How can I best select an English master’s degree?
This is the second of three lessons about Master’s Degrees. To complete this course, read each lesson carefully and then unlock and complete our materials to check your understanding.
– Discuss three key steps for selecting master’s degrees
– Provide examples of these steps wherever necessary to help guide the reader and inform decisions
– Include activities to help check progress and understanding
Having discussed the general purpose of master’s degrees, Lesson 2 of this short course next provides guidance about choosing the most appropriate and useful course. Because each degree subject will specialise you in a very specific field of study, deciding which MA to enrol in is a significant and potentially stressful decision. For those in the position where a career is already established, this decision will have likely already been made; however, for those who are less certain, three steps have been introduced and discussed below to help smoothen the selection process.
Step 1: Consider Your Career
The first thing a student should decide when applying for a master’s degree is whether they are studying for the general value of learning, for the ability to pursue and be competitive in a particular career, or as a stepping stone to a terminal qualification such as a PhD. Although a master’s shouldn’t be selected purely on the basis of CV (resume) improvement, it is certainly recommended that postgraduate students carefully consider the types of jobs that interest them most. You should take the time to research the most appealing jobs and find out which qualifications are typically required – as you may be sufficiently qualified without even needing a master’s degree. Seeking out professional career’s advice before making that final decision might be a good idea here.
Step 2: Investigate Different Programmes
Because master’s students are expected to be effective autonomous learners, the way MA courses are delivered can be quite different to bachelor’s degrees – with generally smaller (and fewer) classes and much more engagement expected. It is therefore important for students to carefully research and compare a variety of different programmes before making their final decision, educating themselves on what will be expected. The following four considerations may help when doing so:
1. Entry Requirements: A bachelor’s is almost always a prerequisite qualification, but depending on the MA it may be unnecessary to have one in the exact subject area – although a bachelor’s in the arts probably wont qualify for a masters in the sciences. Occasionally, work experience in place of a specific qualification can be enough to supplement an existing qualification or gain direct access onto a course, so do enquire.
2. Course Syllabus and Assessments: Two MAs of the same name but at different institutions may in fact be very dissimilar courses. Students should therefore read about the modules on offer for a particular course and learn about assessment expectations – such as whether primary research papers, examinations and dissertations will be required. One aspect to also consider is whether the course is considered a research or taught programme, as this simple distinction will impact the amount of time spent in the classroom, the type of assessments undertaken and the skills developed.
3. Cohort Size: In many European and North-American universities, an MA cohort can be very small with class sizes not exceeding twelve. In fact, cohorts as small as five or six students for one course is not uncommon. However, for master’s degrees in Africa, Asia and the Middle East, larger classes sizes may be the norm, changing how students and tutors interact both inside and outside of class.
4. Contact Hours: Finally, if the MA programme is heavily research focused, it is possible for there to be as few as three contact hours per week with tutors – which may be considered too few for some. In the UK, between six and nine hours spent in seminars is a fairly normal number, with tutors also offering office hours in which you can visit for additional assistance. Additionally, because master’s degrees are more vocationally focussed, some consideration may also be given to when classes are scheduled, with some courses offering evening and weekend lessons – particularly for part-time students.
Step 3: Research the University
In addition to comparing different courses, it is also worthwhile finding out a little more about the institutions that offer them. As a mature student, a master’s degree can offer its participant more than a bachelor’s in terms of professional development. Students may therefore wish to attempt to answer the following questions:
- Is the institution prestigious? What kind of facilities does it offer?
- How does your university and specific MA course rank in league tables?
- Who are your tutors? Are they famous or successful in your chosen field?
- Has the university established useful relationships with your chosen industry?
- Are there extracurricular or professional-development opportunities available?
To answer these questions, students may wish to look at educational review websites and university homepages or try directly contacting the professors or administrators who co-ordinate the MA programmes. Potential students may also wish to attend an open day, during which they can speak face-to-face with professors and alumni to gain a clear and comprehensive understanding of the experience, facilities and opportunities on offer.
Now that we’ve discussed the points that should be considered when choosing a master’s degree, the final lesson in this short course will offer advice on how to succeed when enrolled. However, students may first wish to unlock and complete our Lesson 2 activities to check their progress and understanding.
There are currently no PowerPoint activities, additional teacher resources or audio and video recordings created for this topic. Please come back again next semester.
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