Deciding on a master’s degree can be a tough decision. We have a student, Lucy who faced similar difficulties when considering a master’s. She just finished her Bachelor of Arts, which she dearly enjoyed and loved, but now can’t make up her mind whether to do a master’s in the same subject or just join the workforce. She feels helpless. EDUopinions will be of help to her because we can guide her and let her know her options that she would not have known about before. We thought of a few pointers that might help her make the decision easier.
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Firstly you must honestly ask yourself a few questions. We told the same thing to Lucy, we asked her to sit down and think about a couple of questions before considering to do a Master’s.
1) Why are you considering a master’s degree?
For many, a master’s degree is just a way to buy time. For students who aren’t sure of their career path, a master’s is a kind of a safety net. However, if you are choosing to do a master’s then you should be confident that getting a master’s will help you get to your next career step. For example, if you want to be an English teacher, then getting a mater’s is a necessary part of your education and a building bridge to your career path.
We have come across many students, who like Lucy think getting a master’s degree will help them with the next step of their career. However, that’s a backwards calculation and won’t really help.
2) How hard is a master’s compared to an undergraduate degree?
Of course, it is harder than an undergraduate degree, however, every student wonders how much harder is it? An undergraduate program involves tackling more simpler material and the rise to the complex material may be tough on some students. Some students also think that the master’s degree might require more work and studies.
The reality is somewhat in the middle. Master’s courses are structured in the same way as the undergraduate courses but the amount of preparation required for the tests and classes is higher. More background studies and more studies, in general, are required to be able to compare the classes. Every class requires a lot of self- dependent study and the hand-holding done as compared to the undergraduate degree is much lesser. Of course, you will have to work a bit harder than you did in your undergraduate studies, which is what we told Lucy too! Preparing for classes meant I got more out of them (with no need to fear that dreaded ‘imposter syndrome’). And by the time my essays came around, you will have plenty of ideas to choose from.
3) Do you require this additional degree to be successful in your career?
Now this question requires some deep thinking. Jump ahead to 5 years in your life and think where would you want to be placed at that point. If you think that you want to pursue something entirely different from what you studied in your undergraduate program, then don’t go for it. However, if you think that the master’s degree will help you gain an edge in the field of your career then you should opt for it. For example, if you want to be a professor, a master’s degree is pretty essential to pass the tests and even gain more knowledge about the subject in order to teach properly.
If you want to just make yourself feel more qualified by getting a master’s degree, then do stop and think. If you landed a better paying job right out of your undergraduate college, would you still go for that master?
Many students call it quits after they get a high paying job right out of college. Often times, hands-on experience at a job may help you learn more and get you where you want. But, this all depends on that 5-year plan you have. If you feel that a master’s degree is essential for that plan, go ahead!
4) Will studying a master’s be useful?
For students who want an academic career, then getting a master’s degree does wonder for them. They get much more in-depth knowledge about that subject which really sets them apart from other colleagues of theirs. Advanced qualification is sometimes a stepping stone to advanced work.
You might also get some great transferable skills while doing masters. For example, one student really learned a lot in general areas including presentation skills, professional writing and project management. These skills are really useful in professional environments and help you build your personality too!
5) Will this degree impact your future and career?
Before applying to graduate school, you need to know the importance that this degree will have in your career. A master’s degree has many benefits, but it should most important benefit you in the future too. Pursuing graduate school may mean having to juggle a full-time job while taking night classes or quitting work altogether. It may also require you to take out additional loans, on top of the other financial and personal decisions that may surface along the way. So, it’s really important to think things through. The purpose of going for this degree should be found out. And an “I’ll figure it out later” is of no help really.
Your choice to pursue a master should be a clear decision to help your career, any other decision should be reconsidered.
6) How will your social life be?
Well, of course, you will be juggling many many things while pursuing your master’s. Your studies, your loans, full-time job to pay those loans- so be prepared for a less engaging social life than the one you had while pursuing your undergraduate degree. Though you may still, of course, end up going bar-hopping on the weekends, most likely you will make more friends at formal events and in your dorm than anywhere else!
Things To Know Before Applying For a Master’s Degree
If you’re considering applying for master’s courses in European, Canadian and American universities then you must have come across two types of degrees- thesis (research-based) and non-thesis (taught, professional, or coursework-based) master’s degrees. After picking which type of degree you want to do, it’s natural to have many questions about how to apply, the skills you need to apply for each, and what it means for your future career. Check out what students have to say about their experiences at these universities on EDUopinions. These reviews based on real-life experiences can be exactly what you need to make the right decision. Here are some things to consider before applying for a master’s degree:
1. Choose between a general or technical degree:
Have a chat with some of your friends who are already in the workforce and see what kind of jobs are more in demand right now. Since they must have given many interviews, they must have gotten an idea or a lay of the land. They will be able to tell you what are hiring managers looking for- either a technical background or a general background.
The general degrees are many out there and can be applicable to a global development career: A master’s in international affairs, public affairs or even international development, are just a few. They provide a good grounding in a variety of functions and disciples. Technical degrees give a more specialised degree in areas such as agriculture sciences, econometrics, and engineering; these specialised agents are also considered a highly skilled workforce and are in demand too. For other kinds of jobs, having a master’s might just be like checking a box and doesn’t affect the kind of work you do. A lot of jobs also give a lot of on-the-job training. But by pursuing a more specific area of expertise, you will make yourself marketable to jobs that require a technical degree as well as those that are looking for any kind of graduate-level education.
These days, many universities also offer a dual degree where they teach general education and specialised education as well. So, if you can’t make up your mind- going for one of these degrees might be a good fit for you!
2. Research about your program:
Always choose well. After your undergraduate degree does your research and applies to the program that is a good fit for you. Every university has a different study model and requirements also differ from one university to the other- so choose a path that best fits your career path. Try visiting the universities, deep-dive in their websites, talk to their alumni, contact their admissions office – do everything that helps you get the maximum information about the university.
3. Gain some experience before jumping in for that master’s degree:
Many non-technical degrees like MBA require students to have some kind of work experience before joining the MBA course. If you go for an MBA without any work experience, then many students get stuck in a rough spot of being overqualified for entry-level positions but under-qualified for mid-level positions.
If you work for a few years, and then get your degree then you may find the employment environment much friendlier when graduation comes. Graduate schools also look for work experience when evaluating applicants to their program. Also, having a few years of work experience can help you hone on what it is that you want to pursue.
4. The thing about what your coursework should be focused on:
Even if you choose a thesis or a non-thesis program then you must know what you want your coursework to be focused on. It’s important to know what you’re passionate about and to be motivated to study this subject more deeply. It is the role of your supervisor and/or advisor to help you choose a suitable topic to study, based on your interests and skills.
5. Analyse the job market first:
Before jumping into any conclusion and signing that tuition check, see the job market first. Signing up for a master’s program requires money, time and a lot of effort. And of course, you want all this hard work to pay off when you go to the job market. Ask the school for statistics on job placement and look to see where recent graduates were placed. You can also catch hold of the alumni of the school and see how they are doing after pursing the master. All of this will help you understand what to face if you decide to pursue a master’s. Also, scan the job boards and see what vacancies there are — or aren’t — out there. This is a crucial step to understand your own future, so don’t skip this step!
6. If you’re pursuing an online degree, then be cautious:
Since now the world and universities are so global, almost every school offers an online degree too. It saves time, is more efficient and makes education so much more accessible to everyone. However, be vary that some employers are sceptical of online degrees and do not give them as much weight as those obtained from a brick and mortar institution. Though this might just be old-school thinking, do some research before pursuing that online degree. Research about the program, institution, its reputation, and success rates. It’s probably worth talking to a few recruiters from organisations you hope to work at, to see how they would view a degree from the online university you are considering.
7. Try working along with pursuing your degree:
More often than not, you might end up working alongside your degree to pay for your student loans, but even if you don’t need to- it’s a good idea to do the same. This doesn’t take you out of the workforce, helps you maintain your resume and also signals your next employer that you’re more serious about your career. You will come to class with real-world challenges, questions, and ideas and be able to go back and apply what you learn directly on the job. You will also be able to earn an income, often making a degree more economically feasible.
Editor’s note: This article was first published on the 12th of April 2019. We’ve updated it for current readers.