Pursuing a master’s degree is a logical step for some graduates: it allows you to specialise in your field and gain expert advice from career specialists. It can also increase your chances of receiving a higher salary and climbing up the career ladder faster but, most importantly, it can help you grow as a person and learn soft skills that can be transferred to any workplace.
The problem, however, is that applying for a postgraduate course can be tricky and many graduates are put off by the entire process before they even begin. There really is nothing to be intimidated about, though – and this easy-to-follow guide will walk you through all the steps to make sure you have a killer application to successfully join your desired master’s programme.
1. Know When to Apply
Applying with ample time is key when it comes to your graduate degree; most deadlines for postgraduate courses that begin in September or October are in June. It’s imperative not to wait until the last moment to apply if you want to ensure you get accepted. You’ll also need time to sort out your finances, accommodation, travel arrangements and a visa if you’re an international student.
It’s, therefore, advised to apply at least six months in advance to be on the safe side, but do check with your course provider as some programmes start at different times of the year.
2. Start Your Application
In the UK, applications can be made online, directly to your chosen institute, although the UCAS and UKPASS services provide a centralised admission page for a number of universities and colleges. You could also download the application form from their website or request one by post if you don’t want to apply online.
There are no limits to the number of applications you make but due to a time constraint, you’ll probably be limited to a maximum of eight applications. If you’ve sent your application but realised you left off some important information, don’t panic! It can be altered through the institute’s admissions office – you’ll just need to contact them and explain that you would like to submit a replacement application or include some supporting documents.
Applications in the USA do not differ to those of the UK; some universities also seek submissions via email.
3. Meet the Entry Requirements
Requirements will, of course, differ between courses and institutes, but the general necessities are as follows:
- A bachelor’s degree (or equivalent) in a relevant subject, awarded with a 2:1 or higher
- One or two reference letters
- IELTS, TOEFL or GCSE in English (for international students)
- GRE and GMAT for US students
- A research proposal (if required)
- A personal statement (if required)
- Copies of your passport
You may be required to show evidence of how you plan to fund the course. For example, your funding might come from personal savings, a student loan, a scholarship or even crowdfunding.
4. Get a Reference Letter
Most universities don’t have time to interview each individual candidate so they rely heavily on credible references to back up applications and prove that you have what it takes to succeed at postgraduate level.
Most institutes ask for two separate references that can speak of your educational capabilities, as well as your character. It’s important to choose a lecturer you have spent a lot of time with and who knows you well enough to speak highly of you.
You shouldn’t have to worry about asking for a reference as this is part of their academic job and is something they do every year. Just make sure you give them enough time to create your letter and give them a deadline of when it’s needed.
It would be a good idea to give them a copy of your CV and personal statement so they can refer back to – they’ll most likely have a large number of other letters to write, too. References should be signed, dated and written on official letter-headed paper or, alternatively, emailed directly to the university from the referee using an official university or company email address.
If you've taken a break from studying, then you may not have two academic referees. In this instance, you'll need to provide a professional reference from your most relevant employer.
5. Create a Research Proposal
Research proposals may be a requirement for some master’s degree applications. The aim is to demonstrate that you have a project worth doing and is manageable within the timescale of the course. While word limits vary, research proposals are usually between 500 and 1,500 words in length.
Dr Alastair Watson, assistant professor in business management at Heriot-Watt University Dubai Campus, recommends using the following model when composing your research proposal:
- Introduction– What is your study about?
- Aims and objectives– What do you want to achieve and how will you achieve it?
- Theoretical literature– What existing theories or models are you going to use?
- Contextual literature– What is the sample population that you're going to collect data from?
- Research gap– Why is this project interesting and how will you fill the knowledge gap?
- Methodology descriptor– How will you collect and analyse data?
- Provisional timetable– How are you scheduling your project?
- Possible research impact– How will your research revolutionise your field?
6. Put a Portfolio Together
Some courses, especially in the field of art, require you to submit a portfolio that demonstrates your work. It should contain a variety of your best work, explaining how it’s been created through reference materials.
You should put a lot of thought into how you will organise your portfolio. Do you want to organise it in chronological order or by topic? Think of what works best for your specific field. If you’re applying for a master’s in journalism, for example, then chronological order may be best suited as it shows your most current work first. On the other hand, a master’s degree in art will see topics as an acceptable and interesting order.
7. Write Your Personal Statement
Your statement of purpose is one of the most vital links on the chain of the application process. It mentions your commitment to joining the programme and your life goals. This essay should be brief and must clearly reflect what you want to gain out of continuing your education.
8. Prepare for What Comes Next
It’s a waiting game after you have sent your application off; it could take up to a few months to receive an answer from your selected universities. You will be faced with one of the four outcomes listed below:
- Unconditional offer– You've successfully met all of the entry requirements and have a confirmed place on the course
- Conditional offer– You're being offered a place on the course, provided that you meet certain requirements
- Interview– You must attend an interview before a final decision is made
- Unsuccessful– You've failed to gain a place on the course
If you’ve been unsuccessful, don’t beat yourself up. You can speak to your careers advisor at your current university and ask for their advice on how you can proceed. If you do plan to reapply in the coming year, make sure you use your time wisely. For example, you could gain valuable industry experience through an internship or graduate job.
Have you recently applied for a master’s degree and faced a few issues? If so, let me know your queries in the comment section below…