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Should I apply for a Master's?

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6 min read

It’s easy to be swayed into staying at uni and taking a Master's, but are you doing it for the right reasons?

Masters degrees are becoming increasingly popular in the UK, with entry numbers for the past four years on the rise. It’s easy to not feel ready to leave university life, especially if you’re unsure what career path you want to go down. If applying for a Master's is a tempting thought, make sure you have all the information you need before deciding. 

There seem to be only two viable options: continuing on at university for a master's, or going straight into a job. If neither of these options feel right for you, it can be hard to know what to do. 

What seems to be the question on everyone’s lips at this stage is “should I do a panic master's?”. Initially, this feels enticing as it's easy to not feel ready to leave uni yet.

But what are your reasons for taking one? 

When I was in my final year at uni, I was considering taking a Master's. When I sat down to research my options, my starting point when researching was to consider time and money. Masters courses can vary in time between 9 months and two years. Even more important are the costs involved with taking a master's, with the extra year of debt to pay back. Whether or not you are eligible for student finance loans or grants is also worth looking into, with some master's degrees being on average cheaper than undergraduate degrees. Furthermore, if you decide to apply for a master's, you will usually need a 2-1 or higher for most courses due to the more demanding level of academic study.

Everyone’s situation is of course different, but generally speaking, here are some dos and don’ts I found from my research and discussions.

DON’T take a master's if:

You just want to add something to your CV

  • Many employers will want to know your reasons for taking a master's and might recognise when you’ve taken one only for this reason. 

You’re doing it for social reasons because your friends are

  • This might be the most tempting option, especially if you succumb easily to peer pressure. However, master's degrees can be a large step up from undergraduate level, and is it worth devoting a whole year to a course that you’re not completely interested in?

You don’t know what career path to take and just want to prolong your uni experience

  • A “Panic Masters”; this is perhaps the most common reason for wanting to take a master's - a kind of fear of the unknown after university life and a sense of security through staying a student. 
  • If this is you, consider that maybe diving in at the deep end into a grad job can help guide and influence you eventually into the right career path, even if this job isn’t right for you initially. 

DO take a master's if:

You actually need one for the job role you want 

  • Some roles such as a teacher or lawyer require you to have a master's, and therefore it’s a no-brainer - get applying!

The career field you want to enter into will be aided by getting a masters

  • Sometimes, due to the overwhelming number of young people with undergraduate qualifications, having a postgraduate qualification can make you stand out and more likely to land job roles. 
  • You might be able to enter the job ladder higher up, rather than at graduate level.

You want to continue into a higher level of academia and be a contributor to academic research

  • Many subjects (Classics for example) are by nature more likely to lead into more research-based careers, where you would continue on your academic study to a higher level. A master's will allow you to widen your knowledge and get your name out there in the academic world.

You want to develop a more specialist knowledge of an area

  • If your degree is a fairly broad subject and you know what career you want to go into it may be worth taking a master's.
  • For example, taking an undergraduate degree in geography and then a master's in accounting and finance. Geography will have provided transferable skills, but accounting and finance will help provide more practical skills needed for the workplace.

I spoke to my old housemate, Claudia, who studied for a Master's last year. Following an undergraduate degree in psychology, she has just started a master's in marketing. Despite not knowing exactly what career route she would ultimately head in when starting university, she always knew she wanted to continue into postgraduate study. Her thought process behind this decision was the desire to develop more specific practical skills to ease the transition from student life to the workplace. 

Following a week of marketing work experience with a travel management firm in her second year, she realised that something in marketing sparked in her. Specialising in a marketing master's would therefore provide Claudia with a higher level of marketing expertise when interviewed for jobs, and gaining these skills at university rather than learning on the job was preferable to her. 

Claudia also argues that a strong reason for her applying for a master's is the possibility of entering into a career not at the bottom at graduate job level, but higher up with the opportunity to progress up the ladder faster. Her master's degree allowed her to stand out amongst the sea of undergraduate degrees which are increasingly commonplace these days. 

On the other hand, Claudia did warn against applying for a master's if you feel you’ve had enough of academic work, or aren’t ready for the step up in workload. She says that despite having a much heavier and intense workload, she loved it, but not everyone's the same.

Ask yourself at the end of your degree, do you feel tired of learning?

The jump from undergraduate level to a master's can be more than anticipated, depending on which course you take. But she argues that if you’re not independent, you might struggle, as there isn’t as much hand-holding at postgraduate level. 

If you’ve decided to take a master's, there is also the added decision of whether to stay on at the university you’re at currently, or to branch out and study somewhere new. Sometimes, your current university might not offer the exact course you want, and your only option is to change. 

Claudia underwent this decision, considering initially to transfer to UCL from Exeter. However, the duration of a marketing master's at each of these universities is different: UCL being 12 months, and Exeter 9 months. So this is also something to consider - the differences between different degrees at different universities. She ultimately decided to stay on in Exeter due to preferring the 9 month course, as well as the fact that multiple friends were staying on in Exeter too.

Overall, the key advice to take on board is to give yourself as much time as you need to make this decision, as most master's application deadlines aren’t until after your summer results. Ask yourself if you have enough interest in the subject that you are considering applying for to make it worthwhile for an added year of study and debt.

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