For many undergraduates, now is the time when you’ll be debating applying for postgraduate study, and, if you’re super organised, you might even already have an offer. This time last year, I had a sudden life crisis and decided that I wanted to continue studying and apply to an MA course.
It was a really difficult decision, and I didn’t really think a lot of it through – but there are some things that you really need to make sure you do to prepare for the next year of your life as a postgraduate student.
Ensure you have applied to the right course
This may seem especially obvious, but I applied for two courses, Creative Writing and 21st Century Literature, just in case I didn’t get into one but ended up receiving offers from both. I had a really difficult decision of deciding which one I was going to do, as I was passionate about both. In the end, it came down to career prospects. Although I think, in hindsight, Creative Writing might have opened up a lot of doors for me in an artistic career, the module breakdown was actually quite simplistic and would have meant I missed out on theoretical research, which I absolutely love. The way the courses were structured also played a part in my final decision, as I believe that, if I really wanted to write a book, I could probably force myself to try without paying £10,000 for it.
You also need to make sure that you absolutely love what you’re applying for. Many people apply to undergraduate courses simply because they have the best success statistics, but you’re doing a Masters because you are passionate about your chosen field. If you can’t imagine yourself being happy every day doing what you have applied for, rethink your decision. It may not be right for you. Luckily for me, I chose right. I absolutely love my course and am so glad I chose 21st Century Literature.
Finding somewhere to live
Deciding where to live is a lot harder in postgraduate study. I debated living on my own for a long time, and it’s definitely something everyone should consider. I truly believed that this year would be just a continuation of my undergraduate study – that I could get away with going out two or three times a week, having late nights and a messy house – but it does not work like that. You need a lot of your own space doing a Masters to do your own work. For me, the library is my best friend, and gives me a quiet place to work, but having a constantly peaceful house, would have worked better. In some ways, I wish I had considered reaching out to other course-mates, and seeing if I could house share with other people on my course, but a lot of people commute to an MA. I also didn’t want to run the risk of not getting on with the people I lived with, or not having a chance to relax and switch off. My housemates are all third-year business students and people who I have lived with before. This works perfectly for me (most of the time), as they provide me with an escape, and stop me thinking about my course every second of the day.
For people who are new to Lincoln, my advice would be to stay away from halls. For undergraduates, they are amazing, but, as a postgraduate, you really need your sleep. Try looking at flats or houses down Carholme Road and West Parade, as these are the quietest areas: 10-minute walk to uni and the library, and just as close to town as well.
Get a breakdown of your reading list. I always try to make use of my summer, to get ahead with the set reading. Settling into a new city (or coming back in my case), took a while for me, and it’s difficult to get into a routine at the beginning of the year as you’re not quite sure what to expect. I’m so glad I’d finished essentially all of my reading for one module before I arrived this year, as it took a lot of pressure off as I was attempting to adjust to postgraduate life. You have a lot of your own time on an English Masters, and I was trying to find an appropriate work/life balance for quite a while. Doing the reading and being familiar with my handbooks meant that I was as prepared as I could be, even though it was a really difficult transition.
You also have to be a lot more prepared for your seminars than in undergraduate study. Before, I could quite often turn up to a seminar with a few SparkNotes comments, and get by. This year, the seminars move so quickly and are so intellectually engaging that I find myself exhausted by the end of them. This is why I try to make sure that I’m as familiar with the texts as I can be, so I always have something new to say. The tutors pick on you individually throughout the discussion, and it can be really embarrassing if you’ve drifted off and haven’t been keeping up with the conversation. This year I have definitely improved in my seminar participation, as you cannot afford to sit back and watch. You need to make sure you’re prepared to put yourself out there, and not be too focused on being wrong.
Think seriously about your financial situation
This was something I did not think about nearly enough before I started. The loan from the government is absolutely amazing, and I definitely would not have been able to complete this Masters without it, but having to pay rent alongside course fees means that I am left with none of the loan, and have to fund myself through work. The uni advises not working more than 10 hours a week whilst completing a full-time course, and I COMPLETELY agree with this. You can’t prepare yourself for the amount of mental strain the course puts on you, and although you have a lot of time, you need to make sure you allow yourself at least two days off a week to just focus on you and your life. I made the mistake of taking on too much work at the beginning of the year as I was worried about my finances.
I now work in a bar two nights a week, and live off about £55 a week. This has really helped me budget and value things in my life I used to consider essential. I can still afford the occasional coffee or night out, but I have to save up for nice makeup and clothes, and this makes me appreciate them a whole lot more. Working also forces me to take time away from my studies and focuses my mind on something else. It’s definitely a good thing – but in moderation. (For more information on Student Funding.)
Don’t panic about your interview
It might not be the same for every course, but I had to have an interview, and I was majorly freaking out.
The interview helps both you and the tutors be sure that you have thought the course through. You just have to be prepared to explain what excites you about the course, and where you hope to go with it. It was a good test for me because it encouraged me to challenge myself and what I really wanted to gain from taking this course. You can’t be shy about speaking up in an MA, so it’s really good practice to put yourself through that before you even start.
This year really has been the best year of my life. I have learnt so much about myself and have become more confident as a person, as well as in my own academic ability. My main advice to offer holders is to try to contain your excitement, as Lincoln will be absolutely amazing.