What they don't tell you about studying a postgraduate course

Sunaina Khandelwal, MA Fine Art: Painting

You've already spent three years of your life as an undergraduate, with all the hard work and financial commitment that entails. So the idea of embarking on a further period of postgraduate study, costing you more money and delaying your entry into the industry even longer, is not one to be taken lightly.

But that doesn't mean you should discount it out of hand. Although often misrepresented, postgraduate education has many benefits to offer, that can potentially boost your career prospects and help you earn money doing more rewarding work in the long term.

Creative students at University of the Arts London (UAL) know this only too well. Ranked number two in the world for Art and Design by QS World University Rankings 2020, UAL is home to more than 2,400 postgraduate students working across the fields of art, design, screen, communication, fashion, media and performing arts. And there are over 100 creative courses, including MAs, MBAs and MScs.

So why do so many creative students opt for postgraduate study? Here, we explore some of the many reasons.

1. It's about being independent

Postgrad life isn't just a continuation of your degree study: it's a totally different ball game. Compared to your undergraduate course, it requires you to be even more independent and driven. And not only is this character building for your life in general, but it's also going to help you prepare for the real world of work as a creative.

Sunaina Khandelwal, who's studying MA Fine Art: Painting at UAL, outlines how this looks in reality. "I usually go into my studio every day, apart from weekends where I spend hours doing work, analysing and reflecting on my practice," she explains.

"I continuously visit artist lectures and seminars that help the development of my practice. The course has a strongly independent nature, and this allows me to challenge and explore myself as an artist, preparing me for the real world. It includes regular pop-up shows where the class can exhibit their work, which helps us focus on aspects of display and curatorial strategies."

That said, if you need specific help and guidance with your career after the course, that's on offer too. "My course has regularly scheduled seminars focusing on career pathways and opportunities for students once they graduate," explains Sunaina. "Personally, I am interested in pursuing a career as an art gallery curator, and both UAL and my course offer me continual opportunities to get involved in upcoming exhibitions and artist calls that will help drive my career goals to fruition."

Sunaina Khandelwal, MA Fine Art: Painting

Sunaina Khandelwal, MA Fine Art: Painting

Sunaina Khandelwal, MA Fine Art: Painting

Sunaina Khandelwal, MA Fine Art: Painting

2. You can take your life in a new direction

Because postgrad study is all about following your passion, that means your choice of study is wide open. You can continue studying in your undergraduate field, of course, but you don't have to. Like Sunaina, you might wish to drill down within that field and pursue a specialism, or you might want to pursue a whole new area of study. That's precisely what Yoav Segal has done.

Having completed an undergraduate degree in Illustration and then a diploma in film design, he went on to work in film, animation and scenic projection design. Now he's decided to return to university and is studying MA Theatre Design at UAL.

Why the switch? "Since I was a kid I've adored theatre: the gripping storytelling, the magic in the air and more than anything, the imagination, flair and ingenuity of its design," he enthuses. "The UAL course felt like a perfect fit for me as it's very hands-on, and the campus is an art school, which I know from my BA works well for me. I also immediately liked the course leader when I met him on the open day, as well as the tone and feel of the course and teaching methods. I felt inspired and excited. I knew I could grow a lot through the MA."

In short, it's never too late to make a switch and pursue the career you most dream of. "I've always wanted to be a theatre designer, and I've always quietly thought to myself I could be," says Yoav. "The course has already built my confidence – and belief – that I'll be able to build a viable career."

Yoav Segal, MA Theatre Design

Yoav Segal, MA Theatre Design

Yoav Segal, MA Theatre Design

Yoav Segal, MA Theatre Design

3. It's hands-on

While UAL is a highly respected academic institution, that doesn't mean that its postgraduate courses are purely theory-driven. In fact, there's a big emphasis on practical, hands-on skills.

That's one thing that Yoav has been pleasantly surprised by. "My perception was that it would be more academic and theoretical than it is," he explains. "It's fantastically 'at the coal face' learning, and this suits me well. I also thought it would be less intensive than it is. Of course, as it's studio-based and focused on self-practice, your work takes up as much time as you want; but you end up wanting to do really well, so it's a lot of time!"

His tips for others starting a similar course? "Go all out," he advises. "With UAL, there are so many campuses, lectures, workshops, technical departments, experts and opportunities. Consume as much as possible because in the 'real' world lots of the skills you can learn, people you can talk to and media you can access costs a lot! It's a real positive of being part of UAL."

4. You're part of a strong community

You might think that studying in a big city like London could be a slightly lonely experience. Actually, nothing could be further from the truth.

As you grow creatively and professionally, you'll be in excellent company. UAL's six world-renowned Colleges are based across London (Camberwell College of Arts, Central Saint Martins, Chelsea College of Arts, London College of Communication, London College of Fashion and Wimbledon College of Arts) and form a creative network of artists, designers and innovators. It's this thriving, exciting and inspirational community that will help you form a personal network to push your skills and career prospects ever-forward.

"Wimbledon College of Arts is a lovely campus that feels like an old-school art school (in a good way)," says Yoav. "There's a community vibe, it's nice and small, you feel welcome in all the departments, and it's busy with passionate artists. There's a focus on practical skills, with computing and IT supporting this, which I think is the right balance. UAL at large is incredible. Being able to visit all the other campuses, like Central Saint Martins and hit the libraries is so useful."

And of course, being in one of the most creative and diverse cities on the planet has its plus-sides too. "London is a melting pot of everything," says Yoav. "It's fast-paced, intoxicating and has some of the best galleries, theatres and creative industries. You're always within touching distance of the work you aspire to, so it feels more achievable."

"Leaving home is not always easy; I am an international student myself who has been living in the UK since 2015," adds Sunaina. "However, it is a memorable experience. Moving away from home not only gives you the freedom to grow as a person, but also a great deal of independence. Sure, it can be daunting at first, but UAL itself has such a welcoming, friendly and diverse environment that you will feel at ease."

Zoe Zanon Rives, PG Cert Fashion: Buying and Merchandising

Zoe Zanon Rives, PG Cert Fashion: Buying and Merchandising

Zoe Zanon Rives, PG Cert Fashion: Buying and Merchandising

Zoe Zanon Rives, PG Cert Fashion: Buying and Merchandising

5. You have access to great resources

Zoe Zanon Rives completed a BA in fashion styling before taking a year out to work for Selfridges, the luxury department store. She's now come to UAL to study the PG Cert Fashion: Buying and Merchandising, a three-month intensive course. One of the things she loves most about the university is the superior level of resources now at her fingertips.

"London College of Fashion is one of the leading fashion universities in the world, and when you become a student you understand why," she says. "Along with the installations, teaching materials and staff, you have access to every single book, magazine and resource you could imagine through its physical libraries.

"You also get access to professional industry tools that are normally only available for businesses, such as EDITED, BOF professional, or WGSN, etc. These are platforms that we will be using in our future jobs, so being able to use them during our studies ensures we are already well-prepared to enter the workplace."

The quality of tutors is also really important to Zoe: "Teaching is delivered by industry professionals, and I think this is the best preparation for my future career. The feedback I'm given is always in preparation for my future role and, as good or bad as it can be, I know that when I come across this same situation in the workplace, I'll know how to respond to it."

But postgraduate study is not something you can cruise through, cautions Sunaina. "As a postgraduate student, you have to be willing to give your 200 per cent and go that extra mile with the effort. You will only have this one year to enhance your CV and skillsets, so you need to get involved with exhibitions, competitions, residencies, internships, voluntary work and many other extracurricular activities. This will boost your portfolio, CV and experiences when applying for jobs."

But again, you're not on your own here. "Remember that the course will also provide you with a vital opportunity to build those contacts that can help you in the future," says Sunaina.

Study at UAL

The message is clear. Whether you've just finished your BA, have taken a year out, or have been working in the creative industries for some time, postgraduate study can help you follow your passion and build a career you love.

By studying at UAL, you'll gain access to networking, social events and project funding opportunities that will open endless doors for you and help you settle on the career direction that suits you best. Visit the University of Arts London website today to find the right course for you.

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