Choosing to study a master’s degree can be a great investment in yourself and your future. While some choose postgraduate education to gain a competitive edge, others choose to specialise in their field, change career, or even study their favourite subject in more depth.
These are all great options, but choosing from thousands of programmes across many top-ranked institutions can be a difficult feat. How do you know you’re making the right decision which will bring you the greatest opportunities in your future?
After graduating from my undergraduate degree in environment and business, I found it challenging to figure out what to do for a master’s, and had many questions and concerns. It took thorough research to find my right fit, but here’s what I learned from the process:
1. Identify your goals
The first and most important step is to identify what you want to achieve from a master’s programme. Ask yourself where you see yourself in five years, what kind of career you think you want to go into, and what subjects really capture your interest.
I found it helpful to get a big piece of paper and write down everything I could think of about my aspirations. When writing down the careers I was interested in, I asked myself why I thought those jobs would be exciting and wrote that down too. This helped me to gain clarity on my purpose and to understand what that intuition and excitement feels like.
From there, I researched degree programmes extensively and cross-referenced the course content with my goals. I also looked to see if programmes are widely accepted within the industries I was interested in and found some differences where certain qualifications were more advantageous than others.
2. Speak to universities for a better perspective
Whether you attend postgraduate open days, online webinars or simply reach out via email, try and speak to academics, admissions teams, programme leaders and students from each of the programmes you’re interested in.
You’ll gain a much better perspective on the benefits of studying the degree, what the university is looking for in its candidates and what it’s really like to study the subject.
It’s helpful to create an Excel sheet of the criteria you’re looking for, to formulate questions for each university. The most important ones for me were the diversity of the student population and acceptance rate of international students, the location of the campus, the university’s ranking, class size, options to study virtually or part-time, scholarship opportunities, class profile, the duration of the programme and the cost.
I can recommend using Reddit to post questions for staff and students at each university. This often provided me with more personalised responses. YouTube is also a great place to watch videos current students have made.
3. Decide on a specialisation
There will be many different programmes to choose from within the subject, or subjects, you’re interested in studying. Different universities will have slight variations and may focus on more niche areas of the topic.
For example, if you’re interested in studying marketing you could choose to study a more generalised programme, like an MSc in Marketing. Or, pick from a number of specialisations ranging from Marketing, Social Media and Mobile Marketing to B2B Marketing and Purchasing to International Strategic Marketing and Fashion Marketing and Communication, to list a few.
It all comes back to your initial career goals and which specialisation you feel will inspire you and drive you towards your ambitions.
4. Check the requirements and deadlines for each programme
The next step in the journey is to make a list of the requirements for each programme you’ve shortlisted, so you know exactly what you already have and what you need to develop before you apply.
This might include language tests, essay and interview requirements, and aptitude tests. Most universities will require a personal statement as part of the application too. Making a note of application and test deadlines means you’ll know exactly how much time you have to prepare, and you can make sure you’re giving your all to each application instead of rushing.
It’s important to create personalised applications for each programme, which demonstrate your purpose for studying the programme and why you’d be a great candidate.
5. Double check the details
Once you’ve finalised your shortlist and know exactly what you need, take another look over the details. Check the course content – do the core and elective modules excite you? Do the academics teaching on the programme inspire you? Does the course structure suit your learning style – will it be mostly classroom-based, group projects or independent study?
Make sure you’ve looked wider than the programme. Does the university provide the facilities and activities you’re interested in? Will you be supported in the ways you require? Are postgraduate students as involved in the student community and societies?
While you’re looking over the details for a second time, tune into your response. Is there a programme that you feel most excited about? An academic you can’t wait to meet? A student initiative you’d love to get involved with? This leads us on to the last step.
6. Listen to your gut
When choosing a master’s degree, it was important for me to voice my expectations and concerns with those closest to me. I spoke to friends and family to clarify my position and gain advice, but I always kept my own intuition as the most important factor.
While it’s helpful to talk through your decision, make sure you listen to your gut first and foremost. There will be pros and cons for every programme, but if you get a burning feeling to accept an offer for one programme over the other, listen to that. If you can afford it and can bring all your effort to working hard in your education, go for it.
In my experience, picking the right university comes with extensive research, understanding your goals and taking the time to listen to what you really want. It can be a big investment towards your growth and future and with these tips, I hope you can better prepare and find the perfect master’s for you.