You have been officially accepted onto your dream Master’s programme and you are wondering what to expect; what it will be like; how it will differ from your Bachelor’s… Here is an overview of the most common teaching methods in the majority of the Master’s programmes today.
A Master’s degree is much more independent than a Bachelor’s degree in many regards. Not only will you spend more time in unsupervised study, but your success in grad school may hinge on your initiative and ability to thrive without constant guidance. Some programmes will allow you to devise your own curriculum, while others will let you select elective courses. Professors take a more hands-off approach at the Master’s level, and emphasis is usually placed on collaboration with classmates, especially in applied and professional programmes.
Depending on the degree you are pursuing, courses are taught by a mix of academics and industry professionals. Generally, teaching methods are more varied, and learning is more intensive, than in Bachelor’s programmes.
The Master’s in Management at ESADE, for instance, consists of three so-called terms that take place in segments between September and June, a summer term (which is a placement programme) and a Master Project Defence and Graduation. The Master’s in Accounting and Finance at Manchester Business School, on the other hand, consists of course units that amount to 15 credits that fit into two semesters and a summer research period, during which the students prepare a 60-credit dissertation. Yet another type of programme structure is used in ESCP’s Master’s in European Business (MEB). ESCP’s MEB is an intensive general management programme taught over one year across two countries of the student’s choice. Based on an MBA-style curriculum with a cross-cultural approach, the MEB is a life changing programme which concludes with a business degree at an international level.
All in all, the Master’s programmes vary across universities. They can be structured and scheduled in many ways, according to whatever optimises the Master’s experience. But there are certain elements that you will inevitably face during your programme.
Much like undergraduate-level lectures, these involve a professor who delivers a presentation on topics laid out in the course syllabus. Unlike in undergraduate courses, however, the lecturer spends less time talking and more time moderating class discussions of the topics at hand. Master’s classes follow a seminar format, where students are encouraged – and sometimes even required – to participate in class debates. Because being able to convey and defend your views is critical to professional success, class participation is usually considered mandatory and will make up a significant portion of your grade. Additionally, most programmes will sponsor conferences and other events, where professionals deliver current information from their sectors, while scholars share their latest research.
These are sessions with an academic advisor scheduled outside of regular classes. In these sessions, students can gain more in-depth information on a topic of their choice, receive guidance on a research project, or obtain feedback on their progress. Both individual and team coaching sessions may be available.
Theory vs case studies
The ratio of theory to case studies varies according to programme type, but generally – and especially in applied and professional programmes – case studies tend to dominate the course curriculum. While most serious programmes are grounded in theory, it is the mark of an excellent programme that it also helps students test theory against real-world situations. Case studies are carefully selected for their relevance to an array of covered subjects, and they not only reinforce studied material but also help students act efficiently and creatively in a work setting post-graduation.
Frequently, Master’s degree candidates are expected to be able to defend their work publicly – in presentations delivered in front of fellow students or a wider audience. Presentation topics are handed out by a faculty member well in advance, so students can conduct the necessary research and prepare their – usually technology-aided – public delivery.
Many graduate courses, especially professional and applied programmes, stress the importance of collaborative work, and students are assessed partially on their ability to work with others. Master’s candidates undertake work within a small team of people, dividing tasks and responsibilities. These exercises help students learn about building and managing effective teams, receiving and giving feedback, and resolving conflict.
The proportion of applied, or experiential, learning in Master’s programmes has been on the rise in past decades, as students increasingly enrol in a graduate programme in order to advance in a career. To stay relevant to the needs of the job market, graduate programmes devise a variety of hands-on experiences that immerse students in simulated or real work environments. Learners are expected to find solutions to real-world problems either by conducting field work or participating in technology-assisted simulations.
Business programmes will often feature field work at a well-known company, where Master’s candidates will have a chance to interact with senior management. Usually, students will be asked to research the company and prepare questions for the hosts or develop a consulting project dealing with a specific issue facing the company.
To give additional hands-on practice, many Master’s degrees feature some sort of professional apprenticeship, ranging from part-timing as a teaching assistant at the university to completing a several-month placement at an outside company. In most specialised programmes, such as those catering to a specific sector (such as La Rochelle Business School of Tourism), placements are required for graduation. Your school will usually give you the opportunity to attend industry events where you can network with potential placement providers. Completing a placement significantly improves your chances of landing a good job upon graduation. The students of ESADE’s Master’s in Management programme, for instance, can choose from three different formats for their placement/ Master’s project that takes place from June to September. The first option is a Master Thesis, aimed at demonstrating the participant’s research abilities; the second one is a Business Creation Project, aimed at fostering an entrepreneurial spirit; and the third possible format is an In-Company Business Project, based on a professional placement.
Mobility experiences are now part of the curriculum of many graduate programmes. Area-focused studies, for example, will encourage you to complete a period of study abroad to help you immerse yourself in the culture of the place you are studying or to conduct research on site. Similarly, international business programmes will want you to be exposed to different ways of doing business. For this purpose, programmes devise a variety of experiences that may be optional or mandatory. Examples include CEU Business School’s New York City-based Business in a Global City programme, Hult’s Global Rotation programme, and IE Business School’s Beyond Borders Experience. Study-abroad experiences last between a few weeks to a full semester and are normally coupled with intensive study of a foreign language.
You can prepare yourself for what your Master’s programme will bring once you dive in your studies – do your research, educate yourself, be up to date. The most important thing is to try to make the best of each and every educational tool once the programme starts. You want to optimise your postgraduate experience and make every moment count – on campus, in the classroom, out in the real business world during your field projects, etc. Be alert and don’t miss any opportunity to build on your knowledge and gain new skills or contacts.