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University life can sometimes seem like an impossible balancing act with all the demands of lectures, seminars, assessments, revision, sports and activities, socialising, (occasional) domestic chores, feeding yourself, and that elusive paradise: “free time”.
Alternatively, it can be a delicate balancing act of nights out, ‘recovery’ days in bed, and unstoppable Netflix binges.
Whichever schedule you relate to more, the question remains – how do you even begin to introduce your search for the right postgraduate course into this full-on schedule? Let’s start with the basics…
Begin your search nice and EARLY. If it gets to Easter and you know you want to do further study, but haven’t dipped even your little toe into the research quagmire yet, it’s not the end of the world, but you are going to face more difficulty and probably stress trying to organise a second degree whilst you’re scrambling to finish your first one.
In general, postgraduate application rules are a lot more relaxed than the deadline-monster that is UCAS. However, this does not mean that popular courses won’t fill up before your undergrad degree ends. There’s no point missing out on a potential course just because you didn’t check the deadline date, or because suddenly every man and his dog wants to study wildlife documentary-making (now apparently a very over-subscribed course!).
Your first task is to create a shortlist of universities that offer courses of interest with their application deadlines noted alongside. You might want to look out for bursaries and scholarships at this point too, which often have similarly early application deadlines.
Begin this shortlist as early as you can - when you start your final year of undergrad if you're currently at university. If your organisation borders on the obsessive, then why not start searching the summer between your penultimate and final years? Better safe than sorry! Plus, doing this research whilst on your summer hols as a student will make you feel seriously productive!
Now you’re ready to investigate the courses and universities on your shortlist.
There is a ton of information online – every university and/or department website should have summaries of all the PG courses they offer – and it’s also a good idea to order some prospectuses. Booklets lying around in your room are harder to ignore than a bookmarked page you may or may not get round to reading online, plus choosing which prospectuses to order can also be a handy way of shortlisting your shortlist.
Try to set aside one night per week where you spend a couple of hours doing this research. If you schedule the task in, it automatically shifts up the priority list and means it can’t get pushed out quite so easily by that takeaway-and-Made-In-Chelsea night.
At this point, keep at eye out for your university’s PG Study fair or a similar event. Most university careers services should host something like this, and they are fantastic opportunities to ask questions, meet lecturers and possibly current students from around the country, as well as picking up info on courses you perhaps hadn’t even heard of but sound right up your street.
Stalls at these fairs often give out freebies too, and who doesn’t need a dozen different branded pens/badges/mugs?
You also want to keep an eye out for Open Days. Don’t panic if you’ve missed a couple already, as universities will usually hold two per academic year, usually one in Autumn and one in early Spring.
It’s just as important to get a feel for the university and its campus/city setting as it was when you were choosing your undergrad. This place is potentially where you’ll be living for the next year or two after all, so set aside the money for an extortionate train fare and plan a few visits. You could even rally a group together if you know course mates who are also considering a postgrad up for a day trip (one of them might even have a car you can blag a free seat in).
If you’re still having trouble choosing between the last lucky few on your mini-shortlist, then spend a little time considering what employment options each course can offer. Do they include industry experience? Is there potential for a year-out?
On a general note: set aside time for discussion. The people whose opinions will be most useful to you in your decision making are unbiased advisers (i.e. not the convenor of the course you’re considering) and former/current students.
Try to connect with these people on Open Days or read student reviews on unaffiliated websites, such as here on postgraduatesearch.com. Also remember to use your careers service if you get stuck: they should have appointments throughout term time for you to discuss one-to-one your personal needs and aspirations. They also generally have a wealth of information that has already been prepped and compiled for you – not necessarily the definitive resource but certainly a useful guide to begin with.
The final year of undergrad can be manic, what with trying to cram in all those assessments, the revision and the last-minute socialising before everyone gets swallowed up by the real world, but if you are organised and proactive, starting early on in the year, you shouldn’t end up feeling too pressured when it comes to decision making.
And remember, time is your friend! Getting ahead of the game means not losing out when popular courses fill up, and having the chance to apply for scholarships as well. My best advice is just try not to leave everything to the last minute (she says, having chosen her MA degree in August and started it the following month…ahem. Do as I say, not as I do, as some despot once said). Even if you have, it's never too late to study!
Next Step: Find a Postgrad Course You Like
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