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Taught Masters Guide

A Taught Master's programme is one of the most common postgraduate options in the UK.

Taught postgraduate degrees are designed to develop knowledge or techniques in specialised subjects that you have previously studied in general.

Applying for a Taught Masters degree

Do your research

If you are considering applying for a taught Masters course, e.g. an MBA, it's a good idea to start researching programmes up to a year before you intend to start the course.

For example, if you wish to start a taught Masters in September 2016, begin your search in September 2015.

This will give you plenty of time to thoroughly investigate all the taught Masters programmes that you think are potential candidates, and to narrow down your choices and make your final decision.

It will also allow you to put together carefully tailored applications, as well as sort out any required documentation, such as references and English Language tests (e.g. TOEFL, IELTS).

Check the entry requirements

Double check the application requirements for all courses you are considering applying to, as sometimes they may not be wholly clear, and therefore confuse you as to whether you meet the institution's criteria.

Make sure your application is complete

For any application you make, be sure you have included all the necessary information before sending it off - this includes your personal statement, references, undergraduate degree transcript, English language test results, and any relevant funding application form(s).

If this is the case, contact the admissions team for the programme and ask them to clarify the entry requirements.

Talk to your referees

Be considerate of your referees and make sure you give them plenty of time to write you a reference.

Remember they are busy with their own lives, and you can not expect them to clear their schedule to write you a reference if you've only asked them a week before the application deadline.

Ideally, ask them at least a month before you are planning to send off your application - tell them a bit about the course you are applying to, and why you want to do it. A copy of the course content, your personal statement and your CV may be helpful to them to write you a good reference.

Leave plenty of time

For some universities, you are able to fill in and submit your application online - however, if you have to post your application off, make sure you complete it in plenty of time for the mail service to deliver it before the application deadline.

It's worth contacting the institution you have applied to a week or so after mailing your application to make sure they have received it, as it could end up being lost or delayed in the mailing process.

Make sure you get your application in well before the deadline, as places on Master's courses are generally limited, and you don't want to miss out on being considered for a place on the course because all the spaces are already full.

Choosing a course

Where will I learn?

One of the best ways to narrow down your choices is to make a list of universities that offer the Taught Masters you wish to take, then whittle it down to a shortlist of about 5 or 6 by considering all the factors outlined above.

Don't worry if you have a few more or less than this - the idea is to rule out a majority of the possibilities.

What will I learn?

Read all the details about the course in the university prospectus.

This doesn’t mean just skimming the summary – you need to look at what the module options are and their content, as these can vary significantly.

Although a particular course may have the same or similar title at two different universities, the content can vary a great deal.

Each course may place emphasis on different areas of the subject, so find out exactly what you'll be learning.

You may also find it useful to make a list of your academic strengths and weaknesses, so you can see which courses you think you will be better at and enjoy more.

Can I choose modules?

While there will certainly be compulsory modules in a taught Masters programme, some do not have a cirriculum set in stone and you will be able to choose several modules yourself.

Some universities will offer quite a broad range of optional modules, whereas at others the choice is more limited.

If there is a particular area of your subject you wish specialise in, make sure the department offers a module(s) in that area, otherwise you may be disappointed and won't enjoy the course as much as you could have.

Also, double-check that these modules will still be offered to postgraduates during the academic year you will be entering the course, as it is not uncommon for universities to discontinue modules if they do not have the appropriate staff to teach them, or do not prove to be popular with students, etc.

It's also a good idea to look at what the compulsory modules of the course entail - do they cover areas you would have chosen to study anyway?

If not, will they teach you things you do not already know? Go through the content covered by the compulsory modules carefully, as you may find they teach aspects that you already covered in detail during your undergraduate degree.

If you need to take a course that has professional accreditation, check with the appropriate bodies that any courses you are applying to fulfil this requirement.

How will I be taught?

The teaching style of the course is important, as some courses will consist of more practical work, essay assignments and group tasks than examinations.

If you take this into account, you can play to your strengths and ensure you’ve chosen the course that is best for you.

Think about previous experiences – do you achieve better marks in essays and exams? If yes, you may want to choose a course that is more exam-based.

Look at the weighting of marks, too – you may not want to take a course that allocates a majority of the total marks to coursework, and then have to do lots of revision for an exam at the end of the year that doesn't carry a significant amount of marks.

Can I change my course once I’ve started it?

Although you may have pretty much decided on a course based on the details of the content and the nature of the work involved, you might want to consider whether you are able to change your Masters course after you've started it.

Open Days

These are a great way of finding out more about where and what you will be studying - it's a chance to get a taste of postgraduate life at a particular university.

When you are attending Open Days, make it a priority to find out how the postgraduate community is treated - talk to as many postgrad students as you can and ask them what support they receive, how much, and are there any special provisions in terms of societies and/or resources?

Making a final decision

If you take these factors into account when choosing which Master's to apply for, hopefully you will find it easier to make the right decision and you’ll be happy with your choice once you’ve started your course.

It’s important to try and pick the right course first time, otherwise you could end up wasting thousands of pounds on a course that you won’t even use in your career once you’ve completed it.

If you already have a career path in mind, such as IT, journalism or medicine, then this should make your decision much easier.

However, if you’re still undecided, it’s probably worth taking a subject that you enjoy doing and/or are quite good at.

At least this way you will be enthusiastic about it and feel like you can stick with it until the end.

Finance

As well as all the factors above, you will also need to consider how expensive the course is. 

Fees can range from just over £3,000 to £10,000, or even higher for some management and highly specialised courses.

Money is likely to be a significant factor in making your final decision, so think realistically about how much you can afford to spend if you don't obtain a scolarship to help fund your studies. Make sure there is funding available from the department that you can apply for.

Higher fees tend to be charged on specialist courses or on courses from universities with an excellent reputation.

If you are trying to choose between different courses with different fees, think carefully about what you are actually paying for and whether it is worth paying extra for a specialist course, or for the name of the institution on your CV.

You shoud also think about your living costs once you start your course - generally the South is more expensive than the North.

Living in London will require you to fork out a lot more for food, rent, and transport than living in York.

However, there are always cheaper areas in every city if you're prepared to put up with a longer commute to campus each day, and perhaps living in an area that is socially, culturally and environmentally less desirable.

You can read more on how to fund your Taught Masters in our Postgraduate Funding guide.