Tips For Embarking On Postgraduate Study, From People Who’ve Done It

Ignore the fear, dust off the books, and get back to the classroom.

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If the idea of going back to uni makes you sit up and pay attention, but the study commitments, cost, and essay deadlines have you freaking out, it’s time to ignore the fear, dust off the books, and get back to the classroom.

We spoke with two studious (and amazingly hard-working) women who’ve taken the postgrad plunge and lived to tell the tale. Here are their top five tips to thriving and surviving during a postgraduate degree.

#1 Assess Your Ability

Just because you’re going back to uni doesn’t mean you have to spend every waking moment studying. Nessa Pastoors completed a Master of Employment Relations with Griffith University online, through Open Universities Australia (OUA), and believes taking on one subject per semester is a great way to dip your toe back in the academic pool.

“Choose a subject that inspires you the most and use it as a tester,” she explains to Junkee. “From there, you can decide if it’s something you want to pursue long-term or whether it’s time to re-examine your options.”

Are you a commitment-phobe? Breathe easy. OUA has more than 400 online postgraduate subjects on offer from leading unis, meaning you can explore a number of new areas before tethering yourself to a full degree. Studying one postgraduate subject at a time doesn’t just allow you to enrol without committing to an entire degree, it helps you build on your existing knowledge and upskill in a specific area.

Nessa believes it’s this freedom, mixed with the ability to control your level of involvement, that makes the entire experience that less daunting. “Postgrad is so doable – there’s so much support available,” she says. “Your level of involvement and how much time you invest is really up to you.”

#2 Pay It Your Way

While Nessa worked during her postgraduate studies, she also gave birth to two kids and had a busy life to lead, which meant she often accessed the FEE-HELP option for those times she elected not to pay the full fee up-front. “Having that flexibility was really great.”

Carmen Wells, who studied a Master of Criminology and Criminal Justice from Griffith University online, through OUA, also used FEE-HELP during her postgraduate study. “I never paid for my subjects up front,” she says. “FEE-HELP is government-supported funding, so luckily I didn’t have that financial burden of my course while I was trying to work and complete the degree!”

#3 Plan Ahead

Before you buy new textbooks, get yourself a new diary first. Nessa credits this with helping her stay organised. “Keeping a diary allowed me to manage study, work, and life,” she explains. “I was also quite easy on myself. If I knew I had an assignment due in a months’ time, I would schedule enough social events to remind me that there were other things going on besides just reading books!”

Carmen firmly believes in being prepared while also setting boundaries between work, study, and self-care. “You need to be really organised and focused because, during postgrad, the expectation is that you already have a foundational level of understanding,” she says. “Recognising that postgrad is next level and that they mark harder means you’re already off on a good foot.”

She also believes in having a long-term goal and that mapping it out helps to avoid any scheduling issues with major work. “That way, you can make sure you have the time and ability to get the work done ahead of whatever else is going on.”

#4 Take A Break

To avoid burn out, Carmen made a point of hitting the gym every day and believes self-care was extremely important during stressful periods of full-time work and study. “If I did my work-out before I went to work, I felt good for the rest of the day and was able to come home and study,” she says. “It was really important for me, because I was studying subjects that were also linked to my job and I work in a pretty high-stress environment, dealing with murderers and offenders.”

When studying seemed like too much of a commitment for Nessa, she took a break and focused on other areas of her life. “Sometimes, I’d take a semester break if I had a whole pile of things on at work and I knew it wasn’t the right time to add a study commitment on top of it,” she admits. “Other times, work was going pretty smoothly, so I knew I could take on a subject or two – I would just judge it as I went.”

#5 Or Take A Trip

Neither Carmen or Nessa felt like taking holidays was out of the question during their respective degrees.  While Carmen and her partner managed to escape for a relaxing night or two here or there, Nessa managed a big trip once a year.

“You can get Wi-Fi everywhere…so you can be sitting in a café and listening to a lecture – it’s totally doable – just perhaps don’t fly out the day you have a big assignment due!”

Take the plunge and boost your career with a postgraduate single subject or degree. For 25 years, Open Universities Australia has enabled students to study online with leading unis, without putting their lives on hold. Explore your options at or call a friendly student advisor on 13 OPEN.