the various courses and the institutions that offer them.
Chat with colleagues who have completed their postgraduate studies, visit the websites of tertiary institutions to find out about their alumni, local and international standing, the research being produced by students at the institution and its overall levels of academic expertise.
For example, at North-West University’s Potchefstroom campus, 54% of the permanent academic staff hold doctoral degrees as their highest qualification, while some postgraduate programmes are offered through cooperation agreements with institutions in the UK and Portugal.
Always choose a recognised institution, preferably one with a good reputation, so that your postgraduate qualification becomes a valuable tool to market yourself and advance your career.
The institution you choose should be accredited by both the SA Council of Higher Education and international bodies.
If you are in full-time employment, it may be worthwhile to have a discussion with your manager and the human resources department about what you are planning to study.
Find out about the company’s future requirements and career-progression opportunities, as this could assist in your postgraduate study choice.
It’s also a good idea to understand your motivation for embarking on postgraduate study. Are you looking for a career change or to improve your knowledge in a particular field?
The reality is that postgraduate programmes are demanding and fast-paced. In addition to studying, you will still have to perform well at work and make time for your family.
Furthermore, keeping to such a commitment requires a high level of self-discipline and self-motivation.
Do your research, chat with people who have successfully embarked on postgraduate study and make full use of the resources at your place of learning.
Do that and more, and you should have a fulfilling and rewarding postgraduate experience.