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 by Mark Bennett
, posted on 18 Jan '18

What Are the Best Ways to Choose a Masters?


Would knowing how other students feel about postgraduate study help you in your search for a Masters? We're working with the Higher Education Academy to share their research into the postgraduate experience, starting with what to consider when picking a taught course. Upcoming blogs will look at reasons for further study and what students really think about their Masters degrees. Signup to make sure you don't miss a post.


The reputation of the university, its location, the content of a course, the way it's studied. . . the availability of funding.

At least one of these will probably matter to you when choosing a postgraduate programme, but how can you be sure you're considering the 'right' factors?

One way is to look at the decisions other students have made.

The 2017 Postgraduate Taught Experience Survey (PTES), published by the Higher Education Academy, reveals how real students have gone about choosing postgraduate courses and how satisfied they've ended up being with those choices. We've taken a look at the results to see how they can help guide your search for a Masters.

What are the 'best' reasons to choose a course?

The PTES asks how students have made their choices about postgraduate study. This information can be useful if you want to reflect on your decision making (and check that you aren't missing something).

But the PTES results also asks how satisfied students are with their courses.

And, if we compare the way students choose postgraduate study with how happy they are with the courses they choose, we can do something even more useful.

We can start to see which are the 'best' reasons to choose a Masters.


The 'best' ways to choose postgraduate study
Motivation Popularity Satisfaction level
Course structure and assessment 18% 94%
Reputation of course tutors 15% 93%
Course flexibility 19% 90%
Course content 40% 89%
Reputation in subject 39% 89%
Reputation of university 51% 86%
Availability of funding 16% 84%
University location 36% 82%
Relative cost 13% 81%
Information based on the Postgraduate Taught Experience Survey 2017, published by the Higher Education Academy. Percentages reflect the proportion of students who Agreed or Strongly Agreed with a motivation for choosing their postgraduate institution, together with their overall course satisfaction levels.

The first thing to note about this table is that the vast majority of postgraduates are satisfied with their courses - whatever reason they have for studying them.

But what else do they show?

Well, these results make it clear that the reasons for choosing a postgraduate course are very varied, with no one 'vital' factor that all students agree on.

Perhaps more interestingly, it's also clear that the most popular reasons to choose a Masters aren't necessarily the best.

Let's take a closer look at what this information tells us.

Course research pays off

It perhaps makes sense that students who choose their Masters based on course structure and assessment end up being the most satisfied with it. The same is true for those who place a high value on other course details, such as content and flexibility (the third and fourth most satisfying reasons).

There's more to reputation than meets the eye

The overall ranking of a university can be a very visible factor when choosing a programme - and we know that it's also the most popular reason for choosing a Masters. But students who dig deeper end up having more satisfying postgraduate experiences. This is especially true for those who go as far as considering the staff behind their courses.

Money isn't everything

Students who choose a course based on funding or cost are still generally happy with it, but these reasons are lower down the satisfaction scale. On its own, affordability won't necessarily make a course satisfying.

Location matters, to a degree

Students who chose a course based on its location were still fairly satisfied, but, again, this doesn't seem to have been the most definitive factor.

How should you choose your Masters?

The PTES isn't just about measuring the postgraduate experience: it's also about improving it for future students - like you!

So, how can you use these results to help you find the right course?

  • Don't just look at rankings - Global league tables may not tell you what you need to know as a postgraduate student. If you can, use more specific rankings (or other tools) to look at a university (or department's) reputation in your subject.
  • Consider course content - The most satisfied students are those who consider the actual content and structure of a course, not just the subject, qualification and university. Look at the modules you'll study - and how you'll study them.
  • Think about tutors - This is the second most important criteria identified in the PTES and it makes sense: as a postgraduate, you'll be working much more closely with tutors. Compare their interests with yours - and don't be afraid to get in touch.
  • Think sensibly about cost - The most satisfying course won't necessarily be the cheapest, or have the most generous scholarship. But it won't necessarily be the most expensive, either. Try not to consider fees and funding in isolation.
  • Prioritise the things you care about - If the ability to study by distance learning is a key factor for you, then that's one of the most important things you should consider. Try to make a checklist of the things that matter to you.

Above all else, take your time. If the PTES results show anything, it's that the opportunity to consider a potential course in more detail - looking at modules and assessment, checking specific rankings, finding out about tutors - really pays off when it comes to satisfaction.

Our course listings will tell you almost everything you need to know, but don't be afraid to get in touch with universities to find out more.

We'll be taking a closer look at other insights from the PTES over the next few weeks - signup to make sure you don't miss a post.



What is the Postgraduate Taught Experience Survey? - The PTES is an annual survey of taught postgraduate students, conducted by the Higher Education Academy (HEA). You can view more information about the PTES here or check out a handy infographic video, summarising the results.





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