Making a Difference With a Master's Degree

A Master Stroke

Imagine this. You are at a social gathering and hear people discuss a new play in town, dubbing it a ' Horatian satire'. You have an idea of what satire' means in general (a literary form that employs irony and wit to attack human folly) but you are at a loss as to what Horatian means in this word combination. It couldn't be that wretched Shakespearean character Hamlet's closest friend Horatio, since your conversational partners keep talking about Roman times and the Augustan era.

So you realize that despite your good college education and your BA degree in your subject of choice (say contemporary literature), there are still gaps in your knowledge that can only be filled the hard way: by going back to university and earning a Master's Degree.

Spending an additional year or two at university has unquestionable benefits. Not only will you boost your IQ, but you will also speed up your career, as Master's degrees open doors, quite literally.

To give you an idea of the difference a Master's degree could make in your life, here is a quick overview of the unquestionable advantages of taking your education to the next level.

Knowing is good

We may live in a world of bits and bytes, of returns and fast forwards and of information overloads, yet Rene Descartes's seminal phrase "Cogito ergo sum" ("I think, therefore, I am") has not been made redundant. Today, ideas still pay off (sometimes better than a stock exchange investment) and are indeed born out of our ability to think and to be creative. An MA degree will challenge and improve your analytical skills. It will enable you take the apple of knowledge, peel it, core it, slice it and serve it with style.

Universities are still the biggest think tanks available and if you pick the right one you will not only study under world-leading academics and professionals but you will also gain the practical knowledge and vocational expertise you need to pursue the career of your choice. An MA gives you the theory and then enables you to apply it.

In other words, every respectable MA course is a successful blend of academic excellence and hands-on experience, combining theoretical coursework, case studies, group work and in-company placements. Paul Martin, a former MA in English Literature and Applied Linguistics from King's College in London concedes. "Undertaking the MA in ELT & Applied Linguistics enabled me to pull together my experience as a teacher and to expand on the areas in which I was most interested as well as introducing me to fresh ideas, research and concepts surrounding language. My time at King's has been an invaluable contribution to my career and outlook on teaching as a whole." Shirley Chen, also a King's College graduate, notes the practical value of her MA degree: "With a wide range of both theoretical and practical modules, the MA in ELT and Applied Linguistics at King's College quenched my thirst for intellectual stimulation and teaching skill improvement. Varied student backgrounds provided an unfailing source of inspiration and refreshing insights. Most teachers there are unbelievably helpful and broad-minded. Moreover, the MA degree has also helped me transfer successfully to the school where I currently teach".

Say 'hello' to your new circle of friends

A good Master's degree course is not only thought-provoking, but also socially and culturally enriching. Universities are closed communities of bright, forward-thinking individuals from various backgrounds. By applying for an MA degree, you also apply to become part of a culturally, socially and intellectually diverse environment. As Scott E. Page, a professor of complex systems, political science and economics at the University of Michigan, argues: "the power of diversity creates better groups, firms, schools and societies." He claims that bringing together vastly different backgrounds and life experiences can be highly productive. "Breakthroughs in science," notes Page, "come from a diversity of bright people, as they have a wide variety of 'tools' for looking at a problem and stand a greater chance of solving it".

No wonder then that a number of diversityoriented courses and centres have been set up at Ivy League universities such as Duke University. Andrew Longenecker graduated in Economics from Duke in 2007 and later joined a big management consulting firm in New York that offers strategic business consulting to companies all over the world. Longenecker is grateful for the diverse environment that Duke offered him during his MA studies, as later on his career was also defined by diversity. He has worked in banking, electronics, private equity, media, the non-profit sector, pharmaceuticals and even a women's magazine, and this work has ranged from purely quantitative (e.g. developing sophisticated Excel models to forecast hedge fund growth) to purely qualitative (e.g. test-driving luxury cars). He was also given the opportunity to work on many international studies, ranging from Belgian to Brazilian. Jonathan Langton of the IE Class of 2009 says: "The international diversity I found at IE has made me realise that the world is bigger than I thought, but I am confident that I will leave IE with friends and contacts in nearly every part of the globe, which is a great advantage." Indeed, striking new friendships can be gratifying, not only personally but also professionally, as your classmates can be your future business partners.

Master's degrees have a market value

Some may argue that life experiences and onthe- job learning are much more valuable than a university degree in today's fast-paced world. The reality, however, is that education is unlikely to suffer devaluation as an investment. In fact experts argue that a BA today is equivalent to having higher secondary school qualifications 20 years ago and most employers require a higher degree. Thus, when pursuing a Master's degree, you not only satisfy your intellectual cravings but also enrich your CV. According to Prof. Stephen Joel Trachtenberg, who teaches public services at George Washington University "an MA is neither fish nor fowl nor good red meat", yet its value on the job market cannot be questioned. "Just as double and triple undergraduate degree subjects are a form of gilding the lily, a form of product enhancement intended to seduce hiring partners or human resources directors, the growing interest in the M.A. reveals the inadequacy of the Bachelor's degree," says Prof. Trachtenberg. His words do not fall on deaf ears as far as Kathy Williams, a Cultural and Creative Industries graduate from King's College, London, is concerned. Williams says "I began the course knowing that I wanted to get into arts education and I was able to draw on my past experience to tailor the course to my own interests. In my position in the Globe Education department at the Globe Theatre, I coordinate projects in schools, nurseries and youth theatres. My internship was in the same field. Thanks to MA CCI, I feel I have an informed perspective on the current arts debate and I have cultivated a deeper passion for the arts."

Indeed, with an MA degree in your back pocket (or on the wall in your living room), you start to discover that opportunities are plentiful even in a stagnant economy. Greg Toohev, a Journalism and Mass Communication graduate from the University of Delaware, is living proof of the above. "I graduated last spring and I am now a staff member of State Representative Ryan Guillen's office at the Texas Capitol. While originally just a summer intern, I was offered and accepted the position of Communications Director for Rep. Guillen for next year's Texas legislative session. In the few months I've been there at the office, I can fairly say that I have learned a decent amount with regard to state government and how having solid communication skills are vital when working as a government employee," says Toohev, adding that "On the job, I have used several public relations tactics and I can certainly thank Texas State's School of Journalism and Mass Communication for helping me train myself to be a more effective writer and a better communicator overall. I definitely enjoyed my time as an undergraduate at the SJMC. The level of knowledge in the faculty and the relevant coursework are what truly contributed to my good experience."

A career boost is within reach

Credit crunch, bank crash and financial crisis have become common household terms during the past two years. The 'big recession' may be subsiding, yet the market is still tough and requires extra legwork. According to the author of Easy Money, Liz Pulliam Weston, graduate school has traditionally been a great place to wait for recessions to end while honing your skills for a better job. A Master's degree certainly increases your chances of getting a better job placement and a higher salary. It also allows you to upgrade your alma mater (especially if you are not too happy with graduating at a college of little renown) and permits you to change direction in case you don't care much about your BA subject or find it not sufficiently lucrative. Rey A. Phillips Santos has decided to 'head in a number of directions' and three graduate degrees now grace his CV: two MAs in social sciences and one in law from Boston University. "There is a huge demand for credentials in high-level jobs now", says Santos, adding that "Each of my degrees helped me to get a leg up in the job market and earn higher salaries than I would have otherwise. They were great investments." Most MA programmes offer career management services: behavioural assessments, CV workshops and on-campus company presentations, thus allowing students to draw up a career plan and get down to putting it into practice. "The City MA is an entry ticket for those who wish to go into the publishing industry. I felt that potential employers took me more seriously. Besides offering a current overview of developments in the publishing industry, the master classes with industry experts and the compulsory placement distinguish this course from the others," says Sohini Bhattacharya, a Publishing Studies graduate from London City University. Margaree Cotten, an MA in Art History from Richmond, the American International University in London, also lauds the benefits of her Master's degree: "The individually tailored research projects advanced my understanding of the global arts scene and helped me to explore and expand my own interests. The course enabled me to build relationships with art practitioners and professionals which I have been able to nurture and use to my advantage. After my MA, I worked as exhibitions assistant in photography at the National Portrait Gallery and then moved to the architecture department at the Victoria and Albert Museum. I am currently working at the October Gallery and as a freelance curator and project manager." Sarah Poitevent, a former MA in Fine and Decorative Arts from the University of Arts London is also pleased with the professional contacts she acquired while pursuing her degree. "The course is the equivalent of a business school for the arts. Not only do you get an incredible wealth of specialised knowledge, but you are able to develop professional contacts and relationships all over the world."

Stats and facts don't lie

According to recent data published by the Financial Times, 89.9% of MA graduates have an advantage on the job market in the US. A study published by the Higher Education Statistics Agency in the UK, for its part, indicates that the overall percentage of all graduating students in employment after six months is about 89%.

Graduate schools (or at least those that count) do keep track of the career curve of their former students and pride themselves on their high job placement record and the career progress of their alumni.

Thus, in the midst of a subsiding, but still palpable financial crisis, Boston University graduates continue to be hired by top organizations located in the US and around the globe with salaries consistently above the average. The University of the Arts London also helps its alumni to achieve professional success. The institution has set up a special Creative Opportunities website with details about job openings and workshops.

So even in a bad job market situation, earning a Master's degree does make sense. It can indeed be quite lucrative in the long run, provided that you consider your needs carefully, research your options thoroughly and invest your time and money prudently. Moreover, as Prof. Stephen Joel Trachtenberg from George Washington University notes, "Universities are, after all, wonderful, magical places, and learning something new is the greatest of pleasures."



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