If projections are to be believed, we are heading for an economic recession post-coronavirus, on a similar scale to the financial crash of 2008.

This will undoubtedly make it more difficult for graduates to find jobs after university, leading some to wonder if they should stay in education to ‘ride out’ the peak of the recession. However, is postgraduate study really the solution during a recession, or should you try your luck in the job market? Read on as we discuss the pros and cons of each option. 

Will a master’s give you a significant career boost?

Will a master's give you a significant career boost?

One of the most important things to consider is if postgraduate study even makes sense for your future career goals. If you want to work in a field where a master’s or higher-level qualification is essential for progression (for example, in psychologylaw or medicine), it’s a no-brainer to do your master’s straight after university, particularly during a recession.

In competitive fields like business and technology, a master’s degree might make you more marketable and make your job application stand out. 

However, you could risk being overqualified, as companies with lower budgets due to the recession may not be able to pay you what you think you’re worth, which will lower the ROI (return on investment) from your postgraduate study.

Graduate programs, particularly in business-related subjects, tend to have extensive alumni networks and networking opportunities, so your job search will be simplified, and careers services can keep you up to date with hiring trends. As well as networking events, your professors may also be industry leaders with great connections to relevant individuals and companies.

If your chosen career path doesn’t mandate advanced study, or if you’re unlikely to be rewarded for it with higher pay and/or a more senior position, you may find that a shorter, or part-time, personal or professional development course is a more suitable way to expand your skillset.

Do you have any relevant work experience? If your undergraduate degree didn’t include a placement or internship, it might be a good idea to get some real-world experience before pursuing a master’s (depending on your field of study). If you have no work experience and do a graduate program, you may then be seen by employers as over-qualified for entry-level positions but under-qualified for intermediate level roles.

You must also bear in mind the economic downturn might be over by the time you graduate from your master’s. If you’re already working, you might consider seeing if you can undertake part-time graduate study, so you have the security of earning while you study. However, it will, of course, take you considerably longer to graduate.

You may want to do a master’s to move into a new field – if you do this, make sure the industry you want to go into is growing and research hiring trends.

Can you afford postgraduate study, and can you get in?

Can you afford postgraduate study, and can you get in?

Obviously, the cost will be a key factor in most people’s decisions to do a master’s. You might require additional student loans and just rack up more debt, but you also may find a situation where an employer will pay for or contribute to your grad school experience. You can also see if you’re eligible for a generous grant or scholarship.

Check if your undergraduate institution offers discounts for alumni to pursue postgraduate study there – you can sometimes get as much as 25 percent off. However, going to graduate school might actually exacerbate problems with your economic situation in a recession by adding to your student loan debt. 

It’s a good idea to calculate your ROI before enrolling on a master’s program. Obviously, you can’t predict exactly what your post-graduation earnings will be, but you can research median annual wages for the sort of role you’re hoping to get. The mathematical equation to calculate ROI is quite simple: Projected earnings minus cost of graduate program equals return on investment.

You’ll also have to bear in mind that a year-long full-time master’s is going to be a year of lost potential earnings from work. This is known as an opportunity cost – the short-term cost of money lost by taking yourself out of the workforce.

Graduate school entry will be even more competitive during a recession, as many people choose to ‘wait out’ economic downturns in education. You’ll need to make sure your grades are good enough to get onto a good program. In the UK, this is usually a 2.1 or higher in your bachelor’s, or a minimum 3.0 GPA in the US. You might also have to take the GRE (Graduate Record Examination), particularly if you want to do a business degree.