What students wish they’d known about postgrad study

Being a postgrad is a whole different ballgame...

As you’ll know, being an undergrad student is a mix of fancy dress, cheap pints of snakebite, running out of printing credits, dealing with noisy neighbours and revision all-nighters. But if you’re considering continuing onto postgrad study, how will your life change? We delved into the TSR forums to find out what students wish they’d known about diving into postgrad study to show you the good, the bad and the insanely busy.

1. You need to become much savvier about money

Unfortunately, securing funding for postgrad study isn’t quite as straightforward as for your undergrad. While it may be possible to get a postgrad loan from the government, many people have to look elsewhere to cover their postgrad study and living costs. That may come in the form of a bank loan, a scholarship, funding from research councils or self-funding (hello, bank of mum and dad…). Some employers may also fund postgraduate study if it is relevant to your current role, so this could be an option worth exploring if you’re willing to get a job and make a business case for your studies.

TSR member PlayWithMarkers said: “Lots of master’s courses aren't that hands on in terms of time, so it's more than possible to work part-time at least. Similarly people take time off between their degree and master’s to work and build up savings.”

PQ adds: “The postgraduate loan has made a big difference to the amount of people who can afford postgraduate study but it wasn’t designed to cover all costs. Most people work and save for a few years before studying a masters and/or study part-time alongside work to fund their studies.”

2. It’s easier than you think to make friends…

Late nights in the library, 20,000 coffees a day and juggling part-time work with research and studying creates the perfect storm for bonding with your fellow postgrads. You’re all in the same boat, and everyone is sympathetic to last-minute rescheduling, epic WhatsApp rants and pre-deadline stressing. There’s a lot of camaraderie in the postgrad student community, because while it’s hard work, everyone there is serious about their studies, and everyone knows it’ll ultimately be worth it.

Helenarem particularly appreciated the diversity of people she met on her postgrad course, saying: “You’ll find that you're in a group of similarly minded and often really interesting/diverse, people, compared to just a lot of UK school leavers as I found in undergrad. Just get all your master’s friends to do a regular pub trip after a lecture or something and you'll be set!”

3. … but today’s coursemates are tomorrow’s colleagues

Put simply: be a decent person. Many of you will be going into the same fields of work, so your postgrad year is vital for building a glowing reputation. In a few years you might be applying for jobs with people you’ve studied with, so you want to be known as responsible, professional and diligent.

That doesn’t mean avoiding big boozy nights out, but don’t become the total liability of the group! After all, as greenforce wisely says, “You never know who will be your boss in future!”

4. The imposter syndrome is real

Whether you’re continuing on with your undergrad subject or changing direction, you will inevitably have a bit of a wobble. You’ll worry that you’re not good enough and that you can’t keep up with the fast pace of study - but know that this is totally normal. Almost everyone experiences some degree of imposter syndrome at postgrad level, and you can always talk to your fellow students or your tutors about it if it’s becoming a real issue.

Katbaer struggled with this during her postgrad year: “I entered my MA programme and suffered terribly with imposter syndrome… but check with your uni because they may be able to direct you to some sort of help in working through your issues while getting through your education. None of us are alone in any of these situations.”

5. Time management is your most important skill

If you think time management is important now, you have a whole other thing coming when you start your postgrad! You won’t have a formal schedule as such, so it could be worth building your own timetable - and stick to it! This should cover studying, paid work, socialising, keeping fit and hobbies. It’s not always easy to maintain a good work-life balance at postgrad level, so planning your time out in advance can help immensely.

keena89, who studied an MA in Journalism, said: “I'm currently working full time and doing full time master’s which can be difficult but I'm coping. The library has become my favourite place. I've swapped my personal life for constantly catching up on work, but most MA students cut back on social life anyway, so it's not too strange.”

Cran8rook adds: “My workload is a lot, but if you manage your time well, you should be fine. The number and size of assessments have increased slightly, but the reading is about the same. Whereas during undergrad it's more concentrated towards the end of term, postgrad seems to be more spread out throughout the year.”

6. Keep your undergrad textbooks

You’ve spent a small fortune on those textbooks on your desk, and you never know when they might come in handy. If you want to study a similar subject at postgrad level, consider hanging onto your books for now. While it can be tempting to flog them all, you’ll kick yourself if want to refer back to something for a postgrad essay, so keep them stashed safely. Also, postgrad courses call for much wider reading, so you may find some unexpected links between your undergrad study and your postgrad study that will help demonstrate the breadth of your understanding.

If you’re dead set on ditching your undergrad textbooks, Claire461 has a tip to help you avoid shelling out full price for them all over again: “Fatbrain buy and sell academic textbooks, and at my university you can request that the library buys in textbooks you need.”

7. You’ll get a whole new experience of studying

Whether you’re thinking about staying at your undergrad uni or moving elsewhere, postgrad study will give you a whole new perspective of uni. Whereas your undergrad probably comprised regular lectures and seminars, you’ll have much more independence at postgrad level, and you’ll be expected to delve deep into extra reading material. You can really tailor your areas of study to your personal interests

“The main things I like about studying at postgrad level are the independence (I'm expected to do the reading myself and work on the assignments at my own pace) and the fact that I have an interest in the topic,” said Angury. “I love reading around the area, especially things which are topical at the moment - I feel like the things I'm learning will not only add to my career but also (hopefully) make a difference. My PG course also emphasises different skills compared to my UG e.g. critical analysis, writing skills, research abilities etc.”

8. Stellar (academic) writing skills will be invaluable

Even if you’re going straight into postgrad study from your undergrad, you may still find that you need to hone your academic writing skills to meet the required standard. The first assignment might feel like a slog, but your tutors are there to help, and can provide advice to ensure that your writing is up to scratch, whether that’s something as simple as formatting and referencing or digging deeper than you’re used to into your area of expertise.

“The amount I read in the first semester was probably more than I read in my entire final year of undergrad,” said km25. “This actually makes writing 2,000 words really difficult, as you have to spend time choosing the most relevant pieces of information from everything you've looked at.”

Ollienbert agrees: “When you read through the course specification we were supposed to be learning to be much more analytically than an undergraduate, rather than just knowing the information, being able to pick out the most important facts and justify them. If you only have 2,000 words, you have often got to really know your stuff to be able to make a point well.”