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 by Lydia Chantler-Hicks
, posted on 30 May '19

Finding and Applying for a Masters: Tips from One Student's Experience

Editor's note: This blog was first published on 02/08/17. We've checked and updated it for current readers.

Last June, my English Literature degree was drawing to a close, and I had little idea of what I wanted to do with my future. A half-baked plan to get a job that involved writing, along with a glamourised, Spotlight-induced vision of the journalism industry were floating around at the back of my mind.

Now, a year later, I’m slap bang in the middle of an MA in Journalism.

So, how does one make this decision? And how do you go about finding a course?

This post runs through the process that took me from being totally undecided about my future, to absolutely certain that a particular Masters was the right step for me. Along the way I’ve tried to offer some advice to anyone else following a similar path.

Weigh up your options

If (like me) you’re considering further study as preparation for a specific career, you probably know roughly which subject you want to study. But, chances are there isn’t just one postgraduate route into your chosen profession.

Some programmes might be more practical or vocational with lots of contact hours, while others might be more academic and involve less timetable (with more time for independent study).

The same can be true if you’re seeking a more traditional qualification. The subject areas you encounter at postgraduate level may be familiar, but many will offer a choice of taught and research courses.

Either way, there may be more postgraduate course types than you realise.

Check for specific requirements

Certain professions may also have additional requirements that aren’t purely academic. These usually involve some form of accreditation, which may or may not be compulsory.

If you wish to become a teacher, for example, you could take a Postgraduate Certificate in Education (PGCE), or else go through alternative routes such as school-centred initial teacher training (SCITT), Teach First, or School Direct.

There were several options available to me as a prospective Journalism student.

In post-Leveson Britain, most media organisations require journalists to have a diploma from the National Council for the Training of Journalists (NCTJ) demonstrating that they’re qualified in certain areas such as media law and ethics. This can either be taken as a distance learning course directly through the NCTJ, or as part of an accredited university Masters degree.

Alternatively, of course, you can try going straight into the industry without an official qualification in journalism.

Whatever job you are dreaming of, there are likely to be many routes in, and it’s important to establish the one that's right for you. So take the time to research your options thoroughly before you start applying.

Ask for advice

If in doubt, find someone who has your dream job, and ask them how they got it. If possible, ask someone with relatively current knowledge of your field.

Technological changes (and increasing levels of university education) have seen some career paths change a great deal recently. Try to get advice from someone whose experience is recent enoough to reflect this.

A tutor, or your university’s career service, may be able to put you in touch with someone in your field of interest. Alternatively, you can try connecting through professional platforms such as Twitter or LinkedIn.

When I was considering whether to take a Masters, my undergraduate personal tutor gave me the contact details for an ex-tutee of hers who is now a journalist. He was extremely helpful, and speaking to him confirmed my suspicion that if I too wanted to be a journalist, I would benefit from an NCTJ qualification. He also helped by telling me that he and most of his colleagues had taken certified MA courses before securing their jobs.

Establish your preferences

There are thousands of Masters courses on offer around the world.

Before deciding which ones to apply for, you must first establish your basic requirements. These include when you would like the course to start, where you want to be based, and whether you want to study full-time or part-time. These and other factors are all worth considering when you’re choosing a Masters.

Knowing that I would be better suited to a full-time taught course than a part-time distance diploma, I searched for NCTJ-certified MA programmes here on FindAMasters.

After reading a little more about the courses on offer, I decided I was most interested in print journalism, as opposed to magazine or broadcast. By narrowing my search to include only print media courses, I was left with just five results.

It was a happy coincidence that two of these five courses were offered by the University of Sheffield, where I studied as an undergraduate.

Don’t follow the pack

The end of your Bachelors degree can be a daunting time. You might have friends who have already decided to do a Masters next year, or even know a lucky few who have grad schemes or jobs lined up for after graduation.

For the majority of final year students however, things are still all a bit up in the air at this point. It can be tempting to wait until your friends have decided what they’re doing, and where they’re going to be living, before you make your move.

My advice to you? Don’t.

Your friends could take a while to decide their plans, and might end up moving somewhere where you wouldn’t be able to, or want to do your Masters. If you find your dream postgraduate course, waste no time in applying. The sooner you get in applications for courses (and funding), the better.

Depending on whether you are applying for a full-time or part-time degree, your Masters is likely to only be a year or two in length. So, if you do end up living in a different city to some of your friends, it certainly won’t be the end of the world.

Take time with your application

Applications for Masters vary course by course.

Usually, you must apply directly to universities, which can mean making several different applications, rather than the one central application prospective undergraduates make through UCAS.

This can be time-consuming, but keep your eyes on the prize:

Your hard work could pay off with a life-changing postgraduate course.

Some courses might require you to carry out an interview or research proposal as part of the admissions process.

As my MA is much more vocational and hands-on than my undergraduate course, I was required to carry out a pre-interview writing task to prove I had the requisite skills for a Journalism course. This is nothing to worry about however. Just make sure you give yourself plenty of time to finish any pre-interview task to a high standard.

Start looking for funding early

As soon as I’d read up on the Print Journalism Masters at the University of Sheffield, I sent off my application and started hunting for funding. I’d unfortunately already missed out on a couple of opportunities, but managed to apply for a Sheffield Postgraduate Scholarship, which I was lucky enough to receive.

This funding has been absolutely vital in allowing me to do a Masters. If I’d missed out on applying for the scholarship, I definitely wouldn’t have been able to continue to postgraduate study straight after my Bachelors.

So I really can’t stress enough how important it is to start looking for funding as soon as you’ve found courses you’d like to apply to.

It’s also important to think about whether you would like to apply for the postgraduate loan. This has been a huge help to me during my studies, and it could be to you too. In order to make sure you get your first instalment in time for the start of your course, it’s a good idea to apply for the loan as early as you can.

Your Masters degree is likely to keep you busy with plenty of work. By finding funding and sorting out your finances early on, you will have one less thing to worry about once your course begins, and will be able to devote more attention to getting the most out of your studies.

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