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Student Life

Managing the transition to master’s study

Taking time to decide on the right specialization

A lot of times, postgraduate degree applications will ask applicants to either include a portfolio or mention work experience relevant to the programme being applied for.

For me, I had initially planned to do my master’s straight from undergraduate, but I am glad I took some time to work and gain experience that helped me to better understand what area to specialize in, and how my master’s would fit in with my future career goals.

This allowed me to make the best choice for myself. I transitioned from BA International Relations (which I studied in my home country Kenya) to MA Arts, Business and Creativity (postgraduate) at Newcastle University.

Differences I found between my undergraduate and postgraduate:

1. Assessment/ Exams:

For undergraduate, we had mid-term and end of term examinations, but my postgraduate programme does not have any sit-in examinations. Instead, there are assessed assignments like essays, reports, oral presentations, and group projects that are intended to help us practically apply the material we have been engaging with throughout the programme. Postgraduate research is also much more intensive than at undergraduate level, so it requires a lot of time and effort.

2. Study approach:

During my undergraduate, the lecturers made presentations of all the material for the course with few independent reading assignments, whereas at master’s level, although there are directed lectures and tutorials, there is a lot of independent reading, which is quite intensive.

3. Virtual study:

With the pandemic ongoing, studying has been fully online until now and this is an adjustment I have had to adapt to that I did not experience in my undergraduate. I have also had to get familiar with Canvas (our online learning portal), zoom and Microsoft Teams, software we did not use in my undergraduate. By getting familiar with the software, I have learned how to effectively communicate virtually, and have become a little more tech savvy by using these online tools.

4. Choosing modules:

At undergraduate level, I had the freedom to choose my modules for the semester, the lecturer I wanted to do the class with, as well as the timings I wanted. For my postgrad, since we are a small group, there are set modules for the semester, set tutors, and the timings are determined at the start of the semester by the school, so students have no say about that. Although the 9am classes can be a little challenging sometimes, they prepare us for professional working life.

Top Tips for an easier transition:

It helps to read lots of experiences from people doing the degree you are interested in to get a diverse range of perspectives to better prepare for what to expect.

Remember that postgraduate study is much more intensive than undergraduate study, and it will require a lot of your time and effort. Here you cannot just ‘wing it’, so come with a mindset to study– and a lot of it!

Attend induction week as a new student, there is lots of information that will help make your transition a lot easier and save you a lot of stress.

Make friends on your programme and within the School to chat to about things you do not understand, as well as share experiences and encouragement, as you go through the transition into Master’s study.

Prepare before seminar sessions so that you can offer meaningful contributions in class. Preparing beforehand helps you to understand the concepts better, to follow along the sessions, and enables you to actively participate. This is also how you get noticed in class and form friendships online.

Take time to rest and replenish yourself to ensure you have a balanced student life.

Finally, have an end goal in mind. Remember why you are doing a master’s so that when things get tough or hectic, and they most certainly will, you have the determination to keep going, remembering the reward at the end.


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