Post-Grad study: opening the door to a higher degree starts in your first year

In today’s highly competitive society, more and more job-seekers realise how a post-graduate degree improves their chances of landing a position, promotion or increase. It is therefore no surprise that students increasingly seek to extend their education beyond their first degree in order to improve their marketability over that of their peers. However, the reality is that many students don’t always fully understand the challenges associated with being accepted into post-graduate study, and often leave the logistics and preparation until it is too late, an expert says.

“Not only are institutions offering post-graduate qualifications, such as Honours Degrees, limited with regards to the number of students they can accept into such programmes, but they are also measured by the success rates their students achieve,” says Peter Kriel, General Manager of The Independent Institute of Education, SA’s largest and most accredited private higher education provider.

“For this reason, institutions will generally give priority access to their own undergraduate students with a track record of above average academic performance,” he says.

“Therefore, students seeking access into a post-graduate programme are likely to find themselves in a situation where they are competing for a limited number of spaces at their own institution, while other institutions are less likely to consider them because of giving preference to their own students.”

Kriel says it may be a bitter pill to swallow for students who suddenly realise, after 3 or 4 years of undergraduate study, that their aim of pursuing a post-graduate qualification is not as straightforward or even likely as they had imagined.

“The most important thing to remember, is that your undergraduate years – all of them – should be used as part of your bigger strategy to position yourself for post-graduate study,” he says.

Kriel says there are a few things students can to improve their chances of gaining access and being successful in their post-graduate studies, including:

Doing your best in your undergraduate studies

“The simplest way to set yourself up for successful admission into an Honours Degree and a smooth transition from your undergraduate studies is simply by working hard during your undergraduate years,” says Kriel. “You can do this by being diligent, earning good marks and continuously improving your work and performance, while also participating in academic and non-academic activities on and off campus.”

Taking advantage of undergraduate life

The campus where you are doing your undergraduate studies should be full of resources and opportunities to help you succeed, notes Kriel.

“Use these resources wisely in order to develop your academic profile into something that will be viewed as worthy of post-graduate studies. Also, start talking to your lecturers, campus advisors and other supporting persons in your life and get their guidance on what the options and possibilities are. Become more than just a number or a name on an assignment. Make an effort beyond the lecture room, and your efforts are sure to be noted.”

Becoming a critical enquirer

Kriel says that most undergraduate programmes are limited in the amount of content and views they can offer you. However, most undergraduate qualifications will have a dedicated component of research and if not, at least some assignments that you need to complete.

“Use the opportunities associated with these tasks to become a critical enquirer by actively looking for, and challenging, different views on a specific topic. While this in itself may not get you into a post-graduate programme, you will at least be better prepared to deal with the expectation of a critical mindset when you are interviewed and after you are accepted.”

Looking at the possibilities

Students may not realise that opportunities beyond the obvious exist, so they would be doing themselves a disservice if they closed the post-graduate study door in disappointment without doing proper research.

“In today’s higher education environment there are more opportunities for further study than there were in the past. Familiarise yourself will all the options out there, the institutions, both public and private where possibilities exist and very importantly, with their respective entrance requirements, application deadlines and other important information.

“And don’t wait for your final year to start your investigations. If you know you need to achieve more than 65% in a specific subject, you should be keeping that in mind throughout your studies. Realising that you need to be in the Top 10 of your class to gain admission won’t help if you’ve consistently done well but remained on cruise control at around 40th or 50th position.”

Sticking to the housekeeping rules

Indulgence is not part of higher education institutions’ post-graduate vocabulary. So make sure you apply on time, supply all the information required, and talk to the right people.

“Also remember that institutions don’t wait until the closing date for applications to accept students, so if you are just meeting the deadline it may very well be that all the available places are already filled. Furthermore, not supplying all the required information and detail required is almost 100% guaranteed to see your application being one of the unsuccessful ones.”