How to Choose What to Study in Graduate School

Top questions to ask yourself before you pick your Masters degree.

How to Choose What to Study in Graduate School

When making the decision to study for a Masters degree you need to consider a wide variety of factors and, above all, have a clear idea of why you want to take this step. Weighing the pros and cons of pursuing Masters studies requires you to answer some essential questions.

What jobs of the future am I preparing for?

Considering graduate studies is often motivated by the conviction that a higher-level qualification will result in a better job and career prospects. A Masters degree does indeed improve employability, but students should also think about the value of work experience. Eli Bohemond, a career coach with Seven Career Coaching, told the Guardian: “If you don’t know how to sell yourself after receiving that Masters and you still don’t have practical experience, you are kind of shooting yourself in the foot.”

Read: New Jobs in a World Transformed by Technology

In addition, you need to try to envision how valuable this new qualification will be in the future. The working world is in constant motion and it seems that today’s job-seekers need an ever-expanding skill set to succeed. When you think about the type of degree you want to obtain, make sure you take a long-term view on your skills in the context of a changing workplace.

Also, do not rule out the possibility of lifelong learning, which is one of the megatrends in education for a reason. Alain Dehaze, CEO of staffing group Adecco, believes lifelong learning is the best strategy to help workers upgrade their skills and remain employable as increasing automation eliminates many roles but creates new ones. He told Reuters: “Our current system comes from the time of the [first] industrial revolution and is based on permanent work contracts. But the era of lifelong jobs will soon be over. Society needs a new social contract.”

Have I fully explored the different specialisations and career tracks in my intended field of study?

Before setting your heart on pursuing a Masters degree, make sure to thoroughly research the range of specialisations and different career paths associated with programmes in your field of study. This will not only help you get a better idea of what you want to do, but will also eliminate possible mistakes such as enrolling in a programme that is a poor fit for your ambitions. Every school website additionally features a detailed list of core courses and customisable electives available throughout the academic year. Browsing the curriculum will reveal a lot more about the focus of study. As part of the obligatory thorough research, contact alumni or programme representatives if possible to enquire about the course you are interested in.

Read: How to Choose Your Masters Electives (Interview)

When it comes to career tracks, many universities and especially business schools release programme statistics that can be very useful. For instance, you can see which industries attract the most alumni or what percentage of alumni are employed within three months after graduation. You can also check average salary numbers and, in case you are into entrepreneurship, what percentage of graduates have launched their own company.

How do I see myself as a Masters student?

What do you expect to gain from the programme? Do you have the right motivation to take a Masters degree? It is important you think hard about these questions and consider your reasons for postgraduate study very carefully. Many Bachelor’s degree holders feel pressured to find something else to do quickly and very often they enrol in a Masters programme just because it seems the easiest and most convenient option. If you view a Masters as a plan B, consider the consequences.

The option of spending an extra year or two in university may appear tempting if you are not sure what to do at this particular junction in your life, but do not assume that the degree will automatically render you more employable. To make the most of your time as a Masters student, you need to be proactive and take a genuine interest in the subject area. You need to participate in projects, take internships, and, last but not least, enjoy yourself. The intensity of a Masters programme is typically much higher than that of a Bachelor’s, which means that sooner or later the constant stream of projects and assignments will become a burden if you are not fully invested. And besides, what is the point of spending years studying a particular subject if you are not fully convinced that this is the field in which you want to develop?

Read: 7 Great Things About Being a Master’s Student

Am I ready for graduate school studies in my chosen field of study?

Once you have settled on a field of study, you need to check whether you meet the requirements for the particular programme. If you want to change your subject area, make sure you check whether the Masters programme of your choice requires any professional experience or a Bachelor’s degree in a similar field of study. If it does not, you still need to meet some basic eligibility criteria such as language requirements and a certain level of academic achievement. In addition, some courses require you to have a foundation to build upon. For instance, to gain admission to a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) Masters you would need to provide proof of quantitative skills.

If you target a Masters degree in the same field of study as your undergraduate degree, check out the professional experience and basic qualities required for the course. In any case, you will also have to provide your academic record and write motivation letters.

Do not hesitate to contact the admissions office if you have any questions regarding your application, especially if your unique situation is not covered in the requirements section. In a piece for, Siôn Phillpott points out “Don’t lose heart if you’re not quite qualified though – many institutions are flexible. For example, if you are missing an academic qualification but you have proven professional experience in that area, most universities will accommodate this.”

How can I afford my dream Masters studies?

Funding is undoubtedly one of the major factors to consider before going for a Masters programme. Remember, in addition to tuition fees you also need to cover accommodation and living costs. Ideally, you will have the funds already available. If not, there are several options. One is to work part time. However, you need to ensure that working does not negatively affect studying and for that reason there are limitations on the time students can work. A great option is to look for a scholarship or a grant. Many universities now offer scholarships targeted at international students. Although this funding is provided on a competitive and merit basis, it is always worth the effort. Yet another option is to arrange a loan. However, unlike scholarships, loans have to be repaid, so make sure you have a good enough plan for paying off the loan after graduation. A combination of all these funding options is also possible and is usually a wise strategy.

Read: Pick Your Full Masters Degree Scholarship

It is vital to deliberate on the pros and cons of taking a Masters degree in the context of your unique situation instead of rushing headlong into a programme without a clear idea of why. This is bound to be one of the most important decisions in your life, so approach it with the utmost care and seriousness.

This article is original content produced by Advent Group and included in the 2019-2020 annual Access MBA, EMBA, and Masters Guide under the title “A Roadmap for Your Master’s Journey”. The latest online version of the Guide is available here.

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