Even if they come under the same name, Masters degree programmes vary across universities worldwide. Each school structures its programmes in a unique way that offers different Masters teaching methods and makes them attractive to applicants. However, what do they have in common that will bring value to your graduate school experience?

Learn and explore

Masters courses are usually delivered in seminar-style lectures where the professor moderates a class discussion rather than simply presenting the academic knowledge.

Group work, where students collaborate and develop a project, or provide a solution to a case study, is one of the essential teaching methods applied in international Masters programmes. Students learn to effectively build and manage teams and they gain practical knowledge through simulations, games, hands-on practice, and company visits. By exploring realistic work environments and conducting field work, Masters participants are expected to find innovative solutions to existing problems.

Schools also provide a range of opportunities for gaining international experience through study abroad trips or exchange programmes, which can be either optional or mandatory. In fact, international exposure in a real professional setting is crucial in learning to apply the theory to a specific cultural or business environment.

Extracurricular activities are also a great addition to the graduate learning experience. Whether by joining various clubs, playing sports, or being a member of a band, students develop a much wider skill set. In fact, students who participate in various extracurricular activities learn more efficiently and tend to develop better soft skills – so necessary for a successful career.

Read: Theoretical vs. Practical Knowledge in Masters Studies

Reach out to new knowledge

Since Masters programmes each have a different focus, they also feature different requirements for prospective students who wish to enrol. Masters courses are open to everyone – to students who completed their Bachelor’s degree in the same field and to graduates coming from an unrelated field of study. Depending on your academic background, there are different Masters curricula to choose from.

For example, someone who has an undergraduate degree in History and wants to delve into the business world with a Masters will probably have to start with a pre-Master course. They will have to spend time learning the basics of business and management and catch up quickly. Someone who studied Economics and wants to opt for a business Masters may have an advantage over them.

Schools do not typically list professional experience as a requirement for admission, although there are some exceptions. Still, Masters programmes can be especially valuable for students who have already acquired some work experience in a particular industry. The focus and specialisation of graduate studies allows them to build on their expertise and fill in the gaps in theoretical knowledge. As the Application Trends Survey Report conducted by GMAC in 2017 shows, many professionals follow this logic. Almost 20% of current Masters in Finance students have between one and three years of work experience, while 30% of students enrolled in Data Analytics graduate courses had been active in the field prior to starting their Masters.

Suit your learning style and goals

One major difference between Masters programmes is the type of curriculum and teaching approach – they can be either research-based or taught.

The research-based Masters course is an advanced postgraduate research degree in a specific academic discipline and it is usually narrower in focus than taught programmes. It requires more initiative and involves a lot of independent studying. Although research-based Masters programmes may also include classes with a tutor to support and guide you, independent work is essential. They are best suited for those who want to focus on a particular scientific discipline and may act as a bridge to a PhD degree.

Conversely, the curricula of taught Masters programmes cover a wide range of subjects to help students to develop a broad skill set. Although the programme structure is similar to undergraduate degrees in the way content is delivered, it involves core and optional modules which are much more advanced. As taught programmes provide a good knowledge base and practical expertise, they are a suitable match for those who seek a change in career direction. The majority of Masters programmes are taught courses.

Another major difference is that there are two major types of degree – Master of Arts (often abbreviated as MA, M.A., AM, A.M.) and Master of Science (MS, MSc, M.S., M.Sc., M. Sci, Sc. M.).

A broad range of graduate studies are covered by the MA, most often general or humanities studies such as Social Sciences, Education, Communication, Music, History, Geography, Philosophy, Philology, Theology, Human Resources, Political Sciences, etc. A Masters degree in Fine Arts is closely related to the Master of Arts degree, but is focused on areas such as Creative Writing, Photography, Graphic Design, Painting, and other subjects developing creative thinking and skills. The MA uses a more balanced and liberal curriculum that combines desk research with class discussions, and essay writing with practical exercises.

By contrast, the Master of Science is more focused on scientific learning. It can be acquired in Natural Sciences, Mathematics, Economics, Space Studies, Aviation, Accounting, Finance, Engineering, Environment Studies, Management, Information Sciences, etc. In general, the MSc focuses heavily on theory, and although there are always practical projects and cases, the emphasis is usually on acquiring comprehensive knowledge in the subject field.

Immerse or combine

Masters courses are typically delivered on a full-time basis (over one to two years) or on a part-time basis. The online format of the programme has also been gaining more popularity over the past few years.

One-year vs. two-year degrees

The fact that Masters programmes vary in duration can come in handy for students because it allows them to choose the option that is most convenient. For instance, one-year Masters programmes are both cost- and employment-friendly. One-year Masters programmes are mostly offered by schools in Europe, while graduate courses in the US often last up to two years and usually include mid-term internships.

Since one-year programmes are more condensed in their content, they can feel more intense and fast-paced compared to longer programmes. For some students, that might mean they take in less material or face a more demanding study schedule. Conversely, a two-year Masters gives the time to go through the study material in more detail and in a less stressful environment.

On the other hand, two-year programmes provide ample opportunity to learn everything you want to learn – not just in terms of your future career, but also in terms of personal growth. While one-year programmes may only cover the bare essentials, longer programmes enable students to delve into additional electives, internships, and exchange study trips. Of course, opting for a two-year degree means having to allocate more financial resources for tuition. Spending two years off the job market while studying could also result in more difficulties finding a job after graduation.

However, the duration of a programme is usually determined by the traditions of a country’s education system and it would not be correct to judge its intensity and volume of academic knowledge by duration alone. A closer look at the curriculum would be more revealing.

Part-time programmes

A part-time Masters programme allows you to study a postgraduate course over an extended time period, affording you more flexibility than full-time courses. The modules of a part-time Masters are the same as those in a traditional programme but taken at a slower pace.

Flexibility is the key plus of this format. It allows you to combine studying with your job, which is favoured by employers, who may even decide to support your study with a sponsorship. That helps you reduce the personal cost of the programme and keeps your career progress on track.

The major shortcoming of the part-time degree is the lack of intensive interaction with tutors and classmates, which limits the networking opportunities.

Read: How Masters Students Learn

Online programmes

The online Masters programme is another format that is gaining popularity. Thanks to new technological developments and digitisation in business and other industries, graduate education is becoming more open and accessible than ever. This type of course is commonly preferred by those who are reluctant to relocate for a campus-based study. Of course, as with any other format, prospective students need to be sure that the online course they choose is equal in quality to the school’s campus-based programmes. Many universities have also designed blended study experiences which combine in-class lectures with online meetings.

A Masters programme enables you to explore, grow, and lead your way to a professional career. In a dynamic world full of diverse opportunities, a graduate programme provides the extra expertise and advanced know-how so welcomed by employers, and it springboards entrepreneurs equally as well.

This article is original content produced by Advent Group and included in the 2018-2019 annual Access MBA, EMBA, and Masters Guide under the title “Mastery – What Does It Take?”. The latest online version of the Guide is available here.