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 by Mark Bennett
, posted on 24 Nov '20

How NOT to Apply for a Masters

We like to think there's some good advice postgraduate application advice on this blog: tips for personal statements, language tests, scholarship essays – even some guidance on actually choosing a course to apply for.

Well, this post isn't like any of those. This is a post about how NOT to apply for a Masters. Indulge me though as these 'tips' could still be oddly useful to you. At the very least they'll be a bit of fun, and we could all do with more of that right now.

Just straight up ask for money

Look, postgraduate funding is complicated, difficult and more than a little annoying sometimes. Believe me, I know. That's why we've devoted a whole section of the site to it, plus many, many posts on this blog.

One way to get funding is to see if your university can help. A lot of the time, they probably can and it's OK to ask them. Just not right at the beginning of your application.

Think about it: "I'm really excited about the specialist focus of this course and the academic teaching it" is a much better opener for a personal statement than "So, I hear you have scholarships?"

The correct thing to do is to investigate funding in parallel with your application. But this isn't a post about the correct things to do.

Speaking of personal statements though. . .

Copy and paste your entire personal statement

This is such an important point that I've actually copied and pasted it from a similar post on PhD applications (meta). But you shouldn't do that. Copy and paste, I mean.

Chances are you may end up applying to more than one Masters. Now, there are some ways to mess that up (and we'll get to them in a moment, fear not) but, in principle, it's fine.

It probably will mean writing more than one personal statement though. If you want to do this properly, you can keep some of the general information about your background, interests, aspirations etc, but tweak them a little to fit the specific course, which you'll also talk about a little. That'll generally do the trick.

But, if you want your application to fail, then go for a vague statement that could be used for more or less any course at any university (and probably has been, by you). The only thing less likely to succeed than that is copying a statement you wrote for a totally different Masters. You could try that too, I guess.

Try and see how many courses you can apply for at the same time

Generally speaking, there's no centralised applications service for postgraduate courses (like UCAS) and, in most cases, there's also no application fee. What this means is that you can technically apply to as many courses as you like. This isn't meant to be a challenge, but what if it was?

Well, you would actually find it pretty challenging. Masters applications sometimes involve a little more legwork than undergraduate applications, with the potential for more detailed discussion of your current degree, your dissertation plans, etc. There's also less handholding and more emphasis on things like your personal statement (above).

You can absolutely make things harder for yourself by trying to manage ten different applications at the same time. Two or three is more realistic, but that's a different blog.

Leave everything until the last minute

Another quirk about Masters applications: there's often no deadline and, if there is, it's probably very relaxed.

Forget about having to apply by mid-January for a degree starting in September. You might be able to get away with applying in mid-August for a degree starting in September.

This is partly because universities can be a bit more flexible and will generally try to be helpful – especially right now, when lots of them are still taking applications for January starts. But applying right at the last minute will definitely make it harder to sort your personal statement, funding and accommodation, never mind your student visa.

Mid-April / May is probably a better target for a September start, at least to get the ball rolling. But that's enough proper advice.

Just apply for the first course you see

Masters study is probably more diverse than any other level of education. Some might argue that PhD research is more diverse, but that's only because doctoral students get to make up their own topics, which is clearly cheating.

In any case, Masters study is certainly more varied than undergraduate study. You've got entire degree programmes dedicated to specific bits of your subject; you've got more flexible study options (especially right now); you've got more types of Masters; you've even got the choice between taught and research degrees. Plus, for probably the first time, you've got to decide whether to stay at your current university or move to a new one.

The best way to respond to all of this choice is clearly to just pick the first course you come across and apply for an MA in Aalii-dwelling Aardvarks at the University of Abbotsford*

Alternatively, you could find a way to search and compare a wide range of courses and programmes, in depth, whilst taking the time to familarise yourself with what doing a Masters actually involves.

But you know what I said about good advice. . .

*Not a real course. Or university.




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