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Should you stay with your current university for a Masters, or look elsewhere? Tim Stickings made the decision to move for his Journalism course. In this post, he shares his advice on choosing the right postgraduate institution.
If you’re applying for a Masters course, you’re probably quite busy at the moment.
But a Masters programme will take up enough of your time, your energy and your money that it’s worth putting in the effort to ensure you find the right one.
Sometimes, that will mean leaving the university where you studied as an undergraduate and moving to a new one.
If that’s the case for you, this post will provide some advice.
Switching universities for a Masters isn’t uncommon, but the reasons for it can vary.
It may be that a change of institution is forced on you, as your undergraduate university does not offer Masters programmes in the area you’d like to study.
This is quite likely if you’re looking to pursue a specific topic, but it can also be the case that more ‘generic’ courses differ significantly between universities.
Masters degrees are often much more specialised than undergraduate courses. They may include different modules, emphasise particular aspects of subject or be taught in different ways.
This means that even two courses in the same subject – or even with the same title – can actually be very different.
You may choose to move universities to study the part of the subject you’re most interested in – or study it in a way that suits you.
You may also choose to switch universities with more than a Masters in mind.
A department may also have strengths in a very specific area: a history department, for example, might have access to a particular set of archives you would like to use.
Finally, you may simply feel it’s time to move on.
If you leave when you graduate, you’ll finish on a high and together with many of your friends. And by moving to a new university, you’ll have the opportunity to discover a new place and meet new people, while staying in a familiar academic setting.
You won’t always have that chance.
Of course, if your previous university does offer a suitable course, there’s nothing wrong with applying for a Masters there as well as for programmes elsewhere.
It may also be worth talking to the staff who deliver postgraduate courses at your current institution. Is there something you’ve missed that might convince you to stay? Or can they recommend a course elsewhere?
They may well be keen for you to stay, but that doesn’t mean they won’t be honest.
Let’s assume you’ve decided to make the move. How should you go about it?
You may be studying at a higher level, but you’ll still want to consider many of the same factors you did as a prospective undergraduate.
The size of your new university, its location, local living costs – all of these still matter. Don’t just focus on the university either: make sure you’ll be happy living in the surrounding area.
Consider visiting the universities you are applying to. You may well know someone there, for example a friend from school, who could show you round or introduce you to someone on the course you’re looking at.
Once you’ve chosen a university for your Masters, you’ll need to apply. Unlike undergraduate study, there isn’t a central portal for postgraduate applications (at least not in the UK).
It’s a particularly good idea to find out whether the application will involve an interview. this will give you the chance to see both the town or city and your prospective department.
Some postgraduate interview days are actually set up as a way of showing off the department to its applicants.
Be aware that your interviewers may also ask why you’ve chosen their university in particular. So make sure you know the details of the course and the department. Check them online, and speak to someone beforehand if you’re not sure.
It’s better to spend some time researching the course now than to apply for it blindly and find out later that it’s not what you were hoping for, or seem uninformed at interview.
For some Masters courses, the university’s location will be closely linked to your studies.
On a Media or Journalism course, for instance, you will probably be expected to find news stories in the local area. Or if your course is attached to a particular industry, it may well be that you end up working there after you graduate.
So, you’ve chosen a new postgraduate university, you’ve researched the location and you’ve made the move.
What will it actually be like?
It’s important to remember that, when you start a Masters degree, you won’t be the only person who’s getting used to a new place.
Many postgraduates will have taken some time out between their graduation and the start of a postgraduate degree. You might even be one of them.
And since many people take Masters degrees in quite different fields to the ones they previously studied, even those continuing at the same university may well be adjusting to a new department and circle of friends.
The experience of your first degree will help you to decide what kind of accommodation you will want, how you will work best and which extra-curricular activities you’ll want to get involved with.
And, unless you’re studying abroad, it’s unlikely that your new university will be completely different to your old institution.
You may be surprised at how prepared you are for the move – and how soon you’re settled into doing your Masters.
Editor's note: This blog was first published on 19/07/2017. We've checked and updated it for current readers.
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