With a bachelors completed, a sense of “what now” quickly settles in and a masters degree is a logical next step. After graduation, the Open University (OU) was quick to respond to tweets:

Masters degree

A lot of graduates I met in Ely that had started or were about to start a masters degree. I hadn’t considered anything other than taking at least a year off studying. So what would be the benefit, considerations and on balance is it worthwhile?

Where am I now?

Consider my current situation first. I have a little over 3 years before I retire from the military. I need to focus on career transition. Does a masters degree offer me an advantage? I also need to resettle in Scotland (I’ve been posted outside Scotland my whole career). A big upheaval to consider.

Experience and career relevance

A quote from Prospects certainly hit home with me:

You will only benefit fully from a Masters if it’s complemented by relevant work experience. Without this, your employability will be weaker and you run the risk of getting into unnecessary debt.

Relevant work experience is a problem. I have been active in open source projects and could involve myself more. Would a bachelors with experience be better than masters without? Several articles, such as this one in the Guardian, suggest with so many graduates starting their career a masters degree could make you stand out. However only where the applicant can confer the additional skills developed. These are much the same skills acquired from my current career. Masters degrees are undoubtedly held in high regard by employers and most likely will improve career earnings. Perhaps this is better approached once working in that field? Certainly it would give specific experience to draw upon.

How much does a masters degree cost?

What about cost? The Open University estimates Computing to be between £7,515 and £8,160. I have options to fund this: Enhanced Learning Credits would offset the cost of three modules by the lesser of £2000 or 80%; postgraduate loan would cover the entire cost but would be affect mortgage options; a student budget account with the OU would allow me to pay the cost over 12 months; finally a combination of all three. Clearly this is a significant financial commitment, which might not be the best option for me now.

What options are available?

Finally, what are my options? There are three qualifications that interest me and would fit: the Open Masters program; Master of Science (MSc) Computing; and a Master of Business Administration (MBA).

Open Masters Degree

The OU offers an Open masters, described as:

This innovative masters degree allows you to create a personalised course of study across a range of academic disciplines. The programme will enable you to expand your discipline-related knowledge at masters level, gain broader subject-specific knowledge and pursue further professional development in areas that align with your employment needs and professional aspirations.

This is broadly divided into four groups:

  • Arts and humanities
  • Education and health
  • Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics
  • Business and law

It offers a big positive – combining different related fields. If I specialised in STEM, I could combine that with education. This freedom appeals to me – I enjoy learning for learnings sake. Once I got into the weeds of requirements it’s clear this isn’t as free as it might seem. Consider  “Advanced mathematical methods” – I don’t have a high enough level of maths. This turns out to be true of other mathematics modules and frustratingly of almost every module that isn’t computing. That leaves the education element. I meet entry requirements but lack relevant experience to draw on. I am confident that this is not the qualification for me.

Masters degree in Computing

Computing has three pathways but I’m only considering two – Software Engineering or Information Security and Forensics. The latter is a sensible choice from the point of view that it builds and expands on the elements of my level three bachelors modules (M813 from TM354 for example). Information Security looks fascinating and is certainly likely to be a growing field. I am concerned that there are modules entering their final presentation. This can make it difficult to plan out when to register. In turn this can delay completion. Again though there is the recurring theme of applying current employment to the modules.

Masters degree in Business Administration

Finally there is the MBA – where I can utilise my experience and current role as an anchor to masters study. This is probably the only option for study that makes sense while still serving. Cost is a significant consideration, estimated at £15,185 to £17,400, significantly higher than Computing. However there are other options for an MBA while in service other than the Open University. I need to investigate these fully.

Conclusion

In conclusion a masters degree is a significant expense in both time and money. It heavily relies on building on both current qualifications and critically drawing on the organisation you work in. I feel this limits my options and is isn’t compatible with transitioning to a new field. Moreover it doesn’t offer an advantage in securing employment.

The exception is an MBA, which would utilise my experience. However it is a considerable financial committent, perhaps not at the best time. That said there are other options available and I need to look into them.

Although I want to give it further consideration, it might not be the correct path for me. At least for now.