If you are looking for a postgraduate masters course it may well be in a subject related in some way to your first degree, or your current job, or perhaps the job you want to move into. That is likely to give you quite a few different options and a range of courses available, so looking at the content of individual courses carefully before you decide is usually time well spent. You may go through a few stages – doing an initial look at the courses available in your subject area and maybe your area, is a good way to start. At some point you are likely to find you need to narrow down your selection and create a shortlist. Here are some useful things to think about when creating a shortlist of possible masters courses.

Deciding on your priorities

Knowing what you want, even if you don’t get all of it, will help you choose between courses. What are your basic criteria for a masters level course?

Modules – how much choice is there really?

Some masters courses offer a specific set of modules or courses which all students follow, whilst others have a wide range you can choose from. Most have a set of core modules with at least some choice of additional modules. If there are modules you are particularly interested in, check to make sure they will definitely be offered the year you want to do the course. If the University does not know the answer, ask them when they will know so you can check back at that time.

Specialist masters courses

Some specialist masters courses can be specific about entry requirements, looking for students who have focussed on this in some way in their first degree, or in some cases, their job. Two courses with the same name at different Universities may have different emphases and cover different areas of specialisation, depending on the expertise and interest of the academics. Do you want a specialist masters courses or do you need one that covers more of the discipline you are interested in?

Interdisciplinary masters courses

Great if you have a background in one area and want to expand to take in additional academic areas. These can be found across the subjects, from Arts and Humanities to Engineering through science and social science. Occasionally, when a course is described as interdisciplinary this can refer to the range of students the course is applicable to, rather than the content offered.

Conversion courses

Despite their name, these aren’t always available to everyone, eg there may be business courses specifically aimed at engineers or scientists, or humanities courses aimed at students who already have a first degree in another area of humanities or social sciences, or medicine conversion courses aimed only at scientists. We’d always recommend looking first at the entry qualifications and who the course is aimed at.

Masters courses related to the stage of your career

If you are looking at a specifically job related masters course, it’s useful to know what career stage the course is aimed at – check this out carefully as some may imply they are for everyone when they actually have a focus at one level or another or where most students actually attending the course are from a particular career stage. The list of modules should give you a good idea, as should any student profiles and information on graduate destinations. If it’s vague or unclear, ask the University.

Assessment

All masters course descriptions should include how they are assessed, and many include a wide range of assessment methods. If you have decided that you can’t face any more exams, then look out for continuous assessment. Many masters courses include a project or a dissertation, so if you like the course but that’s not your favourite part, take a look to see if you could do the course up to PG Diploma level – some courses are designed so that you can do the taught elements of the course but leave out the dissertation, although you don’t get the full masters if you do that.

Internships and Placements

Some courses include some time in a company or organisation related to to the course content. This often relates to a project that is part of the masters course. Some masters courses will expect you to find your own placement, others will have established contacts within the industry. Check out how many of the course graduates have been offered jobs by the companies where they did placements, and it’s also always a good idea to talk to course graduates about their placements.

Accreditations and ‘required’ courses for career advancement

If you need a certain professional accreditation, always check the course description wording very carefully to make sure the level accreditation is correct for what you need. If in doubt, check with the University and/or the accrediting body to make sure.

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