Which Masters degree is right for me?

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You must love your programme to succeed, so investigate your options fully to make an informed and happy decision

Postgraduate study is an exciting prospect, but it's also an incredibly challenging one. It's therefore important to ensure that the course content matches your interests, the programme will help you to achieve your long-term goals, and the institution has a good reputation for your subject.

'Undertaking research beforehand can make you certain that your chosen course is what you’re hoping for,' says Jennie James, careers adviser at Swansea University. 'Ask yourself some initial questions, such as what you’re hoping to gain from the course and what your expectations are.'

University reputation

Start your research online, judging universities and departments against your expectations. League tables compiled by organisations such as The Guardian and The Times can provide a good indication of an institution's strengths.

University reputation is often less important at postgraduate level. Indeed, an institution may be best for your subject even if it doesn't score highly overall. However, it's still worth researching the university's support network - its careers service and students' union.

Scrutinising the individual department is vital. Discover whether any members of staff specialise in your area. 'It's especially important to look at the research reputation of the university if you're considering a career in academia,' advises Patricia Durkin, careers consultant at Queen's University Belfast. 'Ensure that the research interests of the staff align with your own.'

Course content, employability and professional accreditation are more important factors than research standards if you’re looking to enter industry.

Course content

Programmes with similar titles can vary significantly, so study course literature closely to ensure that the content and structure is in line with your expectations. Approach your chosen department, requesting information about the programme’s modules, workload and contact hours.

'Consider if the course and teaching style is best suited to your needs,' recommends Jennie. 'Ask questions relating to the academic department's research projects and associated publications, as this could help you to make that final decision.'

Course costs vary between universities, making tuition fees another important factor. Compare fees, taking into consideration what each university is offering. Ensure that you can afford to pay for your chosen programme. If not, prioritise researching additional funding options.

Career prospects

Many students expect postgraduate study to enhance their career. However, conducting research before enrolling can help you understand if the course will help you to fulfil your ambitions. Admissions tutors should be able to provide information on graduate destinations.

Similarly, check what links the programme has with industry. There may be options for placements, as an industry-aligned project can boost your own prospects. 'Think about your long-term career goals and work back from there,' suggests Patricia. 'Consider what you might do after the course and what you’ll need to do to achieve this.'

If you've a particular employer in mind, contact them to confirm that the qualification will improve your application.

'Industry certifications and accreditations from professional bodies are important for certain subject areas,' adds Patricia. 'Look at relevant job adverts to identify what employers are looking for, and speak to potential employers at careers events to get an understanding of how they view the options that you’re considering.'