So, an application to a do master’s degree at LSE has been sent off, and now comes a rather tense wait for a decision that will, for sure, form an important part of what happens in your life over the next year or two. And if you’re anything like me, you’ll be wondering about what it’ll be like for you as a working, part-time, somewhat older student, and what will be expected of you at an institution that has a certain amount of “myth” surrounding it. There will be questions and some of these I’ll try to answer here.
Firstly, “will I find time to study with my job?” Naturally this depends on your job but part-time students have to think extra carefully about their availability. Part-time students have a higher drop out rate than full-time. Attend an open evening and ask the academics about the workload. They will be honest. I did and the advice I received was helpful. Essentially, only having two full days available for study on a part time programme is not enough, and at least three are needed. Being organised is a start and is helpful but it won’t be enough. So think realistically about when you can do your reading and writing, and most importantly thinking – this needs its own time and is difficult to plan for or schedule.
Secondly, “Will everyone be a genius?” Of course the answer is no, and you knew that already. But what you will discover is people know a lot of stuff, but as is always the case, a group of people know more than a single individual. One of the best things about LSE is that group work is encouraged. Even in my small programme, I’ve had to work on topics with others and this opportunity for exchange and discussing ideas with others from sometimes very different backgrounds is so rewarding. You can get more from a five minute discussion with a fellow student from another country than you can from reading a whole book. It’s not necessarily what is said that is interesting, but the exchange itself, the encounter, is what gives the information. Don’t give way to “imposter” syndrome and think you aren’t as smart as everyone else. We all come with different knowledge and experience.
Thirdly, “I have to get a distinction if my time at LSE is to be worth it”. Well, not really. For one, it’s a fools game: marking is so subjective and even a brilliant, original piece of work can be critiqued to the extent that, from this or that perspective, it’s highly flawed. Academics are adept at taking a position. So trying to figure out what a top answer is might work for one module or class or academic, but fall flat for another. The better approach is to fully engage with the topic and, dare I say it, enjoy it. Secondly, the marking strategy used in your department might be normative, which is to say: whether you get a distinction or not depends on what everyone else is getting and how much your work stands out from theirs. I would say, avoid the temptation to become a marks-oriented learner/student.