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Expectations vs. reality of studying a master's

Hello everyone. My name is Nate, I am an International postgraduate student from the United States. I am studying my master’s in Strength and Conditioning here at Leeds Beckett and in this blog I'll be talking about my thoughts before uni and the positive reality of my course. 

laptop on table

It’s important to remember on a master’s degree program (and any situations in life, for that matter) that everyone comes from different walks of life. As such, everyone's experience will differ based on how they perceive it. That being said, I am going to go through some of my personal expectations from the course that ended up being quite different in many circumstances.

Time allocated to class

The first thing that was quite different than I expected was time needed for class. 
Even if you are coming from undergrad, you still might be surprised at how little actual class there is on a master’s course. From my experience most programs are frontloaded, meaning the majority of content will be learned early on in the modules so that you can prepare for assessments. The course follows a similar model so that, by the end, you are mainly working on final exams and your dissertation. While this is all still a lot of work, the actual time spent with teachers in a classroom setting is minimal. In the early stages you can expect 3-4 days a week with 2-4 hours of class a day at most, and later in the year more like 1-2 days a week with 2-3 hours of class. For me this was considerably less class than I experienced in even my easiest undergraduate semesters. Also keep in mind that most lectures are recorded, so if you couldn’t make a class you could always catch up later, keeping your school schedule very flexible. 

If you’re coming from a full-time working position, leaving your job for a master’s might feel like the right thing to do but it is also entirely possible to work full-time while studying a master’s. I know a few students on my course that are working in various capacities during their studies, and they seem to be getting along very well. This leads me to my next point about the other students you meet and work with on your course.

If you’re passionate about what you're doing and on the course for the right reasons, it is easy to keep focused on doing what you need to do best to succeed. 

Every classmate is different

Personally, one of the reasons I was tentative about doing a master’s was thinking that almost all my coursemates would be quite a bit younger than me (I’m 27) and know much more about the subject material than me, as I was choosing to pursue a different career that still had some relation to my undergraduate degree. 

I could not have been more wrong. On my course, the age of students is anywhere from early 20’s to late 30’s. As I mentioned earlier, everyone comes from a different path. While some students have come straight from a directly related undergraduate degree or have even been working professionally in their field of study, others have come from entirely different backgrounds and have very little, if any, knowledge of the material. Just because you’re in a master’s course, it doesn’t mean that you have to be an expert in your field or religiously stick to the study schedule. At the end of the day everyone is still a student and has their own reasons for being on the course.

Also, the number of people on your course will probably be significantly smaller than your standard undergraduate degree, and you’ll get to know your classmates and teachers quite well. In time, you will get to know which people to turn to for advice, and sometimes you can look to your teachers for aid more than you would have thought.

Teachers can be your friends

Initially, I was worried that I might not get to know my teachers at a master’s level, but my experience on my course has been very different. Class instructors can be high-level professors, or PhD level grads, who probably have more in common with you than you think. Instead of being incredibly intellectual individuals that sit behind a theoretical glass wall giving you knowledge on how to get through the class, they often work with you, helping to facilitate discussion and help grasp concepts while helping guide you along the proper academic path. This working style relationship leads to a much more personal connection as you feel your instructors are here to help you reach your academic and, hopefully, real-world goals.

While there are many other expectations someone might have coming into their master’s program, just remember that everyone is on their own journey. Your expectations vs. reality of the course might be entirely different than someone else’s, and that's ok. Hopefully, I’ve given you a few things to think about that you might have expected one way and could turn out to be quite different.

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