How to prepare for a Masters degree

Student holding textbooks on campus

If you are considering starting a Masters degree then you will need to be prepared for a challenging but highly rewarding academic journey. A Masters can enhance your skills in your existing field, facilitate a career change or even grow your earning potential. Indeed, employers increasingly value postgraduate degrees as it demonstrates expertise, commitment and credibility.  

Top tips for preparing for a Masters degree

To study successfully at postgraduate level, you will need an undergraduate degree and often professional experience in the field as well. If this sounds like you, read our advice on how to prepare for a Masters below.

Consider your reasons for studying a Masters

First of all, you must be passionate about your subject. It is a big time and financial commitment so you will need to be clear on your reasons for furthering your education in a particular field. Think about your goals, career direction and how a Masters will help you get to where you want to be.

Practice your time management

A Masters degree requires a high level of self-discipline as – even more than at undergraduate level – you will be responsible for managing your time. Courses are condensed into one or two years (full-time) and there will be many deadlines and assignments to complete alongside work placements and juggling home life. To help you prepare, find out key dates and deadlines before you start your course so you are clear of your priorities and goals.

Get ahead with reading

Studying for a Masters requires you to commit to self-study, so the more you can delve into your subject before the course begins, the better. See if you can find out the reading list before the start of term so you have everything you need from your first day. This also gives you the chance to purchase second-hand books online and get the best deals before your classmates.

Research your university location

It’s likely that you will be moving cities or even countries to study your postgraduate degree, so before you start your course you will want to research the location. Think about best places to live, things to do on your time off and research local companies if you plan to work part-time while you study. 

Speak to people who have completed a Masters

Friends and family who have studied a Masters before will be able to give you a real insight into what to expect. Good questions to ask include, what is doing a Masters degree like? What is the workload like? How did you manage work and home life? It’s important you research everything thoroughly so there are no great surprises. You may also like to connect with current students at your chosen university to find out more about their experiences.

Immerse yourself in your subject

You may have had a break from studying so it’s important that you get yourself into the right mindset before the start of term. If you purchased some of your textbooks already then start noting down questions and ideas you have on key topics. You should also read academic journals and publications related to your industry so you are aware of topical issues and areas for discussion in lectures. 

Get organised

You will need to organise your accommodation and visas (if you’re studying abroad) well ahead of starting your course. If you are moving into a new city, make a list of what to pack and don’t leave everything to the last minute. Make sure you know how you’ll be funding your course and living expenses too. 

Build your CV 

Some Masters courses will require you to have work experience in the field you wish to go into, in addition to an undergraduate degree. You may need to complete a work placement as part of your course, so making sure your CV is up to date before you start is a great way to get ahead. It’s also a good idea to use LinkedIn to start networking with professionals in your industry and learn more about job opportunities available to graduates. 

15% of jobs (1 in 7) are likely to need a postgraduate degree by 2022

UK Commission for Employment and Skills 

Study a preparation course

Check the entry requirements for your chosen Masters course to see if you need to complete any additional training first. Durham University International Study Centre offers programmes for international students designed as specialist preparation for a Masters degree. You can study two terms of English language and academic modules with the Pre-Masters programme and access a route to more than 25 postgraduate degrees at Durham University. Choose anything from accounting and business to engineering and mathematical sciences.

Frequently asked questions

How do I succeed in a masters programme?

Postgraduate degrees require a lot of work and dedication to succeed. A genuine interest in your subject will be a great head start. Studying hard, being well organised, and being open to opportunities outside of the classroom will be sure to help you succeed.

Is a masters degree worth it?

Masters degrees can help you stand out from the competition in the competitive graduate employment market. As well as showing a genuine interest in your subject, choosing to study a masters degree shows you are dedicated and capable of hard work.

Can I work full-time and study a masters?

You need to dedicate enough time to your studies to get the most out of your masters degree. If you do decide to work when studying your masters, whether it be to gain practical experience or to earn money, a part-time job may be better suited to your situation.