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Student perspective: how I chose my Master's course

21 May 2013

Bella Cuthbert, a final-year Natural Sciences student at UCL, discusses her experience of the applications process for postgraduate degrees and explains what motivated her when choosing where (and what) to study.

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Bella Cuthbert

"The fact that I am currently in the process of applying for Master’s programmes is quite a surprise to me, as I have always been unsure about completing the fourth year of my MSci (Master's in Science) Natural Sciences degree. I always intended to leave after receiving my BSc, maybe travel for a year, and then start a graduate scheme at a major company. However, given that life does not always go the way you plan, and considering the current job market, here I am waiting to hear back from various universities who have my future career prospects in their hands. So why did I have a change of heart?

"After interning in the financial services, with a specific emphasis on the natural resources industry, I decided that the metals, mining and energy industry is where I want to focus my career. As it is not a standard job for an entry-level graduate it has been difficult to find opportunities, even with my degree major of Environmental Biology. Therefore my focus when applying for Master’s programmes has been on how I can achieve this goal.

"Intense Googling led me to look at universities in the United States, Canada and the UK and decide to what extent I was qualified for a Geoscience Master’s (I decided that this may be a little out of my depth). When looking at universities, I was particularly interested in their reputations, both generally and within the subject field, and the module choices that the degree would provide.

"While some degrees provided opportunities for field trips - for instance one degree I looked at featured a two-week trip to Africa - this was not my main concern when choosing a course. My decisions on whether or not to apply to courses were based very much on comparing what my potential future employers desire from a Master’s student, from quantitative abilities to knowledge on energy policy, and whether a Master’s would provide me with the ability to meet these requirements.

"Eventually I found a Master’s degree specialising in metals and energy finance in London. With my current work experiences and a few economics modules under my belt I decided, despite it being slightly adventurous considering my mathematical abilities, to go to the open day. I was surprised to be one of only three undergraduate students there, with many applicants having already worked in the investment banking industry for a few years before deciding on a career change.

"I decided to submit an application in the hope that my credentials would be sufficient to receive a place. I was instantly surprised to find that I was able to add a second degree choice and decided, after talking to an independent metals and mining environmental consultant, to select Environmental Technology as my second preference.

"The whole process was very similar to the UCAS system for undergraduate applications in the UK. With a personal statement, a few words on my previous work experiences and general academic record attached, my application was almost complete. However, unlike undergraduate applications two references, normally an academic and work reference, are needed. After meeting with my personal tutor and my old boss the application was ready to go.

"So, what have I learnt from applying for Master’s programmes? There is such a wide range of options, even if applicants are looking at a niche career area like I am, that it is hard to know where to start. A lot of degree programmes cover a wide range of topics and, while some university prospectuses and websites provide detailed information regarding module choices and people to contact, sometimes the information is hard to acquire. I have been far more interested in how I’ll be able to utilise the knowledge I gain on courses in my future career during this application process than when I was applying to undergraduate programmes, and detailed module descriptions have been very influential in my decisions, so it’s frustrating when this information is hard to find.

"There were also a few surprises along the way: for instance, at one university I was actually interviewed during the open day, which I had not known was going to happen, and I found that some courses stop accepting applications when they’ve reached a certain number, which I believe should have been made clearer. While many of the Master’s that I have researched provide fantastic additional opportunities, from field trips to acquiring funding for the dissertation write-up, the most important aspects for me in choosing where to apply to have been the knowledge I will gain and the people I will meet, and how this will enhance my career potential as an MSc graduate."

Since writing this post, Bella has accepted a place on Imperial College London’s Environmental Technology course.

Page last modified on 21 may 13 11:05

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