The economic payoff of a Master’s degree from Queen’s University Belfast
Source: Queen's University Belfast

“Is grad school worth it?” happens to be one of Google’s most asked queries. The results page is a seemingly endless list of articles and reddit forums discussing the virtues and vices of chucking aside that full-time job to go back to school.

Between the pages of our best-loved search engine, you can even find a calculator that helps you work out whether it will actually make you wealthier, with new research and surveys popping up every month on how employers place increasing value on those with postgraduate qualifications.

With all this information, it’s no surprise that many agonising days and sleepless nights are spent on making this decision. Pick the wrong school and you could lose precious time and money. Choose correctly, and you could be on your way to a brighter, more lucrative future.

In the UK, one university is a long-time resident of the latter group, churning out one cohort of successful graduates after another: Queen’s University Belfast (QUB).

Located in Northern Ireland, QUB belongs in the elite UK group of research-intensive universities, known as the Russell Group, on top of landing in the Top 200 in QS World University Rankings 2019.

And while being a Russell Group school with such rankings is impressive, prospective students want to know is QUB can produce grad students who are more in demand, command higher salaries and enjoy greater work-life satisfaction to confirm whether a degree from this school pays off.

Rest assured that it does.

QUB opens doors

When it comes to the top reasons for working professionals wanting to attend grad school, climbing the career ladder and looking for a career change usually tops the list.

For the most part, research generally shows us that both graduates and postgraduates enjoy high levels of employment. Data from the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) confirms this fact – 83.1 percent of postgraduates found work after graduating. They’re also 20 percent more likely find themselves in a ‘professional occupation’ with greater professional competency and responsibility (rather than a less senior associate role).

Similarly, QUB’s employability statistics hold up just as well: 80 of Northern Ireland’s top 100 companies employ QUB graduates in senior leadership roles.

How the school provides these opportunities goes beyond just the paper these students graduate with at the end of their course. The career guidance centre at QUB frequently hosts events and career fairs to connect students to future employers. These not only increase their hiring chances but also allow them to get noticed by the most suitable employers according to their individual needs.

Edna Rodriguez, MSc Leadership for Sustainable Development (2013) student, landed her current job as a research assistant at the prestigious business publication Financial Times at one such fair.

Her previous placements – three two-month NGO, government and business placements as part of her QUB master’s degree – provided her with the research and database skills her employer was seeking. The guidance centre helped Rodriquez through every step of the rigorous interview process, she explains.

“I sincerely believe I would not have been as well prepared and successful in securing my current position within the Financial Times without the help of the careers advisor.”

It pays to be a QUB Graduate

From short courses like Postgraduate Certificates and Postgraduate Diplomas, to full-blown 2-year Master’s degrees, QUB ensures every course offered is financially worthwhile for its students.

A 2013 Sutton Trust report shows that a Master’s degree allows you to earn, on average, £5,500 more per year than your Bachelor-level counterparts. Over a 40-year working life, that equates to a hefty £200,000. Another 2015 report by the Institute of Fiscal Studies found that postgraduates earn around 9 percent more than graduates over the course of a lifetime.

Leading postgraduate courses, such as engineering, information technology and business studies – all of which QUB offers – have consistently been featured in The Complete University Guide’s Top 10 postgraduate subjects, according to average starting salary.

It’s not surprising to see these students go on to command higher pay. Take for example QUB’s School of Mechanical and Aerospace EngineeringSchool of Electronics, Electrical Engineering and Computer Science and QUB’s Management School. These institutions enjoy world-class facilities, close industry links and have internationally-renowned experts contributing to both its taught and research postgraduate programmes.

Its alumni can be found in prestigious organisations such as Transport for London, Bank of America Merrill Lynch, Deloitte and Diageo.

As Cherie Gardiner, MEng Mechanical Engineering says: “QUB’s is an excellent choice and the standard of teaching is world-leading. Opportunities such as placement year give you valuable experience and understanding you can bring to the classroom. Through this, individuals are well equipped for any role or profession they choose to pursue.”

But measuring satisfaction goes beyond just numbers.

Financial returns are important, but an ideal postgraduate journey is one that ensures students leave with life-long relationships, fruitful connections and unforgettable memories.

Cultural capital, defined as the social assets of a person (education, intellect, style of speech and dress, etc.) that promote social mobility in a stratified society, could be what it takes to set one apart from other equally as qualified candidates.

Ying Huang, MSc Advanced Mechanical Engineering, looks set to receive this enviable set of benefits.

“I feel so proud of the opportunity to be able to attend such a renowned university,” she explains. “I have made so many good friends in my time here at QUB’s and I also have found that the support and encouragement of staff has been a great help to my career path.”

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