Getting a job vs getting a master's: what should you do?

A guide to help you decide.

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What will you do when you get to the end of university? Apart from cry into your dissertation and refuse to say goodbye to the best three years of your life. Oh, come now, it's not so bad. The journey doesn't end there. In fact, it's really just beginning.

But the journey begins with a forked road: the road to study, and the road to work. Are you gonna follow the rat race and get yourself a job, or are you thinking of taking your education to the next level - a master's degree.

Both have upsides, both have downsides. Ultimately it's up to you, but here's what you can expect to get from either choice.

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Deciding to undertake a master's is nothing to sniff at; it's a major commitment. You're going to be spending the next year (or two, if you go part-time) of your life working very hard indeed, but you'll be working towards something valuable and rewarding.

A master's degree can unlock doors that a regular degree can't. With more people heading off to university than ever before, inevitably that means there's more people with degrees on their CVs. This doesn't mean that a degree is worth less than it used to, but having one doesn't make you stand out as much.

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If you want to get into a competitive field of work, having a master's can give you the edge over other applicants. It also offers you further academic opportunities; you could go on to do a PhD, maybe even become a full-time academic.

But apart from getting a leg-up into the working world, taking on a master's gives you the chance to experience more of life. You can go and study in a whole new town, maybe even an entirely different country. It's an opportunity to meet new people, try new experiences; it could lead you down a road you never even thought of travelling.

Above all, it's a chance to go deeper into a subject that you're really invested in. It's tough work, it's stressful and yes, it can be expensive (though the government's new postgraduate loan can go some way to helping you out), but if you're passionate about something, you deserve the chance to explore it thoroughly.

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The best thing about going straight into work after uni is that you can start earning money straight away. Obviously setting up a good cashflow isn't the most important thing in the world, but the bills don't pay themselves either. If owning your own home or having a comfortable way of life is important to you, getting a job right away makes a lot of sense.

But money isn't the only reason people go to work. A good job can be a very rewarding experience in itself; seeing your hard work turn into something tangible, something useful, can be extremely gratifying. Of course, the flip side of that is being stuck in a loathsome job at a company that doesn't appreciate you or the work you do, but that's the risk you take.

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Depending on the field you want to get into, you might find that practical work experience actually counts for more than a degree, in which case working your way up the career ladder is a totally valid option. Lots of successful people started right at the bottom as interns, and while it's not a glamorous job, it can be the open door that you need.

The working world can take you to places you never thought you'd go, both literally and metaphorically. Depending on your job, you could get to travel around, see places and meet people you wouldn't have had the chance to otherwise. It can also take you down a career path you never thought of, but find that you actually love.

Finally, there are some things that you simply can't learn in the lecture theatre. A good job can teach us life skills that can't be taught from a book, and even a bad job has lessons to learn (e.g. don't work for that company again). It's not education, but it's certainly an education.

But here's the thing

Everybody has to go to work eventually. Unless you strike it lucky on the Lotto, you're gonna get a job. But why not go into that job having learned more, having seen new places and met new people, and having a broader understanding of the world around you?

Everybody has to go to work, but not everybody takes the opportunity that doing a master's can afford them. A job's a job, but an education is invaluable.

Feature © John Benson / Matt Reinbold

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