Considering a master’s

Dear Oracle

I'm thinking of doing a master’s degree after my undergraduate studies. It would be a pretty expensive undertaking though; what factors should I take into account in helping me make the decision and would it boost my chances of securing a training contract?

The Oracle replies

Deciding whether or not to study a master's depends entirely on why you want to do it (and whether or not you can afford it!). Valid reasons include studying for the love of the subject or a desire to develop expertise in a subject because you want to be a top-notch practitioner (eg, studying tax for the tax Bar). If a postgraduate qualification is something you regard as a personal ambition, then this is an equally valid reason.

It may well be that you are considering a career in academic law, in which case a master's will almost certainly be vital! If, however, you see it as the way round a lower than expected first degree result in order to get a training contract or pupillage, proceed with caution. Few law firms or chambers will take account of a master's degree if your first degree result falls below their entry requirement and you have no genuine mitigating circumstances. Certainly, most UK law firms do not count a master's as part of their selection criteria. To summarise, firms and chambers are pleased to see this kind of experience on a CV, but this will not make up for a 2.2 or take precedence over their other selection criteria, such as good work experience!

Further, do bear in mind that it is an extra year of academic training that further delays your entry into the vocational side of things, and may not in fact serve to make you a more desirable training contract/pupillage candidate. That said, in some practice areas (eg, competition or public international law) it may be the thing that sets you apart.

Finally, in some international jurisdictions, a master's is as important as a first degree. If you are an international student returning home at the end of your studies, or if you are hoping to train overseas, it is worth finding out what the desirable level of education is in that jurisdiction.

Check out our Courses section to find out more about some of the institutions that offer postgrad study.

We also asked a former graduate recruiter for her advice. Our recruiter says: "Having spent seven years as a graduate recruiter for two top 20 law firms, my advice to those wishing to practise in the United Kingdom would be to only do a master's if you have a genuine interest in whichever area of study. For training contracts and vacation schemes, a master's will not enhance your application, even if it is in one of the firm's practice areas. Having spoken to many students over the years, it seems to be widely thought that if you have below-par grades, a master's qualification will mitigate against them. It won't - I can't be clearer about this. The academic grades that matter are your GCSEs, A levels (or equivalent) and your first undergraduate degree.

"However, if you are thinking about the Bar, a master's in your chosen practice area may well be helpful, but only if you get a high merit or distinction. As with a degree, anything below this will be a hindrance to your application, rather than an enhancement."

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