How I applied for my master's degree

Ever since I was accepted onto my master's degree (Death, Religion and Culture at the University of WInchester, if you're new here), I've been meaning to write a little series about studying and now that I've settled in, it seems like the perfect opportunity! Let's start at the very beginning, as they say, and talk about how I applied. A lot of this will be relevant to anybody hoping to study for a postgraduate course so it should be useful, whatever you're studying.

Applying for master's degree tips
FINDING A COURSE

Choosing my MA wasn't difficult for me. In fact, it felt like the decision had been made for me. I was idly looking up courses using the keyword "death", purely because I was curious as to whether there were any out there. I had no plans whatsoever to study again at that point, although I did want to study an MA at some point in the future. Turns out there was only one academic course related to death in the entire country. And it was a master's. And it was offered by a university just down the motorway from me. And it happened to be where I got my undergraduate degree. And I got a 50% scholarship because I'd earned a first class honours degree from that university. And then I found myself in a position where I didn't need to work. It just felt like the stars had aligned and I couldn't let the opportunity pass by.

Of course this is the ideal scenario and it's not going to be like that for everyone. Use a site like Find a Masters (this is not sponsored- it's just a helpful site that I used) to search for keywords. If your course is a popular one and is offered by a lot of universities, you'll need to weigh up options. There's the obvious things like modules, cost and distance but also consider the format. Mine is only offered as distance learning, which I wasn't initially keen on but I had no alternative. Actually, it turned out to be a great way to study but that's a topic for another day!

RESEARCHING YOUR COURSE

Once you've narrowed down your options, reach out to the university and gain as much information as possible before you apply- this will come in handy later. If you can, visit open evenings and speak to the lecturers in person. If not, see if you can reach out to them via phone or email and discuss your options. Hopefully they'll suggest things you can do in the meantime to prepare you for the course- read a certain book, attend an exhibition, find relevant work experience. If they don't, ask what you can do. You'll need this information later to make your application stand out. This is also the perfect time to discuss any uncertainties you have.

In my case, the entry requirements were a degree or professional experience in a related field and I wasn't sure how relevant teaching could be. This meeting was really helpful as the course director encouraged me to apply and we had a really interesting conversation on how my teaching experience could relate to possible research questions. She also suggested some books for me to read before starting the course and was just all-round very encouraging. 

WRITING YOUR APPLICATION 

I'm not sure if other universities work the same way, but my application went through UK Pass, which is essentially UCAS for postgraduates. It was easy to understand and was mostly just a basic, if long, form with all the usual questions (although there was nowhere for me to input my A level results so I had to omit them which, to be honest, wasn't the worst thing considering how well they went... ahem). The things that caused me the most stress were the personal statement and references.
Writing is my thing so I wasn't too worried about that aspect of the personal statement. What did completely confuse me was how the hell to structure it. What do you put in a personal statement, exactly? After a bit of Googling, I created a template of my own. To save you the stress, I'm going to share this with you now. I'll also include some little excerpts when necessary but remember plagiarism is bad. 

INTRODUCTION

Here I set the background with a quick explanation of where my interest in death came from. I was careful not to start with "I". It does the job, of course, but it's a bit boring. Instead, I went with this:

As an 8 year old, I was a voracious reader. Quickly bored of my school library books, I instead turned to my father’s bookshelves where I found a book titled The Fireside Book of Death and so began a lifelong interest in the culture of death. 

Think of structuring your first couple of sentences in a way that will make the assessor want to read on and find out more about you. Making a good impression in this way will encourage them to read the rest of your application in a more positive light.

ACADEMIC EXPERIENCE

You've probably already filled in a form about your education history so this isn't the place for reeling all that off again. Instead, briefly mention where and when you studied but focus on the skills you developed here. What were your strengths? What did you learn? How is that going to help you in your future studies? Don't be afraid to blow your own trumpet- this is the perfect time for it!

PROFESSIONAL EXPERIENCE

If you're not going straight into further study after your undergraduate, you'll most likely have some form of work behind you. In this paragraph, answer the same questions as above and link it to the course. Even if you feel your experience isn't relevant, think about transferrable skills. Since I taught in a multicultural school, I described how I learned about a variety of different religions from the children in my class. After this, either at the end of the paragraph or in its own, explain how you transitioned from your career into applying for further study. What inspired you to apply? Why now? Obviously don't go too personal. This isn't X Factor and we don't need to know that you're doing it for your grandad. In my case, I explained how forming positive relationships with children was my overwhelming strength and that I was considering careers where I could be more committed to the emotional care of children, such as child bereavement counselling. 

WHY THIS COURSE?

Now that you've given the assessor an idea of your background, it's time to go into specifics. What is it about this particular course that appeals to you? This is your opportunity to share hobbies and interests that are relevant. Take advantage of this because it shows you're serious about the subject and are actively taking steps to learn more about it. I briefly mentioned cemeteries and exhibitions I'd visited, with a very short opinion on what I thought:

As well as providing me with an academic grounding towards my career aims, the course also appeals to my interest in death culture. Much of my personal reading is in this area and I enjoy visiting historic and cultural areas of interest such as Highgate Cemetery. Recently, I attended the Death: The Human Experience exhibition at Bristol Museum and found it to be a very important tool in encouraging people to discuss death.

Don't forget to mention the specific university too- why do you want to study here? This is a bit of a balancing act. You want to flatter them in a way but you also want to show why you are going to be a benefit for them. Maybe talk about their reputation or your personal experience studying there and how this will help you be the wonderful, hard-working student that you are:

Having studied at the University of Winchester before, I am confident that I will once again receive opportunities for excelling in my self-study and, having experience in the academic expectations of the university, will prove to be a committed and diligent student. 

YOUR PREPARATION

Remember when I said contacting the lecturers would come in handy? Here we go! As you approach the end of your application, include details of your meeting. Name the person you talked to (for the love of God, make sure you get their name right!) and explain what you've done since meeting them. Did they recommend a book that you've since read? Did they suggest signing up to a particular society? Maybe they gave you the details of somebody else to contact. Whatever they suggested in your meeting, make sure you do it and include this. It shows you're proactive and taking advice on board. How did the meeting make you feel? Add that too! It goes without saying but make sure you sound appreciative and grateful for the advice. Literally using the words "I was grateful to discuss..." or "I appreciated meeting..." are easy ways to do this.

CONCLUSION

Finally, you need a concise paragraph to wrap it up. This is pretty simple really: quickly reiterate why this course will help you and end by explaining that you're excited to further your studies. A quick tip which has always helped me in life- speak in definite terms. Assume that you've already been accepted. Rather than saying "I would", say "I will". Instead of "I hope to", use "I look forward to". Some might think it's arrogant but I've always felt it's a sign of confidence. It's got me pretty far in life so it can't be all bad! 

After you've written your personal statement, ask other people to check it for you. If you can find someone who is experienced in academia, all the better. I was hugely grateful for the support of Becky- a doctor of parapsychology (ghosts!)- and her lecturer boyfriend. After receiving their thoughts, I was reassured and felt much more confident in sending it off. 

REFERENCES

As I said, this caused me infinite levels of stress. I had graduated five years previously and very few of my lecturers were still at the university. Initially, I'd planned on asking my dissertation mentor to write my reference as we had a really great relationship but unfortunately she'd left, as had my personal tutor. Luckily my art lecturer was still working there and as he'd taught me for three years, he knew me pretty well. I was still worried he wouldn't remember me but thankfully that turned out not to be the case. He managed to source my original reference from my personal tutor when I graduated and added some of his own comments too. 

However, because I was so worried that I wouldn't find a suitable reference, I'd already contacted the university and explained my predicament. They were really helpful and explained that since a lot of people have a gap between studying, it's quite a common concern and they'd accept professional or personal references instead. If you're at all concerned, get in touch with your university and ask their advice. 

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That's it! Now all you can do is send it off and await a response. It only took around five days for my application to be accepted but of course it depends on your course. It's nerve-wracking but, if you are disappointed this time, there's nothing to stop you reapplying next time. This would probably work in your favour since it shows dedication and if you contact the university to ask for feedback, you'll be able to work on your application and strengthen it for the future. 

I hope this was helpful to anyone thinking of applying. As well as writing more posts, I'm also planning to make some videos to discuss the more personal aspects such as why I chose this course and what I hope to gain from it. Please do let me know if you have any questions or if there's anything in particular you'd like me to write/ talk about later.

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8 comments:

  1. What's the deadline for masters applications, or does it depend on the course/univeristy? Great post, found this really helpful. Getting in touch with the lecturers and university would be a massive help when tailoring your application xxx

    ALittleKiran | Bloglovin

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    1. Yes, it would depend on the course. Mine actually had two deadlines depending on whether you wanted to start in September or January. I'm glad you found it helpful!

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  2. Argh, timing = perfect! I'm visiting universities this week to look into Postgrad courses and reading this has just cemented so many thoughts for me, especially regarding trying to talk to the tutors beforehand. I'm a bit worried about how my previous university experience could affect my application, I really struggled with my mental health and had a number of family issues while I was at uni and while I did graduate I wasn't as committed as I could have been and didn't achieve my potential, any advice on how to broach that topic? xx

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    1. Ooh exciting! Best of luck with it! With your mental health, I'd start by contacting student services of the university/ies you're looking at and discuss it with them. I'm sure you could always speak to them anonymously if you preferred. Explain everything to them, that your studies were disrupted with health and personal issues and you didn't achieve your full potential but you've received treatment/ taken action/ improved over time and feel you're in a place to start studying again. They'll be able to advise you on the best course of action including whether you should address it in your personal statement. If you do, you could then say that you've spoken to student services and, with their advice, you've XYZ. That shows commitment and initiative as well as forward thinking and preventing any potential issues before they start. Hope that helps! Let me know how it goes!

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  3. Hi Becky, I've just started a post grad diploma with York in Parish Church Studies and some of what we study is around graveyards. I'm a bit of an all things related to death interested person and you know what started me - The Fireside Book of Death. How funny is that? :) I'm always in graveyards and looking at funerary monuments and over the summer did a caring for cemeteries and graveyard seminar. I don't blog about it too much, did a recent post about the Cross Bones cemetery in London but my Twitter is pretty much now taken over with churches and graveyards. Looking forward to hearing more about your studies. Sam 💀

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    1. No way! That's so strange! That seminar sounds amazing and I'm going to check out your blog for the Cross Bones post!

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  4. This is so helpful! I'm currently starting the process of applying for masters degrees having found some course but no idea where to go next. Good luck with your course!

    Emily x | emilyclairewrites.com

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  5. Can you tell I'm a little behind on Bloglovin by the fact that I'm only just reading this! I'm glad we could be of assistance and I hope the course is going well so far x

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I read all comments and appreciate every single one, even if I can't always reply. If you have a question or need a reply, feel free to tweet me @BeckyBedbug- I always reply to tweets!