Postgraduate study in business, commerce and economics

In spite of the recession, the long-term career prospects for those undertaking postgraduate study in business or finance remain buoyant.
Business people

Job prospects

Global demand for qualified professionals in business, commerce and economics mean that roles across a wide range of industries both at home and abroad will be within reach of postgraduates in these areas.

Sectors recruiting business postgraduates include finance and accounting, industry, consulting, and technology and telecommunications. A postgraduate degree in economics could lead to a career as a professional economist, possibly in finance, government, economic research, economic journalism or consultancy.

Many programmes help you to put your studies into practice by building work experience into the course. Experiential degrees in subjects such as marketing practice give students hands-on training working on real-life projects for smaller companies.

Another development is a masters in accounting, which provides a streamlined route to professional qualification by bringing several professional examinations together into one postgraduate course. This frontloads the training with examinations while backloading with experience, which suits some students better than the traditional method of bringing examinations and experience together in a training contract. Remember though that a masters is only the beginning: once you are in that job, you will need to prove that you have the skills.

The options

There is a huge variety of options available for those wishing to pursue a postgraduate degree in either business or finance, both for those with relevant undergraduate degrees who wish to specialise in an area such as marketing, HR or corporate finance, and for those students who did a non-business undergraduate degree who want to add a postgraduate business degree to 'round out' their education.

Nearly all colleges now offer a wide variety of fourth-level programmes to students with good undergraduate degrees. Entry requirements will vary from college to college, but probably a minimum of a 2.2 degree will be required and at least a 2.1 or even first class honours may be required for the most popular subjects. You will also probably have to complete a detailed application form and may have to attend an interview before being accepted onto a programme.

Conversion courses

If you have a non-business undergraduate degree, adding a postgraduate business course, such as a higher diploma in business or a masters in management, can make you very attractive to employers – in many instances even more attractive for a business role than a graduate with just a business degree.

Alternatively, you may want to add a postgraduate business qualification to your undergraduate degree as it will give you an extra edge over the competition in your chosen field. For example, adding a postgraduate business course to a law degree makes it much easier to land a competitive corporate law position in one of the leading law firms.

Masters of Business Administration (MBA)

The MBA is designed for professionals with a number of years' experience under their belts. Its aim is to help students become senior managers or leaders in their businesses and develop the management and analytical tools to equip them to make the big-picture strategic decisions in their fields.

MBA applicants come from all backgrounds and it's this diversity of talent that can often be the most rewarding part of the programme.

Most US business schools offer the MBA as a two-year full-time programme, while it is usually a one-year full-time or two-year part-time course (Executive MBA) in Europe. Most schools will require you to sit a GMAT (numerical and verbal ability) test and go through an interview process before accepting you onto their course.

Most MBAs will cover all of the main business functions, such as finance, accounting, HR, marketing and operations at a high level and will add in a strategic element as well. Some programmes and indeed some business schools may specialise in certain subject areas such as finance or marketing. The case study methodology is widely used – students analyse real life business examples or 'cases' to see what happened and where decisions were taken rightly or wrongly. Some MBAs and indeed some Business Schools may specialise in certain subject areas such as finance or marketing. MBAs are usually expensive, costing tens of thousands of euros, although many part-time students will get sponsorship from their employers and most universities will also offer scholarships to outstanding candidates.

Be prepared for the MBA to take over your life for the duration of the course. The workload is immense, with a huge volume of reading and team-based projects, reports and presentations the norm. If you survive it, however, you should have the confidence to cope with anything the corporate world can throw at you.

Issues to consider

  • A postgraduate business qualification will always be of benefit to you, no matter how your future career path unfolds, but make sure that the course you take will help you to further your plans. Some postgraduate courses are in very specific areas, for example supply chain management, and so you need to be very sure that that is the area you want to get into afterwards.
  • If you are not sure what you want to do after your course, choose a more general subject such as international business or management, which will enable you to move into many different career directions.
  • Be sure to check on both the quality of the course and the institution; some colleges and courses are better regarded by employers than others. Before applying, always ask the institution what its alumni have gone on to do and where.