How To Apply for a Master's Degree in 12 Simple Steps
By Indeed Editorial Team
Updated 9 September 2022
Published 29 September 2021
The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.
Deciding to complete a master's degree can be an important step in your career or academic pursuit. Employees who hold a master's degree typically enjoy greater employability and can expect higher starting salaries. In some fields, this type of degree allows you to advance directly to higher positions in leadership. In this article, we explain what kind of degree it is and give you 12 steps that you can consider to understand how to apply for a master's degree.
How to apply for a master's degree
Follow these simple steps if you want to know how to apply for a master's degree:
1. Complete an undergraduate programme
If you're in your final year of an undergraduate programme, you may already start preparing for continuing your education. Your most important task is to improve your grades and focus on writing an impressive dissertation that highlights your essential skills and qualifications. Successfully completing your undergraduate studies is an essential step that can help you reduce stress in the later stages of your master's application.
2. Research universities
Researching universities allows you to see what programmes are available in the year you're applying for a master's degree. It's also a great way to check the universities' requirements for students. If there's still some time left before the deadline, you can use this time to improve your qualifications and increase your chances of getting an unconditional offer from the university of your dreams.
If you can show the admission's officer that you've been working towards your master's even during your undergraduate course, you might make a good impression and let them know that you're a focused and ambitious applicant.
3. Choose courses
When choosing which courses to apply to, consider analysing your ideal career path. Ask yourself where you see yourself in 10 years and try to visualise which course can help you make this vision come true. Remember that you can apply to multiple courses at the same time. It may be a smart move that decreases the risks of not getting into a master's programme if your top choice rejects your application.
4. Check deadlines
Writing key deadlines in your calendar allows you to plan and organise your work the right way. Remember that preparing a university application is a complex process, and it would be hard to complete it all overnight. Important deadlines that you can consider writing down include:
deadline for submitting your application
deadline for providing supporting documents
deadline for paying your deposit
the start of the academic year
5. Start preparing your application as soon as possible
After making good use of your time-management skills to plan important tasks in time, you can start preparing your application. It's better to start this process as soon as possible because you never know what may come up. For example, you may need to reach out to your previous university for additional documents.
Finishing the first draft of your application early is also a great way to have more time to implement important changes. You may also want to ask a friend, past lecturer or someone from your family to review it. They can give you an objective opinion and point out things you haven't noticed.
6. Prepare documents
An important step in preparing your application is gathering all the important documents that the universities may want to receive. This typically includes your academic transcripts and your CV. The reason they're asking for a CV is that many students applying for a master's degree have some professional experience already. Assessing what you've done to advance your career helps the university decide if the courses you've chosen would be the right fit for your career path. To make sure you know what to deliver, you can check your university's or the department's website.
7. Write a personal statement
Your personal statement allows the university's recruitment team to get to know you better and understand your skills, goals and motivations. Writing a tailored personal statement is a chance for you to stand out and make your application as strong as possible. Be sure to refer it to the course you've chosen, as this can position you as a decisive and focused applicant.
8. Ask for references
It's typical for universities to ask for references from students applying to their postgraduate courses. Most require two academic references. When deciding who could be your referee, think about lecturers that know you well or professors you worked with during an undergraduate research project. They're the ones who can provide an in-depth description of your academic skills and best assess your potential.
If you've taken a break from studying and it's hard for you to provide academic references, you can provide professional references instead. In this case, it's best to choose a referee based on their relation to the course for which you're applying. This could be your supervisor, team leader or employer.
9. Work on your portfolio
Although not every university and course requires this, if you're interested in pursuing a career in the creative field, you may want to prepare a portfolio to support your academic application. A portfolio is a collection of your previous best works that showcases what you can do. You can even choose to focus yours on one particular subject. For example, if you'd like to study architecture, you can consider presenting your sketches, drawings, paintings and digital visualisations of architectural forms and buildings.
10. Write a research proposal if the course requires it
Preparing a research proposal may be an important element of your application if you're interested in getting a Master's of Science degree. Although it can be simpler and shorter than a PhD proposal, its purpose is to persuade the department that you're a goal-oriented candidate who's committed to the field of study that you've chosen. You can typically find detailed research proposal requirements on the department's website.
11. Prepare for an academic interview
In some cases, universities may decide to include an additional step in their admission process. They typically choose to organise interviews with shortlisted candidates, after which they make their final decision. Be sure to prepare for your academic interview by reviewing common questions and sample answers about your field of studies or your research proposal. This can typically make you more confident and allows you to perform better during the meeting.
12. Check the status of your application (unconditional or conditional)
Once you gather all the important documents, prepare your personal statement and successfully submit the application, it's time to wait for the university's decision. There are several ways in which this can go:
Rejection: If the university rejects your application, try to handle it well and don't give up. Chances are they just had too many candidates this year, and you may have higher chances if you apply next semester or next year.
Conditional offer: A conditional offer means that the university has shortlisted you and wants you to meet additional requirements to make sure the course would be right for you. Be sure to reach out to the admission's office if you have any questions about those requirements.
Unconditional offer: If you received an unconditional offer, this means that the university has no doubts about your application and they've officially accepted you to the programme. At this point, you can start preparing for your first day as a master's student.
What is a master's degree?
A master's programme, also known as a postgraduate course, is typically a one or two-year study programme that you can apply to once you successfully complete an undergraduate degree. It's a great opportunity to improve your career prospects and gain expert knowledge in your field. Since a master's degree is a globally recognised qualification, it can help you advance your career in other countries. Generally, there are four main types of taught master's you can choose:
Master of Arts (MA)
Master of Science (MSc)
Master of Business Administration (MBA)
Master of Engineering (MEng)
It's also possible to apply to a Research Master's programme, where you work on your thesis while an experienced academic supervises you. Common types of research degrees are:
Master of Science (MSc)
Master of Philosophy (MPhil)
Master of Research (MRes)
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