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Whether you’re fresh out of an undergraduate programme or thinking about returning to academia after a few years in the workplace, studying part-time can give you a freedom to pursue opportunities you wouldn’t be able to otherwise – but is it right for everyone? We explore the pros and cons of part-time study.
One of the biggest draws to part-time study is the flexibility it affords, allowing you to fit in other commitments around your course. Plus online learning has made part-time study far more accessible. Depending on your circumstances, for example, it could be quite feasible to live in one city while studying part-time in another.
Con: Staying Focused
Many part-time postgraduate courses run for just a couple of hours a week, over a period of two or more years. This means committing to your studies for a long time, and without frequent contact hours you might find yourself losing momentum.
Plus, it’s difficult to predict how your circumstances might change in a year or two’s time. Andrew Flynn studied a part-time MA in scriptwriting at The University of South Wales and says: "I think my biggest issue was struggling to genuinely feel as though I was studying for a Masters because two years is a very long time. I was constantly wishing it was an intensive one-year course."
Pro: It Fits Around Work
Studying full-time could make meeting your living expenses difficult. A part-time course means you can take on a part-time job to help pay your course fees, or even continue working your normal job while you study on the side. Depending on the qualifications you want, your existing employer may even be willing to wholly or partially fund your course.
Con: Funding Can Be Tricky to Obtain
Funding for postgraduate qualifications is very different to funding for undergraduate degrees. As a general rule, there’s no fee difference between full-time and part-time courses, but you’ll need to think about the extended period of time that you’ll be borrowing for or relying on family. Would it fit your aims better to get the expense out of the way sooner rather than later?
Pro: More Spare Time For Relevant Experience
Degrees – both undergraduate and postgraduate – are becoming more common nowadays, so it really helps students to have something that sets them apart from other candidates when it comes to job applications.
Depending on the subject you study, you could use your non-study time to find volunteering, internships or part-time work relevant to your industry.
Con: You Might End Up Taking Too Much On
Work, studies, a social life… it all adds up and can leave you burned out if you’re not careful.
Rebecca Brynolf studied a part-time creative and professional writing MA at The University of Roehampton and says: "I look back and wonder how I managed it at all. I was in uni two evenings a week, working in a pub up to six days a week and interning at a magazine two days a week, all while having a social life, maintaining a new relationship and carrying out all my course assignments. I planned my days to the minute sometimes. I didn't relax for two years!"
Pro: Employers See Evidence of Commitment
Studying for a postgraduate degree is no mean feat, so doing it part-time shows future employers you’re dedicated, motivated and have good time-management skills.
Con: Lack of a Student Social Life
It’s no secret that undergraduate student life is as much about the partying as it is the studying, and when it comes to full-time intensive postgrad courses, groups and classes often bond together in the same way.
Things are a little different for part-timers though. As Rebecca remembers: "I set foot in the student bar once in the whole two years I was there, and that was the one and only time I socialised with my course mates before we all had to run home to kids and jobs. I do regret that I never had time for the clubs and events that would have been beneficial to starting a career as a writer."
Pro: Part-Time Tutors Aware of Potential Issues
They’re not necessarily more lenient, but they’re empathetic to the problems part-time students face and are well-equipped to offer help and advice.
Con: You’ll Be ‘Behind’ Your Peers For Longer
If you’re jumping into postgraduate study straight from an undergraduate degree, you might find yourself in a ‘student limbo’ while your friends head into the world of work, and you’ll be impatient to get on and make your mark on the world.
Whatever your reasons for pursuing part-time study, you need to go into it with your eyes open. Accept that it will bring complexities and challenges, but if you have the drive and focus it could prove immensely rewarding too.
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