The decision to study for a Masters can and should be motivated by several key things: a desire to continue studying a topic you love, alternatively a desire to jump ship and study something completely new or the desire to increase key skills for a certain career path.
Personally, a Masters has always been a natural next step; albeit uncharted territory as the first in my family to even go to university. As someone lucky enough to be in love with my degree, the opportunity to carry on studying politics was something of a no-brainer and although I have no doubt it will advance my career, I'm really just not ready to give up studying politics yet!
But once you have made the decision to embark on a Masters, the necessary steps of the application process need to be dealt with. Although for some (myself included) the idea of trying to get an offer for a Masters may seem incredibly daunting, the application process is actually relatively simple and only requires a few necessary steps.
(Photo by Vasily Koloda on Unsplash)
First things first, browsing.
A Masters degree is an opportunity to study a topic at a much more detailed level, as such masters programmes are generally much more specialised than undergraduate subjects. Masters level courses, therefore, offer programmes that may have not been covered in UG study or offer the chance to spend a whole year studying something that may have only been a semester-long module at UG level. Here's it's important to make sure you pick the right topic. Personally, I will be graduating with a degree in Politics and International Relations, a broad programme of study which has covered a multitude of topics, but at a masters level, I have the opportunity to hammer down into European politics, Gender and politics, International Security, or International Relations. Masters programmes also differ hugely across universities, offering programmes that perhaps no other university does.
This means that the first hurdle is simply deciding what you want. Good things to do here are thinking about what has excited you most about your degree. Which topics have been most interesting? Which modules have clearly played to your strengths or helped you develop new ones? What is a topic you could see yourself dedicating hours to in a thesis or master's project? What programme will give you the insight you need for your dream job? Research is necessary, look at different university programmes on offer to help give you an idea both of what’s out there and what appeals most to you.
Also, don’t be afraid to jump ship entirely. An undergraduate degree in Chemistry won’t get in the way of a masters in History if you can demonstrate the necessary passion for the subject. The Gold Scholarship Post-grad networking event helped me develop a connection with current Contemporary European Studies student Leticia. She has since given me several pearls of post-graduate wisdom such as seconding the idea of branching out of UG study. As a geography undergrad now studying politics she does admit that it’s taken a little extra time and effort to catch up on the necessary foundations but that ultimately, it’s been worth it.
"Diversity, both of cohort and subject matter, is what you should be looking for. The diversity is what enriches the entire experience." (Leticia).
(Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash)
Next, the actual application.
Once your ideal programme(s) have been chosen, the personal statement needs to be developed. At a masters level, personal statements are generally around 500 words long, meaning you mostly have just one to two pages to really sell yourself (although it’s always good to check the specific word requirements with the necessary unis). The personal statement is the first opportunity you will have in the application process to give the admissions officer an idea of who you are.
It’s important that the statement be personal to both the programme being applied for and the university. Key questions to consider in the statement can include:
Why are you motivated for this course? What modules/assignments have you done that demonstrates both knowledge and interest in the topic? Do you have any necessary skills that you’ve gained from placement that would transfer well to the demands of the course? How will this Masters degree feed into any future career plans? Why this programme at this university?
Essentially, admissions tutors want an indication of passion and motivation. Avoid copy and paste jobs and cliche sentences like ‘Since I was a baby I have always known I wanted to be…..’ Have the statement checked over by careers services, personal tutors, or make use of the mentor database within the Gold Scholarship programme. The post-grad evening is not the only opportunity to use to programme for post-grad help and support!
The application process also requires a copy of your transcript, don’t worry about not having graduated, many universities use the transcripts to see if you are on track for a 2:1 and will provide a conditional offer until final transcripts have been received. Additionally, applications often ask for 2 references. Personal tutors, placement managers (if the placement was related to the masters), and lecturers are all a good bank of people to call on for this.
Leticia’s key takeaway is “be patient, as mainstream and repeated as it sounds. Give yourself the time to truly know that this is what you want.”
(Photo by Josh Appel on Unsplash)
Unfortunately, masters tuition fees are not regulated in the same way as university tuition fees meaning that there is a massive discrepancy in the level of fees from £21,000 for some masters courses at LSE (seriously) to £8,000 for some masters courses at Bath. Dropping however many thousands for an extra year of education on top of already pretty daunting student loan debt may seem like a good enough reason to avoid pursuing it all together, but finding opportunities are available. For example, at Bath, students continuing their students after undergraduate get a 10% alumni discount, Gold Scholarship or Bath bursary receipts are eligible for funding opportunities of up to £10,000, and specific departments within the university will have further funding opportunities available for students (however, eligibility for these may come with stipulations around final grades). Beyond funding opportunities within the university, Post-Graduate study is also supported by student loans, where students in England can get up to £10,000 to support masters study, even more for students in Wales. Overall, masters study can actually be much more affordable than some students might think.
In the end, applying for a Masters really shouldn't be that daunting. Don't let your fear of rejection hold you back. The scariest moment is simply pressing the 'submit application' button.