It is an all-too-familiar story. A Bachelor’s student finishes their studies and immediately hops into a Masters because it looks like the most logical step to take. But is it? Should you choose a Masters degree because it is the only option you can think of right now? What if it is ill-fitting or you are not sure where to head as a young professional?
The most popular postgraduate qualification, the Masters is designed to help students expand their expertise in a particular subject and improve their employability and career progression. As such, enrolling in a Masters programme represents a landmark decision that is bound to have a significant impact on the direction of your professional (and personal) life. Against this background, it is perhaps much easier to decide whether going down the Masters route without much consideration is a good idea.
University as a means to avoid facing the real world
Many graduates fondly remember their years spent at university as an exciting period full of learning new things, making a lot of friends, and generally having fun. On the one hand, it can be hard to accept that this phase of your life is over and it is time for the next one. On the other hand, doing a Masters course to avoid leaving education and your student lifestyle is a mistake, and an expensive one to boot.
Tamina Clark, who took a break of several years before starting a Masters in International Journalism at City University London (UK), agrees: “Don’t go into postgraduate studies just as a way to avoid going out into the real world and doing adult things,” she told the Guardian. “Be certain what you want out of postgraduate study, and try to make an informed decision about where you’re going to do it.”
Do you really know what you want to do?
Some people have their lives all worked out by the time they are 16. But these people are rare (or more often wrong). Going to grad school immediately after earning a Bachelor’s degree is seldom a good idea, according to Andrew Roberts, an associate professor of Political Science at Northwestern University (US). He says that students will not be in a good position to decide if graduate school is the best option until they have gained some work experience.
It would be a pity to end up in a programme only to discover later that you no longer have a passion for the subject. Graduate school is a long commitment and it is hard too. Do not be fooled into thinking that a Masters is a pleasant project on the side.
Staying for a year or two out of education has its advantages. The most obvious one is that you could use a break after a rigorous undergraduate programme. Moreover, you can find a job and earn some money to use towards your Masters tuition and living expenses. Gaining work experience also means that you will bring more to graduate school and get more out of it.
Do it right
Subject is king
So, how should you set about choosing a Masters programme? The most important factor in finding your course should be the subject you want to study. Knowing full well your preferred major goes a long way towards finding the programme that corresponds to your preferences and ambitions.
Location and language
Once you have settled on what you want to study, it is time to think about the location. Many students prefer to stay in their home countries, yet many others look for an international experience. Many universities based in countries where English is not the native language offer Masters programmes in English. This is very convenient if you do not speak French, German, or Chinese, but it is worth considering the benefits of having some command of the local language. If you want to secure an internship or pursue a career in the country where you studied, knowledge of the local language can be very helpful.
This selection factor is closely tied to the choice of location. If you plan to study for a Masters abroad, do not underestimate your fit with the culture of the country where your target university is located. Are you going to be comfortable away from home? This is an important question, because if the university is located on another continent you will probably not be able to visit your home country very often, which could make bouts of homesickness all the more likely.
The careful selection of a subject is obligatory, but if you want to have a truly rewarding experience you need to go a bit deeper and examine the “context” of the programme and its constituent parts. Therefore, you will want to review the stats and facts of the latest class in the programme. You will want to find out details such as the percentage of international students, the average age, average work experience, and academic background.
What can you do after you finish your Masters? A very important question that you should answer in advance. Check if the programme of your choice offers career stats and employment reports. These reports are highly useful because they give information about the jobs graduates take, average starting salaries, etc.
A gap year or two after your Bachelor’s degree should not be something to fear. Quite the contrary, a break can be highly beneficial as it can give you a fresh, clearer perspective, laying the foundation for a well-reasoned decision on your future education.