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Open book

 by Chantelle Francis
, posted on 16 Nov '16

Considering a Masters? 8 Questions to Ask Yourself

‘Postgraduate study’ means different things to different people.

For many, a Masters is the next step after an undergraduate degree. But this shouldn’t be automatic. It’s important to spend a bit of time thinking about the ‘why’, the ‘what’ and the ‘where’.

So where do you start?

Well, one of the best ways is to start with you. This blog suggests some questions to ask yourself as you start thinking seriously about further study.

#1 What will a Masters be for me?

When thinking about Masters study, it’s good to pinpoint exactly why it interests you, and in what ways you plan to benefit from it.

Masters degrees are designed to deliver advanced academic knowledge, developed through independent scholarship into professional expertise.

This can have a direct impact on your career opportunities. A postgraduate qualification may even be required by the particular profession you wish to go into.

Equally, a Masters may be the first step towards an academic career, as preparation for a PhD.

Of course, not everybody pursues a Masters with such highly specific outcomes in mind – and it’s OK to keep your options open at this point.

For some, Masters study may be about pursuing an academic interest, in a new or existing subject. It can also provide a bit of space to think about longer term goals whilst adding to your CV.

But it’s important that you do put some thought into your own reasons for studying a Masters – and that you’re honest with yourself about them.

#2 When should I start?

This may seem like an odd question, but you don’t have to go straight into a Masters.

Taking a break can actually be a good way to gain professional experience, travel, or volunteer. Time away from university can also help you with question #1 - providing an opportunity to reflect on what you want from a Masters.

But what if you don’t want to wait a full year, or more? Starting a Masters in January could offer some breathing space without delaying the next stage in your education.

Masters degrees with a January start are also ideal for international students whose academic year differs to that of the UK, and for mature students who may find that the calendar year sits best within their professional and personal lives.

#3 What other opportunities can I explore?

Postgraduate study is a lot more varied than undergraduate study and you can get a lot more from a Masters than just another qualification. It’s worth thinking about this.

Many universities offer specifically vocational programmes, taking familiar undergraduate subjects and highlighting their practical and professional applications.

Even traditional ‘academic’ Masters courses often integrate work experience such as internships (these may even be paid). Others can include a full year in industry.

Finally, studying abroad may also be worth considering– particularly if you haven’t done so as an undergraduate.

#4 Which university should I choose?

Choosing where to study can be just as difficult as choosing what to study.

Depending on the subject you’re considering, you may wish to select a university which specialises in that particular area.

University rankings can be one way of determining which university is best for you – if you know how to use them as a postgraduate. These tables can also be useful when comparing options for study abroad.

Choosing to stay on at the same university can be beneficial if there are particular staff members you want to work with. However, don’t be tempted to stay on just because you’re worried about moving to a new place.

Take time to search and compare courses in your subject area and make sure you’re finding the right one for you.

#5 Where will I live?

Selecting a place to live as a postgraduate is not as simple as it may seem.

You may find that living in the traditional student household that you’ve been used to for the past few years isn’t going to cut it now that you’re a sophisticated (and clean?) graduate.

Wanting to surround yourself with friends, or people in general, is only natural. But getting a place of your own, or living with fewer (cleaner?) housemates may be better suited to postgraduate life.

After all, you want to be focused on your studies. Having four other people to contend with for space and amenities won’t help that.

See if your university offers postgraduate accommodation – or can suggest local landlords with suitable properties.

Some institutions may even offer the opportunity for more senior students (that’s you!) to take rooms as resident tutors in undergraduate halls. This may not always be the best way to cut down on the noise, but it can be cheap (even free).

#6 How much will a Masters actually cost?

The average cost of a Masters degree in the UK is around £6,000 per year. Considering most programmes last one year, this makes postgraduate study comparatively affordable.

However, tuition fees aren’t the only expenses you’ll face during a Masters. After all, postgraduates need to eat too. So ask yourself how you plan to cover tuition fees and living costs.

Working during a Masters is quite common for most students. While loans and scholarships may cover tuition fees and living costs to an extent, you may find that part-time work helps fill any gaps (and perhaps pay for a few little luxuries).

Looking beyond the UK, it may actually be possible to study a Masters for free – though you’ll still need to cover living costs.

#7 Will the workload be the same as my undergraduate degree?

Essentially, no.

There’s actually an easy way to ‘measure’ this.

In the UK, a year of undergraduate study is typically worth 120 credits. A one-year Masters, meanwhile, is worth 180 credits. Those 60 extra credits are usually attached to your dissertation project, which takes place over the summer (when most undergraduate students are on holiday).

So, a year of Masters study is actually a full 12 months - compared to 9 months per year at undergraduate study.

It’s also more intensive. You’ll be expected to prepare for classes in much more depth and to carry out plenty of self-directed study.

That doesn’t mean going from undergraduate to postgraduate study is impossible - plenty of students do it each year, after all! But you should go in with the right expectations.

#8 What support can I expect to receive?

But don’t let the workload scare you off.

Though Masters study is challenging, there is plenty of support in place for postgraduate students.

You’ll be entitled to the same assistance and facilities as undergraduates, including any careers advice, counselling and mentoring offered by your university.

You’ll also find that that careers advice is much more tailored to you - and that you get more one-on-one time with course tutors.

Finally, if you are a student managing a chronic illness or a disability, don’t be put off by the idea that a Masters may be too much to take on.

Lots of students successfully complete postgraduate study while managing a disability or illness, and additional funding may also be available to help you.

For more advice on Masters study, you can check out our guides. You can also discuss your plans with other prospective (and current) Masters students on our postgraduate forum.