Should you do it?
Generally speaking, it is a bad idea to embark on further study without a clear idea of what you hope to get out of it. But further study can be fun – and if you know you want to do something which requires it, such as become an academic, so much the better.
Certain jobs will require a Master’s or PhD. If you have an idea of what you want to do after you stop studying (and with rational expectations you should appreciate that this point will eventually come) find out which qualifications you need to do it.
A Master’s from a university with a good reputation can open doors with employers. This is the case even if you want a job which won’t involve any of the material that you learn on the Masters. This is especially true if you have gone to a university which might not have an established ‘brand’ with employers. This is less true with a PhD – three years is a long time to spend acquiring a signal!
If you enjoy studying (which most people considering further study will do) then you should take this into account. This is especially true if further study allows you to do a job which you would enjoy (see Human Capital, above)
These are not limited by the government and can vary substantially. Typically the fees for Master’s courses are much higher than for PhDs each year. Fees are also highly variable. Some will be as ‘cheap’ as £3,000/year while others will be far higher than this, with the most expensive fees in excess of £15,000/year.
You still will have living costs, but without wages or a student loan. When you take the opportunity cost of lost earnings into account further study can be even more expensive.
If you are fortunate enough to win ESRC funding then you will receive a stipend towards covering the cost of living.