What to Consider when Choosing a Master’s Programme

by mba

Dreams come first

There are thousands of Master’s programmes available worldwide. How can you find the right one for you?

If you close your eyes and imagine your ideal programme, where would you be going to school? What would your daily activities look like? What job opportunities would open up after graduation?

To find the best possible Master’s, you need to know what you are looking for. Here are the main factors to consider. With these in mind, your school search will become much easier.

Recognition, reputation or ranking

It matters that the programme you enter has a good reputation. However, the first step is to make sure it is recognised in the countries where you plan to build a career. Accreditation of the university and programme helps in two ways. First, it makes your diploma recognised. Second, accreditation is a stamp of quality education. For example, business schools are accredited internationally by agencies such as EQUIS, AMBA or AACSB in addition to national accreditation organisations.

What to Consider when Choosing a Master’s ProgrammeReputation is more difficult to assess and takes a bit more research on your side. How esteemed a university is varies by country and by industry. So take your time to explore depending on your career destinations.

Finally, you can also consult respected international rankings. However, rankings should be treated with some caution. Consider what the rankings you are looking at are about. Do they measure teaching quality? Or alumni’s incomes after graduation? Depending on your preferences, the data may not be relevant to you.

Additionally, candidates make the mistake of looking at the overall rankings for the university, rather than for the particular programme or division they are applying to. For instance, the University of Chicago hardly makes it to the top in overall rankings. Yet its Booth School of Business is #1 in the US, according to Forbes.

Perhaps you want to become an entrepreneur one day, or design video games. What Master’s programmes are best for that? As you do your research, you may find that it does not matter that much where exactly a school is placed in any rankings. The question is, which school is #1 for you?

The best learning experience in your subject area

You are not just selecting a university, but a specific Master’s programme in the subject you want to study. Do the schools you are considering offer high-quality training in this area? Will the course of study reflect your interests – for example, if you want to study political science with a focus on the Middle East, are there faculty members with this kind of expertise?

Additionally, if your dream career combines different academic fields, how much flexibility will your programme allow? Say you aspire to enter the biotech field – would you be able to take classes in biology, engineering, and IT? Will you have an academic adviser helping you with your choices?

One more question to ask yourself: should you choose a theoretical or a practice-oriented Master’s? If you already have a background in the subject from your Bachelor’s, you can opt for a programme that will give you more practical skills. If you are transitioning to a new field, on the other hand, a strong theoretical foundation may open up more opportunities in the longer run.

Learning beyond the classroom

Studying is only a part of what you will be doing during your Master’s. The opportunity to build a strong network of friends and future colleagues is just as important. To make the most of the experience, you should consider whether this is a campus where you can see yourself thriving. Are there student clubs or societies you would like to join? Say you are a musician – would you have access to rehearsal space and resources that would allow you to share this activity with others? What is a student’s typical day like? Does the atmosphere fit your personality?

These may seem like trivial concerns before you go – but they will not be once you arrive on campus and this becomes your reality for a year or more. If graduate school is stressful, with only a few things around you that make you happy, it will be harder to excel academically and achieve your goals. Anyway, extracurricular options have great learning value as well and build up your overall experience at graduate school.

Bright career prospects

When choosing a Master’s, it is good to think ahead. Where would you like to land up after graduation, and which programme can take you there?

The link between your Master’s and your future career may not be as simple as you think. What matters is not just your course of study, but also what additional benefits the programme provides. For example, would you be able to do an internship? Can you get local language training, if you need it to land a job? Are faculty and alumni well-connected in your chosen industry, and can they help you find contacts? Is there a career centre where you can get coaching and help with your job search? If you are not sure, do not hesitate to ask school representatives.

How you can afford the best

Naturally, the financial investment your education will require is a major factor in any Master’s selection.

When looking at costs, be mindful of what is included so you are not comparing apples to oranges. Does the price include housing on campus and health insurance, for example? How much should you budget for living expenses, depending on the location? If you are headed to a remote rural campus, your studies may end up much cheaper than if you live in a metropolis like Singapore, known for its steep cost of living.

It is also important to know that what it says on the price tag is not the whole story. The cheapest option is not necessarily the best, because expensive institutions may also offer much more financial aid. If you have a strong, unique profile, you may be eligible for scholarships that can turn a degree that seems out of reach into an affordable one.

Location and environment

What to Consider when Choosing a Master’s Programme

You should also consider how the environment beyond the campus – the ambiance and lifestyle in the city, the culture and customs of the local people, and even the climate – will affect your experience. If you are headed to a major metropolis and you have never lived in one before, would the added stress make your studies more difficult? Or, say you are going to a beautiful rural campus, but you do not drive, or your driving licence is not valid in the country you are going to. Is there a chance you may feel stuck and isolated?

If you are in a city, would you be living on or off campus? In campus housing, you are likely to have less privacy – a potential challenge for more introverted people. Living off-campus, on the other hand, may mean a longer commute and fewer opportunities to get to know your classmates.

Think about the country you will be studying in. Is this a place where you can stay and work after graduation, depending on your visa status? And would you want to? If you do not speak the local language, will that create barriers for you? How much of a culture shock are you likely to experience?

Finally, you may not be thinking about climate. But if you are not used to long, heavy winters, for example, how would it affect your quality of life to have much less sunlight and to spend much more time indoors?

In-person, online or hybrid

The online teaching methods that dominated in 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic are here to stay. Universities have invested, students and faculty are more experienced, and the added value of this new way of teaching is piling up.

More and more, you will have the choice of diverse programme delivery formats – in-person, online, and hybrid options. Explore them in depth as experiences vary greatly even between programmes delivered in the same format. Know your options, as this will also help you shortlist the countries to consider, depending on how travel, visas and other regulations come into play.

After considering all these factors, and anything else that matters to you, you will be in a better position to choose among thousands of Master’s degree opportunities. Know your dream and you will be able to see how close different programmes come to it and find your #1.

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