This piece was first written for postgrad.com. It is different to my usual writing and can hopefully be helpful to those thinking of part time study.
The number of people enrolling on university courses has been increasing year on year, and this has had a knock on effect on postgraduate study. More and more students are undertaking postgraduate study to improve their job prospects, potential earnings and to enjoy further study. For postgraduate students part-time study can be a particularly attractive option. It allows students to work throughout their studies, which is useful for those funding their own studies or for people juggling family commitments whilst attempting to further their position at work with additional certification.
Undertaking my masters in program was a rewarding and interesting experience, however there are many aspects that are not advertised in the prospectus. With this insider’s guide I hope to share the information I gained and point out the things that I wish I’d have known beforehand. All things considered though I must say that for those with multiple commitments it is a good way to fit study around your life, although excellent organisational and time management skills are a must!
For research Masters or PHDs there tends to be more flexibility with more universities embracing online study. The Universities of Nottingham and Oxford, and the Open University, are leading the way in distance learning with the majority of work being done online, supplemented with Skype meetings and often short day or weekend study sessions. For those balancing a full-time job with their postgraduate studies, this can give you the chance to undertake study, and also to take your learning and apply it in a practical way to your working life.
Part-time study allowed me to undertake work experience at the same time; gaining the skills and network needed to move into the working environment. The first summer term can be spent undertaking seasonal work or internships, safe in the knowledge that there will still be plenty of time to focus on one’s dissertation. Many businesses and organisations offer summer internship schemes that the part-time student can avail of. Furthermore this can be a handy way to get work experience that will be relevant to your desired career path.
Traditional academic subjects such as the sciences however seem to be much slower to adapt to any form of flexible learning. Speak to your course coordinator before applying to find out how flexible your desired course actually is. Traditional academic subjects such as History and English literature tend to divide up their part-time courses thus: the taught modules to be completed in the first year, and the deadline for the final dissertation/thesis at the end of the second year. Will this accommodate current work commitments? Will you be able to attend weekday seminars during the first year? Without the time pressure and group environment of a one-year course will you be able to maintain self-discipline to complete all course work?
The price of postgraduate study has been slowly increasing. Some part-time courses are now more expensive than full time. Comparisons of costs can be seen if you look at these two examples, a full-time University of Exeter History masters degree costs £7,500 or £3,750 per year part time which equates to £7,500 to complete part time. However a full-time University College Dublin History masters degree costs €6,490, or €3,890 per year part time. This makes the total cost of completing the course part time is €7,780. At some universities the price differential is greater. However, the freedom to spread the cost of your tuition fees over two years can be useful. Bear in mind that at present funding for postgraduate study is different to undergraduate and may make it harder for potential students to fund their course. More information can be found in our funding section.
Although many postgrads are entering academia from the workplace, for those interested in moving to a new place there are other factors to consider. For example if you are a part-time student can you still apply for university accommodation? Will you have the same levels of access to services, such as careers counsellors, disability services, sponsored volunteering, health care services or study abroad options? Also will you be able to apply for all of the funding options? Not all bursaries and grants are open to part-time students. Going to university as a postgrad student is about so much more than just studying. It can be a surprise for students to discover that because they are part time they do not have access to the same services and university experience as their full-time counterparts. Contacting the course coordinator and admissions team before applying to conduct thorough research is essential.
Part-time postgraduate courses can be a great option as they help to show that there is no reason for education to end as soon as you enter the workplace. There are options open now for mature students, those changing careers, seeking to get ahead in their chosen career or just those who want to expand their mind by studying something new. If you have the determination then a part-time masters could be exactly what you have been looking for.