How To Choose A Good Postgraduate Course And Study
It’s a new year and resolutions are usually made at this time of the year.
At least Jane has made hers. It’s hard to tell for everyone out there what they expect to achieve this year. Jane anyway, has resolved to obtain a Masters degree after her bachelor’s and one year work experience and needs direction on picking the right degree.
Let us first examine Jane’s reasons for wanting to obtain a Masters degree
- To seek an academic challenge
- Will increase in knowledge, professional expertise and skills
- To develop research skills (MRes courses or an eventual PhD)
- Will gain a qualification that will progress her desired career
- To increase the chances of employment in a chosen field
- To experience life at a university abroad in a different country
Types of Programmes
To further breakdown choices available to you (Jane), one of the first things you’ll notice about masters programmes (and their scholarships) on After School Africa is the varying titles they have. You may have seen an ‘MBA” or a ‘taught masters’ or a ‘research masters’ used to describe a Masters study programme. What are they?
Taught programmes (M.A, M.Sc, LL.M etc)
Most Master degrees are taught programmes. The most common of taught Masters programmes are the MA (‘Master of Arts’) and the MSc (‘Master of Science’). Like their names show, they are similar to undergraduate BA and BSc.
They usually involve completing a series of timetabled units across two semesters before undertaking an extended individual research project or dissertation.
Specific subjects (particularly those in vocational fields such as Law, Architecture or Education) sometimes use their own titles and abbreviations (such as LL.M, M.Arch or M.Ed).
Research programmes (MPhil, MRes)
Other Masters degrees focus much more on a student’s ability to undertake independent research tasks. The most common are the MRes (‘Master of Research’) and the MPhil (‘Master of Philosophy’).
The MBA (or ‘Master of Business Administration’) on the other hand, is a qualification designed for business professionals who are seeking to advance their careers. MBA courses are usually only considered by students with very specific goals and generally require a number of years of professional experience. For this reason they don’t tend to follow straight from undergraduate study.
There are thousands of courses that fall under the classification of the masters degrees above. Understandably, they seem to be very similar with almost identical titles. So how do you choose?
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1. Do you have natural affinity for a particular course?
To pursue any further study, you should have a natural aptitude for the subject. Ideally, you should also be quite sure you want to work in a related field after the course. Pursuing a second degree for a talent you possess greatly stands you out.
Granted, a postgraduate qualification doesn’t give you ultimate access into a given expertise – there will still be a lot of competition after you’ve finished, hence a lot of learning. However, the postgraduate student has more specialist knowledge, thus differentiating him/her from a large pool of competitors.
2. Do you possess the necessary prerequisites?
If you managed to gain a Bachelor’s degree at your university, it does not mean that you will be automatically accepted to their Master’s programme. Be aware of the prerequisites. Most institutions take into considerations the grade of your first degree, so be sure to put a lot of work and time into it.
Some majors require entrance essays, others interviews, and there may even be a list of topics that you can be questioned on. Be sure to get enough information before applying for a course simply because it somehow relates to your first degree because it would be unimaginable to fail at a course related to your first degree.
3. Will it qualify you for a desired job or career?
If you are going to study in order to become a qualified professional, then check that the course is recognised by the relevant professional body or that it’s one an organisation recognises. If it is not recognised, then this is not the qualification for you.
It is advisable to choose a Master’s that adds to the list of your talents and abilities and show your dedication to your chosen path. Some programmes require their students to do an internship, which can also look good in a CV, not to mention the chance it may provide for forming valuable professional networks.
4. What happened to previous students?
Do not choose a course for its fancy name. Many students often get carried away with the rosey description of a course that they often wonder halfway into the program why they are studying that course.
If your are unsure about what a course is about, it may help to find out what happened to people who have completed the course.Just because a course is called ‘Forensic Science’, for example, does not necessarily mean that the majority of its graduates actually make a career in those areas. The admissions tutor may paint a rosy picture, telling you how their best graduates got into fantastic jobs.
5. Do you have adequate finances to fund studies?
Students who are still dependent on the family purse may find it hard to pick a most suitable course. However, should these students change universities, or even faculties, there is still the possibility of finding a fitting course. Your destiny to succeed does not lie in the hand of one university.
Be sure to check beforehand the cost of living in the university dormitories and any other costs that may arise. Books and accommodation are not always cheap, especially combined with the costs of food and transportation. Be aware of your limitations and look for information on scholarships and other aids for students.
To complement the information above, you can also seek advice from the following:
- Academics – talk to your own tutors and other relevant academics and use their knowledge and networks;
- Your career adviser – a careers adviser has no vested interest and will discuss the pros and cons of particular courses impartially and perhaps suggest other options;
- Employers and professionals – talk to employers at fairs and presentations, use the contacts of your networks to extract information before going in for a course that may change the direction of your life forever.