The Guardian — Don’t choose a master’s before taking these four steps

Most of the time I’m glad I decided to do a master’s, but there are some things I wish I’d given more thought – here are my top tips” writes Rachel Michaella Finn 

The Guardian — Don’t choose a master’s before taking these four steps

In the final term of university, with stress levels peaking, caffeine consumption reaching an all time high and family-members asking what’s next?”, you also need to decide whether you want to embark on a master’s or not. And, despite the relative stress, many will apply to stay at uni after the summer in a range of postgraduate courses.

I made that decision when I graduated in 2015, opting for a year-long MA degree instead of joining the ranks of unemployed graduates. A lot of the time, I’m glad I did, but I’ll also admit there are parts I wish I’d given more thought. Here’s what you need to consider before applying.

Don’t rush into it

First, decide if you should go into your course straight away or have a break from studying. Doing a course you may not enjoy for the sake of not leaving education can be a very expensive and inconvenient mistake, especially if you end up dropping out.

Tamina Clark, who took several years out of education before starting an MA in international journalism at City University London last year, agrees. Don’t go into postgraduate studies just as a way to avoid going out into the real world and doing adult things,” she says. Be certain what you want out of postgraduate study, and try to make an informed decision about where you’re going to do it.”

Part of my decision to stay at uni was based on the chance to spend an extra year figuring out what I wanted to do after education, and while this is no bad thing, make sure it’s not the only reason you’re opting to do your course.

Consider your mode of study

Completing my studies more quickly and not having to focus on too much at once were the main reasons I chose to do my course full-time, but many students opt for part-time study as a way to balance work, study and other commitments. Part-time study can give you the option to spread the cost of your degree out and have more time to engage with your subject but be warned that it can also give a different experience of study to your full-time peers.

Alex Hall, who graduated with an MSc in political theory from the London School of Economics (LSE) in 2014, studying part-time, warns: I had much less time to socialise during my postgraduate years as I spent my daytimes at work and evenings working.” Studying part-time also meant he had far too few hours per week to feel connected to the institution”. Ask yourself what you want from your course and whether part-or full-time study will give you that.

Be ready for a challenge

I started my master’s thinking it would only be slightly more difficult than the final year of my BA and was surprised at how much more I was expected to read, know and research. Don’t assume that your postgraduate experience will be a natural extension of your undergraduate course: it requires more self-motivation and will likely be more difficult as well, even if there are fewer contact hours.

Ryan Love is studying for an MRes in clinical science at the University of East Anglia and says that although his research-based degree has only a few contact hours each week, it doesn’t mean there’s less independent work overall. Workload is much lighter and nowhere near as continuous,” he says, but the expectation is that with this freedom we organise ourselves effectively to complete our research projects. While the research component of my course lasts through the whole year, the workload comes in phases.”

Ryan also adds that postgraduate study is hard in a different way; the level of basic competency is higher, so you have to work harder and longer to reach that”.

Think carefully about whether you’re really interested enough to devote an extra year (or more) to exploring your subject at a more difficult and more detailed level than you have previously.

Weigh up the rewards

Be honest about what you could gain – like skills, knowledge and employability – but also what you could lose, like money, time and the summer you’ll spend writing up your dissertation. All the students I talked to agree that their courses weren’t easy, but Clark stresses: Tutors have pushed me out of my comfort zone, but only to make me realise I was more capable than I realised.”

Know that whatever course you choose you will be challenged more than you have before, but if the professional or personal gains seem worth it, postgraduate study can open-up your career options, surround you with interesting and like-minded people and truly show you what you’re capable of.