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I am returning to study as a postgraduate

Q: As a recent graduate, should I enter employment or postgraduate study?

A: Many recent graduates struggle to choose between applying for a postgraduate program or entering the workforce. Work is an exciting option for many. After 18 or so years of study, graduates are ready to begin their career and find the transition from theoretical study to practical work refreshing. Employment also brings other benefits such as a salary, career development, business trips, conferences and professional training. But, depending on your circumstances and field of work, the intellectual and financial benefits of postgraduate study may be worth it in the long run. Postgraduate study can offer the chance to pursue extended research (a requirement for a career in academia), qualify for high-level professions or enter the world of work at a higher position and salary level than your undergraduate colleagues. With more and more students completing tertiary study each year, competition for graduate employment is increasingly tough, so a postgraduate qualification could make all the difference to prospective employers. See Graduate outcomes to find out how postgraduates fare in the employment market.

If you study full time then you will put off receiving the material rewards for your academic efforts for a few more years. However, it is possible to complete many courses either part time or by distance education, which allows you to undertake work and study at the same time. See Flexible study options for more information.

Q: Can I balance my current job with postgraduate study?

A: Those who have already been in the workforce for some time can really benefit from the new knowledge and skills refresh that postgraduate study can deliver. But you also need to consider the lifestyle change associated with a return to study. Will you be able to balance study with work, family and lifestyle commitments? Can you afford to return to study? Are you prepared to make the social and financial sacrifices? These costs will need to be weighed against the benefits you will receive from the extra qualification or the change of career direction offered by postgraduate study. In other words, it really depends on having a clear idea of goals, on knowing your own employment market, and on your personal lifestyle choices. See Flexible study options and Funding your education for more information about fitting study into your work life and funding it.

Q: How do I choose an institution?

A: The reality is that no two institutions are the same, so choosing the right one can be tricky. If you're considering a popular course that seems to be offered just about everywhere, you'll find that your process is a little more involved that someone considering a field with fewer institution options. Finding the right fit for you comes down to plenty of research (on this website, on institution websites and by scheduling an appointment with your school's career adviser). You should also ensure that you attend the open day of each institution you are considering. Open days allow you to get a feel for the institution and mean that you can chat with lecturers, tutors and even current students about the course you are considering. See our Open days page for details and dates. If you're still struggling, it can help to put together a shortlist of "wants" and "needs". Perhaps you're looking for a small institution with certain specialties on offer or one that's close to home? See Choosing an institution for more information.

Q: How do I choose a course?

A: There are a number of things to think about when choosing a course, from the time it will take to complete to your job prospects once you have graduated. At the broadest level, you should consider what you will learn in the course and how it will be taught, the conditions and the cost, and the end result. It's also worth remembering that the things you look for in a postgraduate course may be a little different to what you wanted to get out of your first degree. For example, you may need an institution that is close to your workplace, one that offers a specific specialisation or one that offers a significant amount of its classes outside of business hours. See Choosing a course for more information.

Q: What flexible study arrangements are available?

A: As a postgraduate student, you may need some extra flexibility in your study schedule in order to juggle competing interests. Luckily, institutions understand this need for flexibility and offer a number of flexible study options. This includes part-time study, online and distance subjects, evening classes, trimester or term-based academic calendars (which allow you to fast-track your course), block study mode and mixed-mode study. While most institutions will offer at least a few of these options, they may not be available in each course. For example, health-related courses (such as medicine and nursing) require a significant amount of hands-on training and may not offer online study. Look into these options when you begin researching courses so that you can select a program that best suits your needs. See Flexible study options for more information.

Q:How do I get into postgraduate study?

A: The most common entry requirement for postgraduate courses is previous academic study, although many courses also ask for work experience (some even accept work experience in place of formal study). This means that you may be able to enter a course based on your work experience or possibly decrease the length of study if you are able to demonstrate both relevant study and work experience. Some courses also have additional entry criteria, which may include anything from auditions, portfolios and tests to interviews and biographical essays. See Postgraduate degrees and VET entry requirements (if you're interested in postgraduate study at VET level) for more information.

Q: Are there any alternative pathways?

A: If you don't think that you'll meet the requirements for your chosen course, it helps to look into your pathway options. For example, you may consider entering a masters degree through a lower-level qualification such as a graduate diploma. This can provide a pathway into your course while also allowing you to enter your preferred course with some relevant background. You could also try single subject study, which involves enrolling into just one subject at your institution rather than a full course. See Postgraduate degrees and Pathways into your course for more information.

Q: How do I apply?

A: The most common application process for postgraduate courses is through direct application to the institution, although this does vary between institutions, provider types and states. For example, in some states students can apply for postgraduate courses through the local Tertiary Admissions Centre (TAC), while in others states this is only the case for graduate teaching courses. The method you use will depend on your chosen institution's requirements, so it's best to check before you begin working on your application. See The tertiary application process for more information, including tips for applicants.

Q: How much does it cost and how do I pay for it?

A: The costs associated with postgraduate study are not inconsiderable. Tuition fees are always in the thousands. While some postgraduate courses may offer Commonwealth Supported Places (CSPs) that are subsidised by the government, most do not. You should also consider the other costs, including books, computers, living away from home (if required) and time off work. The upside is that tuition fees can be usually be deferred through HELP loans, although you will need to check if your institution is approved to offer Commonwealth assistance. While all universities are, some private providers may not be. Accessing a HELP loan means that your tuition fees are not an out-of-pocket expense and are only paid back once you finish studying and earn a certain amount. Even so, you will need to consider the level of debt you are comfortable with, and weigh costs against the likely benefits of completing the course. See Funding your education for more information.

It is time poverty that is the real clincher for many postgraduate students. Since most postgraduates live independently, some with families to look after, they also work full time to support their lifestyle. Fitting in study can put a cog in the works as it will often mean less work and less money. The other way to go is to keep up with full-time work and study part time, but this also means less time spent socialising or with friends and family. See Flexible study options for more information about schemes that can help you keep working full time.

Q: Is there any financial assistance available for postgraduates?

A: Like undergraduates, there are a number of financial assistance options available to help postgraduate students get through their studies, including scholarships and government allowances. Some of these may only be available to students studying full time, so it's worth doing some additional research if you are considering part-time study. There are also a number of funding options for students completing higher degrees by research, which include both fee remission through the Research Training Scheme (RTS) and stipends. See Scholarships and financial assistance for more information.

Q: What is student life like as a postgraduate? How does it differ from undergraduate life?

A: Before you embark on another program of study, it is worth really considering how you will fit in the additional work and responsibility. For most people, it is a challenge to make room in the bank account and the schedule for this extra commitment. As a postgraduate student, expect to be challenged and perhaps even pushed to your limits — much more so than in your undergraduate degree. This is especially the case in tough programs like the MBA, which aim to simulate the demands of a busy workplace. It's also worth keeping in mind that the workload and style of teaching can vary greatly between undergraduate and postgraduate study. For example, you may swap a lecture/tutorial combination with an academic for a three-hour seminar with an industry professional. The same opportunities for getting involved in student life exist, although you may be limited by your other commitments. See Student life for more information.

Q: How do I settle back into study?

A: If you've had a few years away from academic study, it can be difficult to hand over your nights and weekends to lectures, assignment research and group project meet-ups. But, with the right attitude, it's not impossible. The most important thing is to strike a balance and work out a way to manage your study, work and social commitments. This may mean looking out for flexible options (such as a fast-tracked degree or a course with online units) or making arrangements with your employer to ensure that you can attend all your classes. See Flexible study options and Adjusting to study for more information.

Q: Can I study overseas?

A: If you are considering studying overseas during your course, you have a number of options: completing a student exchange; undertaking a study abroad program; completing some of your study at one of your institution's overseas campuses (if available); going on a study tour; completing an overseas internship or research experience; or selecting a course with an international focus that includes overseas study as part of its course structure. Studying overseas during your course is a great way to broaden your horizons and add an international flavour to your student experience, so it's worth looking into overseas study options when you first begin researching courses. See Study abroad and student exchange for more information about each option.

Q: I'm considering relocating for study

A: As you trawl through your course options, it's possible that you'll need to relocate to pursue your field of study — whether this is to another state or within your state. You may find that a certain course is only offered in one area or that it is better executed outside of your home state (such as mining engineering in Western Australia or fashion in Melbourne or Sydney), or you may even just need a bit of a change. See Study destinations for more information about living and studying in Australia's various states and territories. If you need help deciding on an accommodation option, check out the Student accommodation section too.

Q: What if I'm considering an MBA?

A: If you're considering an MBA, there's a lot to think about. You can start by visiting the MBA and management education section, which provides everything you need to know about your MBA options, from tips for choosing a program to getting into it. To find an MBA, you should also visit the MBA Course Search , which allows you to search for accredited business and management courses from graduate certificate level upwards.

Q: Is postgraduate study worth it?

A: The "worth" of postgraduate study is very subjective as it depends on what you see to be success. There is no doubt that additional qualifications are becoming highly desirable — even essential — to survival and success in an increasingly competitive labour market. A graduate certificate, graduate diploma or masters degree might be a prerequisite for some of the top jobs in your field or may simply boost your chances of getting a great new position. Plus there is no doubt that additional qualifications can help you attract greater financial rewards. However, outcomes will vary depending on the field and the qualification level you choose. For example, while an MBA could boost your salary considerably, salaries will not normally increase dramatically if you undertake a graduate certificate in a general interest field like humanities and social sciences. If your end goal is a career in research, postgraduate study by research is not only "worth it" but usually the only way to get there. See Graduate outcomes to find out how postgraduates fare in the employment market.

Q: Can I use a postgraduate course to get into professions like law or medicine?

A: Traditionally, the highly regulated professions (such as medicine, law, accounting and engineering) were only available at undergraduate level. Very few older students were admitted, and those who were had to begin at square one — regardless of experience or qualifications. With some exceptions, the professions are now opening up and postgraduates have many more options than they used to for a total change in career direction. Graduate entry bachelor degrees are enabling those who completed a bachelor degree in another field to qualify for professions such as law and medicine in less time than it would take to go back and complete another bachelor degree. See undergraduate degree for more information.

Q: Which sector should I choose?

A: Postgraduate qualifications are available in two different education sectors: the Vocational Education and Training (VET) sector and the higher education sector. The main difference between VET and higher education is that the latter generally focuses more on knowledge rather than skills. There are certainly exceptions to this, though, with more and more higher education courses including work experience or other skill-building activities. The majority of postgraduates complete their qualifications in the higher education sector, the sector where postgraduate courses have been offered traditionally, but the VET sector also offers vocational options for those who are looking for more hands-on training for employment.

While higher education postgraduate degrees include graduate certificates, graduate diplomas, masters degrees and doctoral degrees, vocational postgraduate courses include vocational graduate certificates and vocational graduate diplomas. The vocational sector offers less choice, although you will find postgraduate programs available in the more practical areas such as built environment. The higher education sector is really the only option for many of the professional postgraduate courses, particularly those relating to careers that are regulated. These include architecture, dentistry, law, medicine, pharmacy, rehabilitation and veterinary science. See Study options for more information about the qualifications available in each sector.

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