Is a Master’s degree really that different to undergraduate studies?

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As someone who has friends who have previously completed Master’s degrees, I was aware to some extent of the workload and the expectations of being a postgraduate student. However, no one prepared me for the differences that may not seem as obvious. Within this blog, I’m going to discuss the key differences that I have noticed since beginning my Master’s degree after graduating from my undergrad studies in the summer.

I knew that Master’s degrees had fewer contact hours, but I didn’t realise how few contact hours we actually have. In my undergraduate studies, I was on campus pretty much every day with an average of three modules per semester. Master’s degrees are a whole different story – I only go in two days a week and I’m a full-time student! Although at first this seems ridiculous, you really do use the time off-campus to prep for lectures and seminars. Even though I’m only doing two modules this semester, I have not felt a decline in the workload from my undergrad degree – if I’m being honest, it’s the complete opposite! I constantly feel busy with reading and activities to do, and it’s hard to believe that all of the work that I do is to prep for two days of teaching a week. The workload is definitely more intense (especially as there is less ‘spoon feeding’ from lecturers), but it’s nothing that a student can’t manage.

Speaking about ‘spoon feeding’, I feel a lot more confident in my own critical ability during my Master’s studies. As you get less idea formulation from lecturers, you really do have to think for yourself and become an independent learner. Of course, you still have seminars and discuss ideas with your peers, but the lecturers just guide the conversations – rather than give you all of the information needed for the next assignment. As a Master’s student, you need to think critically and keep on top of the work, otherwise, you will get completely lost.

Unlike undergraduate studies where a lecturer may ‘slap your wrist’ for not preparing for a seminar, in a Master’s degree that responsibility is all on you and you are expected to come fully prepared each week. If you aren’t, no one will formally tell you off, but you will not benefit from the sessions at all. Keep on top of the reading, and more importantly, actually do the reading.

Although a Master’s can appear daunting it’s important to remember why people do Master’s in the first place: to specialise in your chosen industry. I cannot believe how tailored a Master’s degree can be in comparison to an undergraduate course! Truly, the specifics that you can get into amaze me. Unlike undergraduate studies which are generally quite vague, Master’s degrees have a full focus on your career aspirations, and they can be extremely tailored to meet all of your needs so that you can go into your chosen workforce feeling confident.

Alongside this, many Master’s students are older than a freshly graduated 21-year-old, and these peers are already in the industry you want to go into. I didn’t realise how many incredible people I would meet and how diverse our backgrounds would be. Some people

have been in the industry for ten years or more, and some only graduated six months ago. You learn to talk to people who aren’t your age, and as someone who is used to being in the education system where you do primarily talk to people of a similar age, this is a really vital skill for when you enter the workplace. I was honestly expecting most people to be my age, but most aren’t – and that’s such a great experience to have, as well as the opportunity to network with people who already have established careers!

If you’re considering doing further education, don’t be too daunted by the changes – change doesn’t have to be a bad thing! Although Master’s degrees are quite different from most undergraduate experiences, it’s a great way to broaden your skills as an academic, as well as practical skills for your profession. However, research carefully about what course you choose as they are so specialised that even if a course has the same name, it may have drastically different content depending on the university.

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