Considering Postgraduate Education? Here Are Some Important Tips
People choose to do postgraduate education for all sorts of reasons. Are you aiming at a promotion? A change in career? Or an academic debate you just can’t get out of your head? An MA degree can help with all those things. With the Government introducing loans for postgraduate fees, the possibility is available to more people, but the problem is knowing where to start. Access to endless information online is useful, but overwhelming.
If you are considering applying you might want the advice of current students. The following interviews are with postgraduate students at three of the UK’s top universities: King’s College London, Birkbeck University of London, and Cambridge University.
Marthe de Ferrer (MA in International Development with Social Anthropology, Birkbeck)
Why did you consider applying for a masters?
I had just been offered my next job, when I realised the area just wasn’t right for me. I decided I needed something to keep me motivated and happy and feeling like I had some sort of trajectory. The idea of doing a part-time masters in the evening eventually occurred to me, and I did a quick search as to what was available.
Why did you choose your university?
Most part-time courses are in the day, which doesn’t work around a full-time job, but Birkbeck is set up to provide courses with affordable fees. I could take out the loan to cover my full course fees. I ended up switching careers, working in London for a bit, and the joy of Birkbeck is that as long as I can get into London for one evening a week, I am not tied to the city.
How did you find the application process?
Often masters courses have less stringent rules for application deadlines, and will take people on a rolling basis. This means a lot of course administrators have a lot more time to chat about the course. My biggest bit of advice is to talk to the course providers to help you decide what you want to do. I applied in April last year, had an interview just before my finals, and got accepted just before my last exam. I loved how simple the application process was!
What has been the biggest benefit of postgraduate study?
For me it’s a chance to have an educational experience that is totally different. The range of people I have met has been fantastic. Doing a degree alongside a full-time job has put my organisational skills to the test, especially when a big project at work coincides with a thesis hand-in date. It’s such useful experience.
What do you wish you had known before starting?
Don’t do a degree because you feel you have to, do it because you want to study further. I don’t advise seeing degrees as a means to an end, or just a way of putting-off getting a job. It’s a totally different style of studying to undergraduate, and it needs to be something you want to study.
Emily Montford (MA in Early Modern Literature at King’s College London)
Why did you choose your course and university?
I loved the department, the tutors and the research they were doing. The environment in London suited me. If you are looking somewhere new, just get to know the place – you’ll be there for a year! I ultimately chose the MA I am doing because of the links to the British Library. The course content is something you’ll spend a lot of time on, so you have to make sure you find it interesting. If you don’t know what a course entails, email and ask for an extra reading list or module information.
What have you gained from your masters?
For me it wasn’t necessarily about having an extra qualification, which I understand it is for some people and certain disciplines. I think that depth of knowledge is an asset, and the research skills you acquire you can turn to any field. You also acquire more of a connection with the wider academic community: attending more events, connecting on new projects with other people, seemed to differ from undergraduate study.
What advice would you give to people who are worried about finance?
Start early! Funding places run out, and leaving it too late is so frustrating. Contact potential supervisors or tutors and ask for advice. Doing postgraduate study part-time is a good option to consider if you think full-time won’t work for you.
Danielle Cameron (MPhil in Education at the University of Cambridge)
Why did you choose your course and university?
I chose the university due to the course and its reputation. However, I emphasise that when it’s postgraduate level, the course’s or subject’s reputation is more important than the university’s. Go to where the experts are!
What if someone is torn between places?
Visit them if you can – it’s one thing to read about places, it’s another to actually experience them and think whether you could live/learn there for at least a year. I chose Cambridge due to the course outline available online. There should always be a person who you can email and they’ll help clarify things.
What is the biggest thing that you have got out of postgrad study?
Seeing my writing improve. I’d also emphasise the benefits of taking advantage of extra curricular writing opportunities when back in university.
Victoria Mullins (MPhil in Education and Literature at Cambridge University)
Why did you choose your university and course?
I knew from my undergraduate course that I wanted to study children’s literature as part of my postgraduate. From there it was just about looking on the university websites at the breakdowns they offer on each course, and looking into who is involved in teaching the course.
There is a level of prestige that comes with the University of Cambridge, so I did factor that into my decision. Ultimately, you’ve got to do what’s right for you, and go with your gut on where you could see yourself spending the next year or so.
What have you taken away from the course?
For me, one of the biggest things I’ve taken away from the course is that publishing/presenting academic work is very achievable, and you should be aiming to do it.
What advice would you give to someone considering a masters?
Be truthful in what you write, and base your projects around what genuinely interests you, rather than what you think the academic community expects. Don’t be afraid to step out of the box if you think that it is truly important. Ultimately, that will allow you to feel more comfortable with what you’re investing your time in, and will allow you to be more original.