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Your guide to studying a master’s degree

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Looking to advance your career, upskill or move into a new profession? Discover if it’s the right time for you to study a master’s degree.

Professionals hoping to stay competitive and advance their careers often look to a master’s qualification to help them make that next step. The benefits of studying a master’s degree are numerous, and graduates often report the investment of time and resources is worth it.

Let’s find out what a master’s degree is and the benefits of a master’s degree for you.

What is a master’s degree?

Australian master’s degrees are postgraduate qualifications typically pursued by those who hold a bachelor’s degree or the relevant amount of professional experience. A master’s provides in-depth expertise in an area of study and can help accelerate your career. They typically take at least one year to complete, depending on the subject area and whether you study full-time or part-time.

A master’s isn’t the only advanced qualification available. Graduate certificates, which take about six months to a year to complete, are an entry point to postgraduate study. The next step, a graduate diploma, takes one year to 18 months to complete, depending on how many units you do per semester. Both a graduate certificate and a graduate diploma can be a pathway to studying a master’s degree.

A master’s can be completed through research or coursework. Research-based courses may include the study of units and often culminate in a detailed thesis or research project. A master’s by research is a good choice for those seeking to deepen their expertise through extensive academic research. You’ll need self-discipline as independent and self-directed learning is typically required for master’s by research courses. Coursework-based master’s degrees involve a series of units and assessments and are typically studied by someone who wants to enhance their skills and knowledge through structured learning.

Susannah Birch completed a master’s by coursework in 2019. “I began a bachelor’s degree after high school but dropped out. Ten years later, after gaining a wealth of practical knowledge in my field, I wanted a firmer grounding in the theoretical knowledge of what I was doing every day.”

Susannah was able to use her digital marketing experience to gain entry to her master’s course. It’s a path to consider for students who may not have the relevant undergraduate qualifications.

7 benefits of studying a master’s degree

Studying a master’s degree is a significant commitment of time and money, but it can reap big rewards. Here are seven benefits of a master’s degree that many graduates enjoy.

  1. Pivoting into a new career

    Are you keen to change career paths or move into a new industry? Many people study a master’s without undergraduate qualifications or experience in that field. That’s because a master’s can be a great way to pivot your career in a new direction. For example, students interested in the University of Canberra’s (UTS) online Master of Counselling course don’t need a counselling background — that course requires qualifications in any discipline as well as some experience. In comparison, UTS will consider applicants without an undergraduate qualification but with experience in a healthcare or human services field for its Master of Public Health course.

  2. More career opportunities

    People who hold degree qualifications including undergraduate or postgraduate degrees, generally enjoy better employment opportunities and career advancement than those who don’t.

    This divide may open up further as the jobs of the future become more specialised. According to modelling by McKinsey, by 2030, up to 40 per cent of the workforce in the world’s developed countries will need to move into new careers or significantly enhance their skills. There is already a global shortage of skilled workers, and as we move into the new decade, that shortfall will only increase, leading to more opportunities for those with high-level degrees and advanced skill sets.

    Career opportunities are an important consideration for those choosing a master’s degree.
  3. A pay rise

    Earning a postgraduate qualification may also mean an increase in your salary. An Australian Government report revealed graduates of postgraduate coursework courses earn 32 per cent more than graduates of bachelor’s courses straight after graduation.

    The latest QILT Graduate Outcomes Survey findings also show a connection between higher-level qualifications and enhanced salary and employment outcomes. The survey reveals that those with a bachelor’s degree and working full-time had a median salary of $68,000 per year in 2022. The median annual salary of those with an undergraduate qualification is significantly lower than that of postgraduate coursework graduates (who earned, on average, $91,600 a year) and graduates of postgraduate research courses (whose average income was $96,000 a year). This is also influenced by a higher time in employment and previous employment experience for those who have postgraduate qualifications.
  4. Leadership and management opportunities

    Higher qualifications give graduates the skills and opportunity to move into management positions and leadership roles. ​​The QILT survey reveals that of the postgraduate coursework graduates surveyed, 86 per cent were working in full-time managerial or professional occupations. This compares with 69.4 per cent of the undergraduate respondents. The skills gained in a master’s degree prepare graduates for more senior roles in a range of industries.
  5. The chance to become an expert

    There are many factors that build expertise — developing skills through experience, networking, mentorship and ongoing learning are all valuable. A master’s degree is also a significant asset.

    A master’s can lead to accreditation with professional bodies, while a research-based degree allows you to work independently and develop real-world knowledge of a particular field.

    “A master’s degree offers specialisation in an area where you’re already knowledgeable, so you’ll receive a much more in-depth understanding of your chosen topic, instead of the introductory courses you’ll do in lower degrees,” says Susannah. “A master’s degree is much more in line with understanding the practical world of your career.”
  6. Networking opportunities

    Networking is an important component of career progression in many fields, and undertaking a master’s degree allows students to broaden their existing networks and create meaningful new connections. If networking is important to you, the course guide of the degree you’re interested in studying will set out how that university will help connect you with other students and industry professionals.
  7. A sense of great satisfaction

    While there are several tangible benefits of studying a master’s degree, there’s also the sense of accomplishment that comes from balancing study with other commitments and achieving an advanced qualification. A master’s is a significant commitment of time and energy, and it takes considerable dedication to earn. As well as the potential to move into more senior roles, pivot careers and enjoy a higher salary, students have a huge sense of achievement and confidence when they see their hard work pay off.

Is a master’s degree worth it?

A master’s degree is a valuable qualification, but it takes time, financial commitment and dedication. So, are you ready to study a master’s? If you answer yes to any of the following, you probably are.

  • Has your career stalled, been overlooked for promotion or a pay rise, or you’re generally feeling dissatisfied at work?
  • Do you have the ambition to become a manager but know you need to expand your skill set to become one?
  • Do you have a desire to become a thought leader or mentor but need more direction to make that happen?
  • Are you ready to move into a new career or industry but don’t want to start at the bottom?
  • Is your industry changing, or you’d like to upskill and futureproof your career?
  • Are you passionate about a particular subject or want to dive into a field of study but are unable to in your current career?

Susannah’s degree allowed her to explore the topics she wanted to understand at a much more specialised level. “The degree gave me knowledge and confidence, which in turn helped me apply for higher-level job roles. “Since starting my first dedicated marketing role in 2016, my income has doubled, thanks in large part to my ability to apply for roles that require higher levels of education and experience. The additional income has already more than made up for any initial debt from the degree.”

Studying an online master’s degree

Ready to take the next step but need to figure out how study will fit in with your lifestyle? Online master’s degrees have emerged as the perfect solution for busy, working professionals.

GlobalHealth Education’s university partners offer a range of qualifications with flexible study options. For example, Southern Cross University has several intakes a year for many of its courses, including the Master of Mental Health, which offers the course at a part-time duration with options to graduate early with a graduate certificate or graduate diploma if your plans change. Students studying Victoria University’s highly interactive Master of Nursing (Leadership) course benefit from part-time study options and their block study model, which allows students to manage and focus on one unit of study at a time.

Make your next move

Discover what you can gain from studying a master’s degree online. Whatever your ambitions for your healthcare career, GlobalHealth Education’s university partners have a range of courses that will help you achieve your goals.

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