Making a decision about whether or not you want to progress to master’s level study can be a difficult one. This is true regardless of whether you graduated recently or many years ago. After all, doing a master’s program requires a lot of time and effort,
so you want to be sure it’s the right path for you before enrolling. The good news is that there are a great many benefits to be gained by undertaking a master’s degree, and as long as you’re willing to put in the hard work, you’re sure to reap the rewards.
Read on to find out more about master’s level study and the advantages of completing such a qualification.
Difference between a master’s degree and a doctoral degree?
Let’s begin with some definitions. Graduate-level education is any type of advanced study that moves beyond an undergraduate course. The two main types of programs in this area are master’s degrees and doctoral degrees.
Both involve intensive academic work and specialized training, although the specifics will depend on the exact subject and course you choose to study. Graduate education is usually a mixture of taught elements and independent research, culminating in the production of a final dissertation or thesis.
Generally speaking, master’s programs are more career-focused, whereas doctoral programs are more research-focused (although a master’s does involve research, and a doctorate will help with your career!). A master’s is also shorter than a doctorate, usually taking just one or two years as opposed to between three and eight.
There are several types of courses available at the master’s level, with the main difference between them being the subject you study and the way in which you learn. They include:
- Master of Arts (MA)
- Master of Science (MS or MSc)
- Master of Fine Arts (MFA)
- Master of Business Administration (MBA)
- Master of Engineering (MEng)
- Master of Research (MRes)
- Master of Public Health (MPH)
- Master of Public Administration (MPA)
Whichever you pick, you will normally complete a series of academic modules on different topics that are assessed by either examination, coursework, or both. Towards the end of the program will usually conduct an independent piece of research and write a dissertation on your chosen topic.
When it comes to doctoral-level degrees, the most common is the Ph.D. (Doctor of Philosophy). You can take a Ph.D. in almost any area of study. However, there are also more specialized doctorates for specific fields. Most doctoral programs have a few taught elements that cover academic skills, but the courses are primarily concentrated on research. You will be expected to conduct an original piece of research that contributes to your academic field and write a thesis on it, which you defend in an oral examination.
How do I choose which course and subject to study?
Deciding which program and subject to study is a personal choice, and there are lots of factors to consider. Firstly, there’s your existing level of education. To enroll in a master’s program, you usually need to already have an undergraduate degree.
To enroll in a doctoral program, you often need to have a master’s. However, this is not always the case, and sometimes you can find programs that combine two levels of study into one course.
The next aspect to consider is what your ultimate goal is. For instance, if you are hoping to boost your employability and skills related to your work, then a master’s degree is probably appropriate for you. On the other hand, if you are aiming for a career in research and academia, then you might find a doctoral program more suitable.
In terms of the subject you choose, it’s crucial to pick a field that you are genuinely interested in. After all, you will be studying it for a long time and in considerable depth – especially if you enroll in a doctorate. Of course,
you’ll also want to consider what subjects are most conducive to achieving your goals. There’s not much point in enrolling in a history degree if you want to become an engineer!
Once you’ve chosen a subject area, take some time to look at the different programs available within it. Curriculums often differ considerably between institutions,
even if they have the same overall title, so be sure that the course you choose has modules that interest you and cover exactly what you want to learn.
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Why should I get a master’s degree?
There are so many reasons why getting a master’s degree can be beneficial to you. One of the most obvious is the boost that it can give to your career. With a master’s qualification under your belt, you’ll find more higher-level job opportunities available to you,
whether it’s internal promotions or external positions. You could even use your master’s study as a way to transition into a brand new career by retraining in a different field.
Even if the jobs you are hoping to get don’t specifically require you to have a master’s, studying to this level demonstrates to prospective employers that you are serious about your career and personal development.
Having a master’s degree has also been shown to boost your earning potential. Just as people with an undergraduate degree earn more on average than those with only a high school diploma, people with a master’s earn more on average than those with only an undergraduate degree.
Therefore doing an MA or MSc could improve both your job security and financial stability.
Of course, gaining a master’s is not simply about the advantages you’ll get at work. It’s also a fantastic way to take your personal development to the next level. You’ll have the chance to take a deep dive into a subject that interests you and open your mind to new ideas.
Plus, in addition to this subject-specific knowledge, you’ll work on a number of transferable skills such as communication, problem-solving, critical thinking, and time management. These will be useful to you no matter what career you go on to have after graduating.
Studying for a master’s course can also be a great opportunity to network. You’ll be in a cohort with lots of other dedicated students, who may well become firm friends or even future business partners. Lastly, doing a master’s is a good way to prepare for doctoral-level study if that’s a path you’re interested in.
Can I still study for a master’s if I have a job and a family?
The answer to this one is a definite yes! It’s very common nowadays for people to go back to college and study for a master’s program many years after completing their undergraduate degree, so you probably won’t be the only older student on your course.
Universities offer lots of support to mature students, for example, by offering part-time courses that are easier to fit alongside family commitments. There usually are social groups for mature students and students who are parents.
One great option to consider is online master’s programs, which provide lots of flexibility to those who want to study alongside their day job. By choosing distance learning, you can study exactly when and where you want to.
This could be weekends, early mornings, late nights, or any combination that fits your schedule. In addition, studying at the same time as working means that you can put what you learn into practice immediately in your career. You might even find that your employer is willing to fund your tuition!
What are the next steps?
If reading this article has convinced you that a master’s degree is the right option for you, it’s time to think about how you can make that dream a reality.
The first step is to narrow down exactly which subject you want to study, and then compare the various courses on offer at different colleges. You’ll also want to consider whether you would prefer to study full-time or part-time and whether you would like to learn online or attend a course on campus.
Once you have picked your top two or three courses, you will need to begin putting together your applications. Master’s programs can be competitive, so take your time with this. You usually need to complete a form, submit proof of your previous qualifications, and also give contact details for a couple of academic references who can attest to your ability to complete the course.
Many applications also require you to submit some sort of personal statement about why you want to take the course.
This is a key part of the process and your chance to shine. It’s helpful to show that you’ve researched the program thoroughly, have a clear and relevant career goal in mind after graduating, and possess the requisite skills to succeed. Make sure you proofread it carefully for any spelling or grammar errors before hitting the submit button!
Having received the good news that you’ve been accepted on a master’s program, you can then begin preparing for the first semester.
Check the reading lists for the initial modules and get started on them early, read blogs from previous students, so you know what to expect, and buy some new stationery to get you motivated! If you are going to be studying an online program, consider taking a free short course in advance to help you get used to virtual learning.