Postgraduate Applications: Dos and Don’ts
So, you’re thinking about postgraduate-taught study? Congratulations! I did an MA in history which has led directly into a PhD. If you’re considering making the jump from a BA to an MA, there are applications to fill out, finances to consider and timescales to be met, so here’s a quick guide to getting everything done on time.
Do your research
I can’t say this enough, but actually research the courses which you’re interested in. It may seem natural that you want to progress into an MA or MSc in the same subject, but remember that some postgraduate sources will specialise (such as the history of war, forensic archaeology or international political development) and may be called other names. I stayed at the same university to do my MA, but please do shop around to find a course that sounds interesting. If you’re doing a course full-time, you might only have a year to complete everything, so at least make the stress worthwhile!
Don’t forget your references
Lots of applications are completed online through university online portals. They’re generally easy to use, but it’s important that you gather the correct information in plenty of time. If you’ve taken some time away from higher education, it may take a while to gather the correct references and have them fill in the forms required (universities will give guidance on this). Admissions staff at universities should be able to help you navigate the application process, but don’t wait until busy periods and expect them to get back to your straight away.
Send polite emails to potential referees to ask if they are happy to provide a reference. A personal tutor, course convenor or favourite lecturer are all good people to ask. If you've been gone a few years, a work reference may be more relevant, but don't be afraid to contact old lecturers, reintroduce yourself and let them know that you're planning to do a postgraduate degree.
Do attend recruitment events
These may be online this year, but go and see a prospective university campus if you can. Speak to members of staff about their specialist subjects, the course structure and the entry requirements, as well as exploring accommodation options and getting the general feel of a campus. There are more postgraduate-targeted open days than ever before, and many will only take an afternoon of your time. Sign up to applicant mailing lists and request a prospectus if you're considering attending a university other than where you did your undergrad. Forums such as The Student Room, although aimed at undergraduates, will be able to offer some insight into what life is like at a particular university.
Don’t forget about the financial aspect
Money. It’s a dirty word, but it’s vital to consider the loans, bursaries and fees that are involved with postgraduate study. It’s always worth checking Student Finance England’s advice on figures and repayment conditions for loans, and getting in touch with a prospective university to see if there are any funding avenues that you’d be eligible for. See what jobs will be on offer for postgraduate students, and don’t feel rushed into making the commitment of applying before you’ve done all your research.
Do think about a postgraduate degree’s relevance to your future
I’ll say it now and I’ll say it again. Doing a postgraduate degree to kill time or because you don’t want to leave university are not good reasons. They are a big financial commitment, are completed in a shorter amount of time than an undergraduate degree and are more difficult. If an MA or MSc is necessary for a particular career field or PhD study, then by all means apply! Otherwise, think long and hard about whether you’ll be capable of completing it, and whether you’ll actually enjoy it. If you’ve just finished your undergrad dissertation and hated every minute of it, it’s unlikely that you’ll enjoy writing a dissertation that is double the length in half the amount of time.
Don’t be afraid to take a gap year
Not entirely sure if you’re ready to continue your education? Take some time to think about it. Especially at the moment, taking a year out to see what happens with the job market or university funding might be a wise choice. Getting yourself a job to save up some money while you think about your options will also take the pressure off you financially if you decide to come back. I jumped from a BA to an MA, taking a total of three months off. I’m not sure I would recommend it, as I didn’t feel rested from my undergraduate dissertation and was immediately under pressure to earn enough money to support myself. Taking nine months between my MA and PhD has given me time to save up money, rest my brain and decide whether a research position is what I actually wanted.
Do spend time on your application
It might not be as laborious as your UCAS application, but it’s important to send off a polished submission to have the best possible chance of success. Pass your personal statement and/or research proposal to lecturers, family and your referees. Make sure your transcript is up to date, and that you’ve been honest, as universities will check! If you are likely to need an interview, make sure you are prepared to give up some time for that, as well as some time to prepare. You can often submit a postgraduate application up to two months before the beginning of term, but if you are needing a loan, I’d advise you get it sent off before then.
Ultimately, now is a great time to start thinking about postgraduate applications, but make sure not to rush into anything before you have all the details. Asking lots of questions will help you get the full picture of how much everything is going to cost, and whether that cost is justified. I’ll be writing more about postgrad life in the coming months, so if you’re considering an MA stay tuned for more information soon.