Thesis, long essays, lack of sleep – these are some of the things that come to mind whenever we think of a master’s degree. They all sound convincing enough not to pursue one, don’t they? But two years ago, I was given a rare opportunity: a scholarship grant to take a master’s degree (or Masters, henceforth) in the UK. Despite the thought of how difficult it could be, it was a chance I simply could not miss.
For those who are about to take up a Masters or are interested in taking up one, I enumerated some good and not-so-good things you can expect and how to prepare for them. Note that these are merely based on personal experience and thus, it may not apply to everyone.
1. There will be coursework every now and then.
In the UK, a coursework is a written work similar to a mix of a project and a long essay. Coursework take up to a month to finish and usually make up a bigger portion of the grade in a module or subject. In my case, I had one or two coursework for every module that I took. I remember having five modules at a time so the coursework really started piling up.
2. It’s impossible to stay active on social media.
I tried posting as much as I can on my social media whenever I visit a new place or experience something new. However, they were not as plentiful or as organized as what I have hoped for. Regular posting or even replying to messages becomes difficult especially when you need to concentrate on a coursework or dissertation.
3. Everyone is too focused.
Each of your classmates in a Masters is a focused, intelligent, and hardworking individual whose goal is to pass in all the modules – which is not easy per se. Some of them even plan on pursuing a doctorate degree or Ph.D. in the future, which means they will work extra hard to excel in all the modules. Anyway, they or their sponsors do not spend a good amount of money on studying for nothing.
4. You will need to work with your peers.
Sure, your classmates may be too focused but that cannot stop you from seeking their help and vice-versa. In fact, the majority of coursework requires working in a group. Teamwork is the key even if you prefer working on your own. This not only checks if you are doing your coursework properly, but it also saves a lot of everyone’s time and effort. Indeed, two or more heads are better than one!
5. You will have to ask LOTS of questions.
Intelligence is measured not by what you know but by how curious and willing you are to learn. Do not hesitate to ask your mentors or colleagues the silliest or “stupidest” questions, even if you think you know the answer. You can also reach out your inquiries to them by e-mail so you can get well-thought and well-written answers.
6. You will develop your own study habits.
There are no right or wrong study habits in a Masters; you study based on what you think works best for you over time. In my case, I preferred skimming rather than reading through all the references as I believe it would save me time and effort. I also chose to work more often with my laptop at home than in the library because I felt I can concentrate more, eat whatever, and sleep whenever I want.
7. Referencing is an absolute must.
Citing should be a habit of anyone taking or planning to take a Masters. Every quote, phrase, or statement that is put in any written work must be supported by a reference of any source, whether it is a textbook, magazine, old manuscript, or an online article. UK universities are very strict in implementing the rule of citation that they can sue you for plagiarism when proven guilty.
8. You will have rest days; make the most of them.
Contrary to what a lot of people think, taking up a Masters does not equate to constant studying and barely getting any sleep. In my case, I only stayed up late when I needed to submit a coursework at the very last minute. Otherwise, I would take a complete rest in order to recharge and stay focused the following day. Plan a holiday and go to a place you always wanted to visit, or sleep whenever you feel like sleeping (but not during classes!).
9. Your patience will surely be tested.
There were times when I felt confident about my answers in the examination or the coursework I submitted. However, the results and feedbacks were mostly underwhelming. I also had to make, during my dissertation, three more revisions before I arrived at my final manuscript. Test of patience is normal in a Masters and your professors only want what is best for you. Any remark you receive is nothing personal and you are only being criticized constructively.
10. You get all the student privileges and discounts.
A Masters student is a student. Thus, you get to enjoy privileges the same way as younger students do. In the UK, students are slashed one-third off their train and bus fares. They also receive discounts from restaurants, cinemas, and major attractions in and out of the UK. This may be the best thing you can get from being a student – except when people think you look too old to be one.
Now that you have read some expectations, despite most of them appearing negative, you are now more prepared for what is up when you take your Masters. Is it worth taking? Absolutely! It is an experience certainly worth taking but not worth trying again – at least for me. And by the time you overcome the hardships and finally earn your degree, the last thing you can expect is that you will end up feeling really proud. Finishing a Masters will definitely be one of your greatest life achievements.