How to survive an MA

WAY BACK in December 2013, I was in the first term of my final year of undergraduate study, jumping the last hurdles of the three year BA course in Art History I had begun as a nervous eighteen year old. The dissertation was well underway, I was on course to receive First Class Honors and, although sad to leave, I had ultimately been looking forward to the end of University and the beginning of a new journey.

studyingYet, as those first couple of months rolled by, I was becoming increasingly concerned over just how prepared I felt to enter the outside world of job hunting. The more I thought about it, the more I believed that I could learn and grow from a fresh University experience. I simply did not feel wholly ready to leave behind the environment which had nurtured my confidence and which I felt I had so much more to give to and gain from, both socially and academically. I decided that a year of postgraduate study would be the most fruitful option. The experience, I felt, would provide another year to learn and grow, to become more professional and well versed in the area of Art History, and thus hopefully better my chances of landing an Arts related job.

Whilst filling in the application forms, I questioned myself so many times. Was I making the right choice? Would I regret it by missing out on a better opportunity? In the end, I ignored these doubts and finally sent the application in by the early New Year of 2014. Once the summer results came, my predicted First Class Degree became a reality and I was accepted onto the MA, much to the amazement of a girl who believed she would be lucky to get a 2.2 in her first year.

So, what have I learned so far on the MA journey? Well, firstly, I certainly don’t regret the decision to pursue the degree. This is something which I feel is crucial because if you can walk away without regret no matter how the experience pans out, then that is a triumph all its own. It is always important to remember that, no matter how tough an experience is, there is always room to learn from it and to mature. You have likely already experienced the challenges of undergraduate study, and this should be used to help you adapt to the intensity of an MA course. Indeed, when I write that the course is more intense, I’m not writing lightly. It begins to feel like two years’ worth of study packed into one tightly squeezed year. Moreover, whilst the undergraduates who embody the freedom you once owned skip out of the lecture hall by June, free of coursework, you are required to complete the rest of your MA over the entire summer if you are a full-time student.

An important consideration is organization. If you think of organization as the world cup of the undergraduate experience, then it becomes the holy grail of postgraduate study. For me, organizing extra-curricular experiences such as volunteering and societies alongside my work has been a particular challenge. Meanwhile, the MA workload is so great that you can begin to slip out of focus, so it is important that it remains an organized priority. This takes me on to my next point; think carefully about when and why you undertake postgraduate study. I began mine straight after my BA, and this I feel has had both positive and negative repercussions. As previously mentioned, the workload is much more intense and as such, undertaking an MA straight after a three year course requires significant determination. It would have been nice to have a break after all that study to refresh my mind and to prepare myself better for the course. Therefore, I would recommend that you consider carefully if an immediate postgraduate study is for you, or if it is wiser to leave it for a later time of your life when you have gained other experiences.

Lastly, remember that the course is aimed at those who want a more challenging, in-depth look at the subject, to better their knowledge and responses to the subject and to feel better prepared to incorporate what is learnt into a professional career. As such, it is wise to take the course (especially with the larger yearly cost in comparison to a year’s undergraduate study) primarily if you plan to use it for professional growth. Don’t let that put you off though, as people undertake study for different reasons. If you have a passion for the subject and are willing to work hard, then that is a key prerequisite.