Since graduating from my Masters a lot of curious people have picked my brains about returning to university. This got me thinking about putting a post together, almost like a how-to-guide on how to go about making that thought a reality. Having recently completed my MA in Interior Architecture plus having worked within admissions for some of the top universities within the UK this is a topic which I can wholeheartedly say I can guide you on from both sides of the coin. Going back to university isn’t just ‘something to fill the gap’ – for me, it involved lots of late nights, copious amounts of coffee and a mammoth 18,000-word project. Add to that the lectures, group work, not to mention your own personal life structure, and no-one can blame you for thinking twice. The good news is I’ve been through this very scenario and can share my own experiences, the pitfalls and the things no one every tells you to help you on the right track.
Ok, so you’ve decided that you want to embark on a masters programme, you’re brimming with energy – so what’s next? Firstly It’s important to research, research, research and I can’t stress that enough. You may decide that you’d like to become an illustrator or a graphic designer or work within the interiors industry, so it’s vital that you know what type of skills, software or subjects you need to cover to make your MA work for you. How do you do this? Well, a good place to start is by looking at the jobs specs for those jobs in your chosen field. It’s here where you’ll find great indicators as to what employers are looking for (that’s if you’d prefer to work for someone initially). Even if you decide to go freelance it’s a great starting point for knowing which level you need to reach to set-up on your own.
One important thing to note is that each course is different and its content will vary. Each university may run the same course e.g. MA Interior Design but the ‘actual’ syllabus might differ considerably from institution to institution. Right from the beginning I knew specifically that I wanted to study part-time as I wanted to complete my MA quite quickly. To start my search, I used Hotcourses as a great resource for finding which universities run which courses and by which mode. Not all universities run part-time masters programmes so it’s always best to check. Tip: One of my top tips is to start researching in the summer or early September to enrol the following year. Although most courses start in September of each year and others in January, (some with no closing dates) there are huge benefits to applying early such as scholarships & funding (which I will talk about later).
Here’s a checklist of things you may need to consider:
- What course do I want to study? MA Interior Design, Interior Architecture, Interior Futures, Architecture, Illustration, Graphic Design?
- What mode? Full Time, Part Time, Online,
- How much will my course cost? Set a budget – not all MA’s cost the same and can range from £3,500 to £20k
- Where do I want to study? London, Midlands, Brighton
- Which institutions do I have my heart set on? UCL, UAL, RCA?
- How will I fund my course? Remember universities offer scholarships & bursaries for postgraduate students (although this should not be your sole income to support your studies)
- Can I honestly fit this around my work and my personal commitments? Consider your current job, can you compress your hours at work? Can you realistically juggle your work/home life?
DONT BELIEVE EVERYTHING YOU READ (WELL ALMOST EVERYTHING)
The best thing about starting early is that you have the opportunity to fully assess each university. It’s sounds like a lot of ground work, but it’s so worth it. With everything being easily accessible online, each university is competing for your custom. Sure, the website looks good, the course sounds fantastic but what is the reality? What are the teaching staff like? How do the students feel about the course? How far is the university from where you work or live? Will the course content change before you start? You need to look at what’s not being said about the course. This last point is actually key – The syllabus online might list the key attributes and/or modules covered, however, there might be topics or items not listed which may or may not be covered like CAD training, Photoshop skills etc.
This is why it’s so important to attend open days – and I can’t stress this enough too. Coming from someone who works within a university this is really important as it allows you to ask those long list of questions you might have about the course. It’s important to see the institution too as you’re investing a considerable amount of time & money into your career so you need to check the merchandise. An open day usually consists of talks with current and/or alumni students, academics and/or admissions staff. You may also get a tour of the facilities as well as advice on funding, scholarships, accommodation, fees, entry requirements etc. By going along to these events, you not only get your questions answered properly but you can get clarification on the syllabus and get a clearer picture as to whether this is the right move for you. You can find out about open days on the universities website. Tip: By starting early you also get to attend open days earlier (as these usually run on selected days for a limited period. Also don’t forget to mention that you attended their open day in your personal statement. It shows commitment and just how serious you are about pursuing your masters. This might even give you extra brownie points in the selection process!
Questions you may want to ask at an open day?
- How many students on average do you get on the programme?
- What are the entry requirements? Although this is available on their website
- What are you looking for? What makes a strong applicant?
- Tell me more about the syllabus?
- Is there an opportunity to work in the studios or workshops?
- Do you teach any CAD or specific packages?
- How is the course taught? Self-guided study, lectures, seminars, group work etc?
- Do you get the opportunity to work on live projects?
- Do you get the opportunity to talk with industry leaders?
- What projects have past students worked on?
- What’s the dropout and pass rate?
- Are scholarships available for this course?
- Can you send me last years timetable as a guide?
- What are the teaching hours?
- Are academics available outside my teaching hours?
- Are academics easily contactable face-to-face and/or via email/phone?
- What facilities do I get access to?
- When does the course start?
- When is enrolment?
One of the great things about applying for a postgraduate course as opposed to an undergraduate programme is that you are not restricted in your personal statement. This means you have more freedom and free rein to tweak & customise your statement to your chosen course and institution.
When applying for your chosen course or courses (as you be applying for more than one) it’s again vital that you read the criteria for each university – no two places are the same. Some will ask to see a mini portfolio, some may ask for supporting documents and almost all will ask for a personal statement. Although the criteria will be different for each it’s safe to say that they will want to see your commitment to the course; including why you want to study at that particular university.
Apply early & check the deadline! (I know I sound like a broken record). Ensure that you check the intake deadlines and make sure you consider all your options in terms of courses & schools. It’s kind of a golden rule of thumb in admissions that the best candidates apply early to midway through the process. Applying late or just before the deadline may read as; ‘you‘re unprepared, you’re disorganised or a last ditched attempt to apply somewhere – anywhere’. Starting early also means that you’re more likely to get a decision early, interview earlier and as a result, allow you sort out funding & work commitments. Tip: It will be harder for you to apply for funding without an offer of a place on a course which means you may miss important deadlines for funding elsewhere. Applying early also takes an enormous amount of stress out of the entire process. A lot of this depends on the decisions made by others and nothing is set in stone. You’ll soon realise that you can’t apply for funding without an offer and without an offer nor funding you can’t then sort out reduced hours with employer or clients – so applying early provides you with precious time.
Tips for PERFECTING your application:
Always follow the guidance and tips suggested by the university you’re applying for, but you can also incorporate and consider the following;
- Have your documents ready – you’ll need to dig out your undergraduate certificate & transcripts. If you’ve lost your transcripts you can contact your university directly (admissions or registry department) to get new copies.
- Complete the easy bits first – Applications can be daunting & draining at times, especially after a full day’s work. Complete the easy parts first to help give you momentum – start with the basics; name, address etc then work on your work history & academics last.
- References – For almost all applications you will need to submit either 1 or 2 references to support your application. As I was studying at KLC at the time, I used the head of department for mine but you can also use someone that manages you at work or someone you’ve collaborated with on a project who has the ability to comment on your suitability.
- Personal statement – This is literally the golden key to getting a place on your chosen course. Of course all the elements within the process are vital however, it’s this part of your application where you can really shine. One other golden rule is to check the requirements for the personal statement. Some admissions departments will require you to answer very specific questions whilst others may ask you to cover certain topics or include specific things. Think about including the following;
- What are you doing at the moment? – are you working in the industry?
- Do you blog? Attend press days? Attend interior events? – include it if relevant to your subject.
- Why do you want to study this course at this institution?
- What are your attributes?
- Why now? Why do you want to study an MA now?
- How can you contribute to the study body?
- Be concise – try not to ramble on, if it’s not relevant – cut it!
After you HIT submit
Want to know what happens after you press the send button? How to find available funding and scholarships? How do you approach your employer for compressed hours as well as preparing for university life and what to expect? My follow-up post will cover all these topics including some extra hints & tips.
AMARA INTERIOR BLOG AWARDS 2015
I’m so excited to be nominated in the ‘Best Design Inspiration’ category. I would love to be shortlisted for this award and would be grateful if you could cast your vote! Takes 2 seconds.
PHOTOGRAPHY | DEATH TO STOCK
All comments & advice are my own and based on my own experiences.