The Masters is becoming the degree of choice among young professionals who want to move up the corporate career ladder as quickly as possible. With the current global economic crisis, applications to Masters courses are on the rise as students delay their entry onto the job by staying in school to earn a Masters. When the economy picks up again, these postgraduate students will be far better qualified to take advantage of a more robust job market.
If you have a solid background in your field of study, such as international business, management, marketing and communications or finance and accounting, the extra investment in time and money required to earn the postgraduate degree could easily result in a rapid payback.
But in choosing the right Masters degree programme, you will first need to consider your own academic interests, your experience and where you want to work afterwards. Furthermore, if you want to change careers or job function you will have to make sure that your desired Masters degree corresponds to a healthy job market.
While getting up to speed on the different Masters programmes to choose from, you will find that the top business schools share certain common characteristics. A diverse international learning environment is at the top of the list.
Susann Theuerkauf, Class of 2010, Master of International Business at HULT International Business School in London says, "the immense cultural diversity at HULT is stimulating academically and socially. In my class there are 36 different nationalities, which ensures a variety of learning approaches. Every student is keen to offer his or her own experiences and to draw on those of other students. This creates a dynamic and spirited dialogue."
Differences in academic backgrounds
Within this mix of nationalities and cultures, you will find that students come from many different academic backgrounds depending on the specific Masters. Hence, you will want to choose the programme that will most likely contain your preferred mix. The Masters of Management, for example, appeals to candidates from across the entire spectrum of backgrounds, while a Masters of Finance would more likely appeal to those candidates having some background in finance and accounting.
International Hellenic University (Greece) offers a Masters in Management, which is aimed at students who want to pursue virtually all careers including general management, marketing, operations and technology, and consultancy services. It even caters to those wishing to start up or join their family busibusiness. By contrast, IHU students in the Masters in Banking and Finance are expected to pursue financial careers as analysts, traders, portfolio managers, risk managers, financial consultants or in treasury departments of industrial and service organizations.
"IHU has an interesting and challenging academic curricula, talented and inspiring professors, and strong and competitive colleagues," said Victoria Kulikovski, a current IHU Masters in Management student.
Students know the difference between an MBA and a Masters: the former requires professional knowledge drawn from several years of experience while the latter does not require any experience other than a bachelor's degree. But what students do not know is that a Masters can often be designed like an MBA in that it is divided into modules and the delivery of the coursework is fast-paced, intense and leaves very little time for a relaxed personal life. At the Cass Business School, students start off on their first day with a workshop in management designed to get them quickly up to speed on the concepts necessary for the upcoming modules. Over the first two terms, there are eight core modules ranging from accounting and finance to advanced practice of management, followed by a specialist module in, for example, auditing. In term three, students can choose from among a wide range of electives followed by a business research project.
Cong (Zoe) Yuan, a Chinese student in the Masters of Investment Management at Cass, says "the fact that we have to submit a group project for each subject by the end of term one drives me to keep up with the readings and revision along with the pace of lectures and meet deadlines. This makes me feel more confident about the final exams in January."
If time is of essence
90 percent of Masters programmes are fulltime. This is because most students who enter these programmes do not have work experience, ruling out the possibility of working and studying at the same time.
Having said that, students can still select shorter programmes, for example, the twoyear programmes offered by some schools. Barcelona GSC offers a nine-month Masters in Finance, with three terms from September to June. However, students are strongly advised to take the maths and statistics review courses and the computer tools course offered in September, as all students are required to pass the exams for these courses.
Internships are part of the career ladder
Many Masters require students to perform a work-related experience at the end of the programme, which includes a business research project within a company or a fully-fledged paid internship. Prospective Masters candidates should find out which sort of corporations are associated with their chosen programmes. Alumni can play an important role in that they could be in touch with the careers department when the need arises for placement of interns. Hence, candidates should not be afraid to speak to alumni of their target schools.
EDHEC, which has three campuses in Lille, Nice and Paris, prides itself on the international composition of its student body with 80 percent coming outside of France. Its careers department, called Talent Identification and Career Development, draws recruiters from every sector of the global economy. In 2008, EDHEC staged 120 recruitment events on their campuses. EDHEC students have the advantage of being required to do an internship, which is often a stepping stone to a full-time position. In fact, EDHEC requires a compulsory three- to six-month internship to round off its Masters. Through EDHEC's company links, students can enter trainee positions. Remunerated at up to €1,600 per month, the internships help contribute towards EDHEC's tuition fees, which are €21,800 for the entire two-year programmes or half that for the one-year programmes. Last year, most EDHEC Masters students obtained full-time positions within four months of graduating, according to the careers department.
Location, location, location
Masters candidates are advised to make sure that the school of their choice is located where they might want to live and work after graduation, as Masters programmes are first and foremost embedded in the local business community. "I look for schools and programmes that possess a respectable international reputation and a business relationship with surrounding communities," said Susann Theuerkauf, who is doing her Masters at HULT in London. After earning her Masters in August 2010, Susann wants to find a job in the fashion industry, and what better place to start looking than London which is one of the fashion capitals of the world. Masters candidates should also consider learning the language within the country where their school is located. Many schools provide language instruction as part of the package. EDHEC, for example, provides free French language courses for international students attending their programmes in France. This is obviously an advantage to all participants wishing to add an extra skill to their CV.
No one knows when the economy will pick up, but you will be better prepared for the job market if you have a Masters. A qualification designed to give candidates a leading edge in an uncertain job market, a Masters is rapidly becoming a necessary qualification for ambitious, business-wise professionals. Business schools are responding to the crisis by launching new Masters programmes, giving candidates a far greater choice. Recruiters are also paying more attention to students enrolled in Masters programmes, as employers appreciate graduates with advanced business knowledge.