We are currently seeing an increase in students interested in postgraduate study. Postgraduate study can be the right step, but it is important to do your research before you apply, so you are 100% sure that the course will be the right next step for you, both personally and for your future career. When I applied for my master many years ago, I jumped in headfirst without thinking, so here are the lessons I learnt of want not to do when choosing a master.
Don’t apply at the last minute!
I had little idea what to do after a year of working after university, except I had an interest in international development and policy. Instead of spending some time thinking my choices through, I just waited till my work was up and summer had already begun before thinking of postgraduate studies. In July, a lot of courses are already closed, and deadlines are fast approaching! I completed an application without research, I didn’t have time to! I just emailed my application, and my future decided with it. How I managed to get in, is still a mystery to me. So, make sure to take some time out (the earlier, the better) to really think about what is important to you when choosing a course; Location/University? Course? Careers? I moved countries for my master, and I literally had no idea what to expect.
Don’t just look at unit titles and the degree name
“International Studies” sounded amazing to me as I considered myself an international person. I looked at the module titles, and themes such as “humanitarian intervention” and “human rights” jumped out at me, and I decided this was the right course for me. Little did I know that most of the course was about international political theory and research. I became demotivated after just a few months. So, research every unit, both compulsory and optional, why are you interested in this? Do you have any questions about the units or the course?
Don’t just have a vague idea about careers
I had no awareness of what careers my master would prepare me to do. If I had, I would have chosen a different masters, and if not, at least different units. I still have no idea to this date why I chose a unit called “postmodernism in film and literature”, I think because it sounded cool (hint point no 2). If I had at least done some research into careers after the master, or at least found out where graduates went after the course, it would have quickly confirmed to me whether the course was right for me.
Don’t decide on location just from word of mouth
I chose Leeds as I had a friend of a friend there, that was it. I had never heard about Leeds, except for I knew it had a football club. Leeds was excellent though, a brilliant city and the University itself was great, there were lots of social activities and I soon made friends. But maybe I was just lucky? So, make sure you research the location and the University. I am not just thinking about rankings here, but location! Would you like to be a in a big city or in the countryside? Do you have personal interests that you would like to continue, e.g. musical theatre, volleyball or stand-up comedy? Have a look at societies and clubs, both on campus and off and you will be more certain you will have a great year!
In summary then:
- Spend time on choosing your master, reflect on your reasons for choosing that course, university, department and location. Attend Open Days (there may be virtual ones), ask admissions specific questions. How does this course fit with what you have done in the past and what you would like to do in the future? The more research you do, the better decision you will make
- Research career pathways; usually the programme website has a careers section, if they don’t then find out what graduates have gone on to do. Ask admissions, maybe you can even talk to alumni?
- Research the course – what are you actually going to study? What are the compulsory and optional modules? Research the lecturers – are they doing the kind of research work that you are interested in? Would your personal tutor recommend it? What industry contacts does the department have? Are there any work experience opportunities?
So, what happened to me? I had a great year, met some amazing people and made some long – lasting friendships. But I also paid overseas fees for a course I wasn't motivated by and ended up with an extra 12k in student loans, which I am still paying back 20 years later. Worth it? Socially yes, I have no regrets, but if I had spent more time choosing a Master that I knew I would be interested in, I would have had an even better year.