Deciding whether to do a master’s degree and choosing your course is not something to be taken lightly. To follow up our blog on thinking about postgraduate study, we’ve put together advice on what to consider when choosing a master’s degree.
First, it’s important to consider your motivations for doing further study. For example you’re doing it because:
- you love the subject and want to study more in this area
- you want to develop specialist knowledge in a particular area or higher level research skills (consider the reasons behind you wanting to develop this specialist knowledge and where this might be useful in the job market)
- the qualification is a requirement for the job eg. a professional qualification such as a law conversion (GDL) or teaching qualification (PGCE)
- you want to aim for a career in academia ie. you plan on doing a PhD in the future
- you want to change direction of study
- it will increase your job opportunities (remember a postgraduate qualification doesn’t always give you an advantage over an undergraduate degree and on its own might not be enough to secure your dream job)
It’s important to reality check these assumptions and ask yourself if further study is the only route, or whether your requirements for doing a master’s can be met by other means. Remember you can get one-to-one advice from one of our careers consultants if you want to talk through your ideas.
Once you have decided further study is for you it is important to consider the following aspects:
The style of course
Perhaps you’d like to do a taught master’s (MA or MSc) similar to your undergraduate degree with lectures, exams and a dissertation. There is often the option to miss out the dissertation and finish with a postgraduate diploma as well.
You may have also considered a Master’s of Business Administration (MBA). These expensive, intense courses are aimed at management level professionals with a few years of post-graduation experience and aim to produce the business leaders of the future.
Or would you prefer a research master’s (MRes or MPhil) where you have very few lectures and instead work towards your own research proposal? This can be good preparation for a PhD or other research careers.
You’ll also need to consider how many contact hours you’ll get and whether you’d like to complete your course full-time or part-time. Part-time can be a good option if you would like to combine work and study.
Does the institution have a good reputation? How does it perform in the league tables such as the Guardian, Times, Complete University Guide and QS rankings. What are the facilities like such as the student union, sports facilities, library, accommodation, careers service etc.? Is it a diverse and multi-cultural community where you can meet people from all over the world with varied backgrounds? Is there a dedicated graduate school looking after the needs of postgraduates? Do they utilise the latest technology such as lecture capture and what is the virtual learning environment provision (Blackboard, Moodle etc.) like?
Are staff well renowned and active in their research areas? What score did the department get in the recent Research Excellence Framework (REF) results? This will indicate the quality of their research and whether or not it is “world leading”. Do the research interests of the department/academics fit with your own and is the ethos of the department a good match? Don’t forget to check that your favoured academic isn’t on sabbatical leave when you will be there!
Also, what is the National Student Survey score for the department? This will indicate whether students are happy with the teaching quality.
If specialist equipment is required for your course (eg. laboratories, software etc.) what are these facilities like? Are you able to speak to anyone that studied the course previously to get an honest view? What is the size of your cohort? Are there smaller group seminars as well as large lectures? What modules will you study? Remember the course title alone isn’t enough to tell you about the course content. This can vary widely between institutions so remember to check the full course specification carefully.
Do you want to stay in London or move to a different city? Would you like to stay in the UK or study internationally? The Fulbright Commission has great resources if you are considering studying in the US. For other regions FindaMasters has country guides.
The costs and funding
Student loans are not currently offered for postgraduate study although the UK government have plans currently under consultation to introduce this from 2016/17. It’s therefore essential to consider what the fees for your chosen course are and if there any scholarships available. You can read more about funding on our postgraduate study pages and alternative funding guide.
The career prospects
Consider if the qualification transferable to other countries should you wish to work abroad? What have alumni from the programme gone onto do? Are they working in the areas you wish to enter and are there opportunities to network with alumni and employers? If it’s a vocational course is it professionally accredited by the relevant professional body? If you are already working and take some time out to complete your master’s then consider the impact on your career trajectory and salary carefully. Are you hoping to change careers, achieve a higher salary as a result of the postgraduate course or are you doing it for personal development reasons?