On a recent visit to India, I spent time with undergraduate students coming to the end of their studies and thinking about their next step. While some students were planning to enter the world of work straight away, most were considering postgraduate study. Within this group, many students wanted to pursue a postgraduate programme in the subject they had studied at undergraduate level, but for a considerable number of students, this was not the case. What, they asked, if I want to work in an area unrelated to my undergraduate studies? What if my interests have evolved and I want to change career direction altogether? What if I want to develop additional skills to increase my job prospects? A postgraduate conversion course could be the best next step for these soon-to-be graduates.

What is a conversion course?

Conversion courses allow graduates to move away from the discipline they studied at undergraduate level towards a new subject area. While postgraduate study in some areas, such as Computer Science and Engineering, usually require previous study of the subject, many conversion courses are open to graduates of any discipline. Indeed, this is the big appeal of conversion courses, and explains why they have been increasingly sought-after by students in recent years. Conversion courses are usually one year long, and they are popular in areas such as Business, IT, and Law, to name but a few.

Why do a conversion course?

Three of the students I met believed that their undergraduate studies in Electrical Engineering had equipped them with specialist knowledge and skills in this area, but they wanted their next step to involve the development of business knowledge and skills. Another student was about to complete her Bachelor in Computer Applications but had developed an interest in Finance. A Business Management course or a Finance course, which does not require prior study in the area, could help these students make the transition to their desired career areas. By gaining a broad but advanced grounding in a new subject, graduates can achieve a new study or career goal, increase their employability, or even make a radical change in career direction.

What do employers think of conversion courses?

Employers these days are looking not only for technical or subject-specific skills. Increasingly, they are looking for employees who also have excellent communication and interpersonal skills, business know-how, and problem-solving skills[i]. It is the combination of subject-specific and more general competences, such as Engineering and commercial awareness, or the merging of complementary subject areas, such as Business and Law, which make graduates of conversion courses very attractive to employers. Many of the courses are vocationally-oriented, enabling the development of skills that are actively sought out by employers[ii]. In fact, recent research in Ireland demonstrated that conversion courses are “highly valued by employers”[iii].

Is a conversion course really for me?

If you are thinking about up-skilling, increasing your employability or changing career direction altogether, a conversion course may well be the answer. Course options abound and the opportunities may appear endless, but do not rush into applying for a conversion course without considering some key questions. Will a conversion course help you achieve your career objectives? Have you researched the employment opportunities and the skills required in the sector you are interested in? Will the course equip you with the required skills? What jobs have previous graduates of the course obtained? Are you really interested in, and passionate about, this new subject area? Don’t jump in to a conversion course without considering if it will get you where you want to be. In the wise words of Indian writer Ritu Ghatourey, “Aim for the sky, but set your sights on the next step”.

Find out about conversion courses at NUI Maynooth by clicking here.