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Head facing away with question marks

 by Chantelle Francis
, posted on 5 Oct '16

How do You Actually Choose a Masters Degree? - Finding the Right Postgraduate Course for 2017

Final year has just started, you’re still recovering from fresher’s week, and now you have to attend 9am and 5pm lectures - who even knew those existed in the curriculum?

While trying to get back into the swing of university life, you just might be swaying to the idea of pursuing a Masters degree after you graduate. That’s great – and there are plenty of options available.

But how do you choose between them? And how do you make sure your choice is the right one?

Thankfully, there’s no right or wrong way of going about this.

I was fortunate enough to know I wanted to study a postgraduate degree from an early stage. But, if you’re only just beginning to think about a Masters, you may be wondering where to start.

That’s where this blog comes in.

Below are some general tips for choosing the right Masters degree, along with some advice from my own experience.

#1 – Know what you want to do

This may seem banal, but choosing a Masters degree doesn’t just mean picking the subject you want to study. It also means thinking about how you want to study it – and what style you want to learn in.

Masters degrees are much more specialised, and as such do not always meet the conventional learning styles you’ll have experienced in your undergraduate degree.

Some programmes include more individual projects in place of taught classes. Others involve lots of practical and vocational work ‘off campus’. And some degrees are based entirely on your own independent research work.

So it’s essential to choose a subject you’re passionate about and a course which suits your learning style.

The approach I took was to list the main components I wanted from a Masters degree. I wanted more autonomy, less classroom-based learning, fewer essays, and more community-based research. Finding suitable Masters degrees was much easier as a result. Having identified my specific needs, I could quickly see which programmes would cater to them, and which would not.

After careful consideration, I was able to narrow down my options to just two MAs: one project-based MA, and another which combined a work placement with assignments similar to those I had undertaken at undergrad. Essays were never going to be avoidable, but being in charge of my own projects sounded much better to me than balancing assignments with a work placement I had no say in choosing.

When narrowing down options for yourself, you might want to try scaling the importance of each of the needs you have selected, and then compare how well each course satisfies them in their learning outcomes and mission statement.

#2 – Know why you want to do it

Having decided on a more vocational Masters, I then worried it might not be taken as seriously as other degrees, or that it would not have the same kind of reputation.

But for me, what studying a Masters really came down to was the pursuit of knowledge for learning’s sake. I’d never felt that my degree had to decide my career, and I wasn’t about to change this opinion now.

Of course, this isn’t the case for everybody. For some, a Masters degree is one way of paving the path towards a career. It is also an essential requirement for some fields of work. But either way, ensure you are undertaking a Masters degree for the right reasons.

Don’t be tempted to ignore an interesting looking programme simply because it isn’t mainstream. And don’t be tempted to pick a degree just because you feel it might look good on your CV.

Think about whether you can envisage yourself on each course you choose. Having doubts about whether one is right for you is completely normal. But if you find yourself picking at components which aren’t to your liking and finding faults in the format, the course may not be for you.

#3 – Get as much information as possible

Our course listings are a great place to start looking at the courses available to you – after all, helping students ‘find a Masters’ is what we do.

But don’t just rely on this information. Course descriptions and student experiences are useful, but your research should go a little further than this.

Even if the course you’d like to study is a relatively new one, there will be somebody who can provide direct information about the course. That’s why all of the courses we list have contact details available.

And don’t be shy about getting in touch. If you’re genuinely interested in a course, staff will be happy to answer any questions you may have, big or small, about the degree and how your prior experience may fit with the curriculum.

By contacting the course convenor or one of its lecturers, you are not only accessing better information, you are showing a keen interest in the course and getting your name heard before your application has even gone through – win!

#4 – Don’t just rely on the internet

Websites are useful, but, believe it or not, we don’t think they’re the only way to learn about postgraduate study. We’re also a big fan of postgraduate open days and events. In fact, we even run some.

Most Universities will also hold open days, with participating departments providing staff to answer specific questions. Getting to know those that could potentially teach you on a prospective course not only gives you a feel for the content, but how well you might get on with those running it.

If your Masters is going to be more research-based, knowing that your prospective supervisor shares your interests and approach is a definite bonus.

Of course, attending lots of open days can be challenging – and costly. One way to get around this is to try a postgraduate study fair. These include representatives from many universities, all in one place and all eager to chat with future Masters and PhD students.

#5 – Think about how you’ll fund it

It’s no secret – postgraduate study can be expensive and the cost of a Masters is made up of more than just fees.

For me, the only possible way to undertake a Masters degree was to receive a scholarship – and not just one that covered course fees.

Working whilst studying for a Masters, particularly a full-time one, isn’t easy. You should consider how feasible it would be for you to self-fund, whether applying for a loan will be worth it in the long-run, and whether any scholarships are available to you.

Contact each individual University you apply to, to find out what kind of options they can provide for you. Researching external funding bodies, such as White Rose Scholarships (if you have studied in Leeds, Sheffield, or York), and Erasmus+, which is open to most students from most countries, is also a good idea.

Looking for more help choosing a Masters degree? Take a look at our guides to different postgraduate degree types, or our helpful set of Masters FAQS.


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