There are 7 mistakes you can make when choosing your Masters course.  Here I share with you what they are and how you can avoid them.

1.  Your Masters is very Similar to Your Undergraduate Degree

If you’re applying for a Masters course that’s in the same subject as your undergraduate degree – make sure you pick a specialisation.  You don’t want to repeat the same things you’ve already done,  even if this is at a higher level now. That would be boring and you’d miss your chance to add something new to your CV.

Here’s what I mean:

If your undergraduate degree was in International Business, don’t just do a Masters in International Business.  Pick a course specialising in Marketing, Human Resource Management, Project Management, Business Systems, or a specific region or country – there are so many different options out there.

2.  You Don’t Know Theory from Practice

A Masters can be general or more specialised, and it can also be theoretical, applied, practical or can lead to a professional qualification.   Always think about your future plans and pick the Masters that gives you the right qualification.

Also, look at the aims of the course and who it’s designed for.  Courses that are meant for students interested in doing research after the Masters will be more ‘academic’ and more focused on the theory.  If you want to work in a specific career, an applied, practical or ‘professional’ Masters can sometimes be the better option.

Here’s an example:

Let’s say, you’re interested in marketing and you want to work in marketing after the Masters. An academic Masters that’s focused more on the theory will help you understand marketing at a deep level. But if you’re looking for the tools and practical skills to work in marketing, a more ‘applied’ or even professional course might give you more direct preparation.

3.  You Know the Course Title but Not the Course Content

Do you know how often I speak to students who tell me they want to study a course but who know too little about the actual course content?   We all love great degree titles but guess what: it’s what you will study that actually matters.

Look at which areas the course will focus on – what modules will you have or can you choose to take? How will you learn – in lectures, workshops, seminars, group projects, field trips?  How will you be assessed – through exams, essays and other papers, presentations, a dissertation?

4.  You Have No Idea Who Teaches the Masters

At postgraduate level, the department and academics that teach your course are as important as the university itself.  So, do spend some time looking at the department, at its research activities and staff profiles.

Does the department have links and partnerships, for example with other universities abroad and with businesses?   These could prove useful to you during your studies or later in your career.

5. You Use Rankings but You Don’t Really Know What They Mean

Ok, I’d better say it straight:  I don’t like university rankings.  But… I think they’re important and you should look at them.  Just don’t make the mistake of choosing your course ONLY on the basis of how it’s ranked.

Another mistake would be to give too much weight to the rankings without really understanding what they’re for or how they’re relevant to you.

As a postgraduate applicant, I’d recommend you look at the REF (Research Excellence Framework).  This measures the research quality of academic departments in the UK.  The last REF was in 2014, the next one will probably be in 2020.

But again, be careful:  a department might have a really good REF score for its research – but the university itself may not be highly ranked or may not be considered as being amongst the top universities in the UK.  The opposite can also be true.

6. You Don’t Know if There Are 10 students on Your Course or 100

Masters courses can vary a lot in size, even within the same university and in the same department.   Some Masters courses will only accept 15 or 20 students, while others can have more than 100 students.  Specialised courses tend to be smaller, whilst more general courses tend to be bigger.

Don’t take size as a measure of quality but it’s good to know in advance what you should expect. Also, the course size can impact how your course is organised and how well you will get to know the other students on your course.

7.  You Don’t Know Who Else Is On Your Course

Another typical mistake is not to find out about the student mix on your course.  Many university websites tell you about the 100 different nationalities on campus – but what about your course?  Some courses are very popular with students from specific countries.

Here’s an example (not a math quiz):

Your Masters course may have 100 students from 30 different nationalities. But what if half of them or more were from only ONE country? Of course this doesn’t have to be a problem in itself – as long as you know what to expect.

To me it would also be important to know what the average age on the course is.  If you’re in your late 20s or early 30s and most students on your course are fresh graduates, only 21 or 22 years old – would you be ok with that?

Final Thoughts

When choosing a Masters degree to apply to don’t make the mistake of applying first, and then finding out some very important details after you’ve arrived.

Focusing on the ‘headlines’, such as the Masters course title and university ranking, won’t give you an accurate idea of what to expect.  Look at the details, especially at what you will study, how and with whom.

If you can’t find any of the information that you’re looking for, contact the university – they’ll be happy to help.

Showing 2 comments
  • Ibrahim Ahmed Abdulkarim

    Very insightful and important

    • Antoinette

      Hi Ibrahim, thanks very much, kind of you. I look forward to more on your project. Anyone reading this, check out set up by Ibrahim while an international student at Loughborough University.

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