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How to prepare for a Master’s in the UK

The UK is one of the most popular destinations for international students choosing to study for a Master’s degree. Studying for a Master’s in the UK means an opportunity to receive expert teaching from a top university, and experience diversity in terms of culture and environment.


Universities in the UK have high standards of research and teaching, with cutting edge study facilities, so are the perfect place to complete your postgraduate study.


In this article we will explore what to expect from a Master’s in the UK, how to choose where to study, and how to prepare for  your course of study.


Teaching style of Master’s in the UK


In the UK there are generally two types of Master’s degrees: taught Master’s and research Master’s. 


These two different programmes will focus on slightly different things, with the research Master’s consisting largely of reading, leading into a dissertation, and the taught Master’s involving much more face-to-face teaching. While each individual programme will be slightly differently, here are a number of aspects you can expect to be part of your postgraduate study in the UK:


  1. Lectures

Lectures are standard teaching tools in most higher education, with generally a single lecturer providing instruction on a specific topic. Lectures vary in length and the number of students present, with individual participation by students not always easy. There will usually be an opportunity for questions. Seminars on the other hand, give the opportunity for individual participation and often involve a smaller group of students and a tutor. Every student in the seminar group will be expected to actively participate in discussions and take their turn in leading discussions or presenting ideas. 


  1. Workshops

Workshops can be a key component of some programmes. These are essentially seminars focused on a practical activity. For example, engineering students may work as a group on a practical problem.. As with seminars, all students will be expected to participate and to take their turn in leading. Practical classes are also an important part of many programmes, and focus on the development of hard skills.


  1. Tutoring

Most Master’s degrees involve contact with a tutor.On some programmes you may have a personal tutor who takes responsibility for you for the whole of your programme, and will talk with you about both academic and personal or pastoral issues. Other programmes involve a group-based tutorial.


  1. Independent Reading

For most Master’s programmes, independent reading will be one of the most important parts of your learning. A Master’s provides you with the opportunity to read widely and build a detailed understanding of your specialist field, allowing you to bring your own knowledge to the forefront of that field. You should expect, therefore, to spend considerable amounts of time in the library or reading materials on-line, no matter what your area of academia is. 


  1. Assessment

Many Master’s programmes are assessed using traditional written examinations. These may occur at the end of the taught programme or be spread throughout the course. While examinations are still used, it is increasingly common for assignments to form part of your assessment. Assignments can vary in scale and focus, from research essays to small practical projects to seminar presentations, but all will require considerable individual preparation and independent work. 


  1. Dissertation

A dissertation, or project, will be a crucial part of many Master’s programmes, and will generally be worth one third of the assessment total. Typically it will be a written project of between 15,000 and 25,000 words in length that you plan and undertake independently. Although you will have a supervisor, it will be expected that you show independence in choosing, planning, and writing the project.


Choosing the right university for your Master’s


Choosing the right place for your studies is an important decision for your Master’s degree. There are a few factors that are worth considering, including: 


  1. Course rankings

You will want to choose a university that provides the best Master’s course in your chosen subject. This could mean looking at how the degree is taught, what facilities they have, such as laboratories and libraries. Checking on university rankings and league tables will also give you an insight into what it is like to study at.


  1. Reputation of your institution

The reputation of a university and its links to industry are factors that you will also want to consider. What is crucial from a student perspective is to see a strong reputation in terms of both the academic sector, and the industry that you want to work in. The size of the institution is also important, as you may prefer universities with large student numbers or those with smaller student populations.


  1. Location, location, location

When choosing a university for your Master’s in the UK, you may want to think about its location. Do you want somewhere in the city, or somewhere a bit further out? Have you got an opinion on whether a campus-based university or community-based one interests you the most? Location will also impact living costs and tuition fees, as they vary considerably across the UK.


Preparing academically, professionally, and personally


If you’ve got as far as choosing to study a Master’s programme it’s safe to assume that you have a very strong interest in the subject you’re studying. Preparing for the academic side of your degree is vital.

If you’re keen to prepare in advance for the course, consider contacting the faculty and asking if they have any recommended pre-reading. Also, keep an eye out for current affairs and events that are relevant to your subject area. You can also consider a specialist pre-University course in your chosen subject to help you prepare for the rigours of postgraduate study in the UK.


For many Master’s students, employment prospects post-graduation will be front of mind, and you should also prepare to capitalise on the employment benefits of a Master’s degree. Universities recognise the importance of helping students gain professional experience. As a result, it’s common to find internships, part-time work, research posts or volunteering opportunities that you can undertake alongside your course. Some master’s even incorporate work-based projects carried out in conjunction with an employer or organisation.


In preparation you could find out about networking initiatives both during and after the course, and try to get a feel for the type of employers involved and the make-up of the student/alumni community at your university. 


Remember there is more to postgraduate study than just the academic and professional aspects, and preparing for the personal side of studying for your Master’s in the UK is also important.

Be sure to research life at your chosen institution through the university website and build an understanding of the societies and organised programmes for international students. Things like partnering with a home-based student could give you the opportunity to get to know the area, and even the language, much more deeply. 

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