In September, at the ripe old age of 24 and three-quarters, I’ll be pulling my books and paper from the attic, taking a seat at my desk, and embarking on another stint of my educational journey. I have quite strong views on postgraduate degrees, but I also believe there is a lot to be gained from them. For those of you considering going on to study at Master’s (or PhD) level, I’ll discuss here some of my reasons for returning to studying, the application process and what will (hopefully) happen next.
This time last year, I graduated from Royal Holloway with a First Class Hons Bachelor of Science degree in Psychology. At the point of leaving, I had a few fleeting thoughts that at some point in the future that I’d be interested in going on to complete a Doctorate in Educational Psychology, but it wasn’t something I was ready to commit to or prepared for at the current time. Having spent the last 17 years of my life in formal education, I figured it was time for a bit of a change of scenery and time for me to enter the working world. My mum was also ready for me to stop spending money on learning and go out and earn some!
Three months later, I had changed my mind and decided that Educational Psychology was an area I really wanted to pursue, and to do so it was necessary to complete the Doctorate. However, to complete the course, it’s actually fundamentally important to get accepted first. Having checked the course requirements, I decided I met the criteria, and took a stab at applying. Checking all the boxes with my personal statement, I still realised it was a long shot, and I was unlikely to get a place with my short-term experience and young age. Put simply, I was rejected by all three Universities to whom I applied without even an initial interview. By January, I had pretty much decided that postgraduate education was, indeed, something I was willing to put off for a little while longer.
In April I began the dreaded job hunt once more. I’d been offered the chance to extend my one-year work contract, but felt that I’d outgrown the role and wasn’t gaining any further experience or development from it. Of course I was continuing to look at roles in Education, and stumbled across a very attractive research post with the NCFE, and was quick to apply. As much as I love working on the front line of education, I knew from my degree that I enjoy research and developing research based materials for learners. Unfortunately, competition was strong, and I didn’t get the job. The most obvious difference between myself and those already in the role? A Masters of Science. Turns out that for some roles, the added experience of statistical analysis is preferable.
As much as this started the wheels of ponderance turning my mind, I still wasn’t ready to commit to continued learning. I knew it was something I needed to take incredibly seriously as it would require applying for a postgraduate loan of around £6000. Added to this, many of my friends were talking about their excitement – and fear – about their upcoming PGCE courses. Was this the route I wanted to take instead? I knew that a PGCE in Psychology was nigh on worthless and that a Secondary PGCE in Maths would be more worthwhile, but no matter how much I tried to convince myself, I didn’t want to teach for many years to come, and I didn’t want to teach maths; my passion still lay with Psychology, and the factors that influence learning, not the learning itself.
In the middle of May, incredibly late in the year, I applied to study a part time MSc in Developmental Science at UEA. I figured this was perfect as I could tie it in with working and the University is really close to home. Two weeks after being accepted, I was offered a full time job, which I accepted. It was a no-brainer, as the job offers unrivalled experience working in both education and educational psychology, and is in a fantastic establishment. Unfortunately, UEA schedule their lectures for part-time courses at the same time as the full-time courses, meaning that they run from 11-3, two days a week – not very helpful when you also have a full time job, and need one to pay the bills!
Fast forward to mid- June, and by this point I knew that a Masters was something I really wanted to do. I get a little stressed out about individuals who do postgraduate study simply because they don’t know what else to do, or to put off entering into the world of work. In my opinion, these are the last people that should be accepted to study at this level, as it doesn’t show drive or determination to use their high level knowledge in any formal capacity. On the other hand, some people are just born to learn and study and research, and we owe those people a lot.
I searched avidly for courses I thought looked interesting that were also available not only on a part-time basis, but also via distance learning, so that I didn’t need to give up the job I’d secured. I found one single course. I applied to the University of Portsmouth with the application I’d used for UEA with a few small tweaks (this was a course in Psychology and Learning Disability ad opposed to Developmental Science), and received an acceptance email just four days later. Frankly, the application processes to both courses were incredibly straightforward, and my personal statement took about 45 minutes to write. I’m not sure whether blowing our own trumpets comes more naturally as we get older, or whether university study makes us really good at spouting coherent rubbish?! It was definitely a more successful statement than the one I wrote for my undergrad!
Similarly, the application for a PG loan was more straightforward than any of my prior interactions with the Student Loans Company. Log in, choose amount, sign declaration, agree payment schedule. Honestly, it was that easy!
It’s another six weeks until my course starts, but I’m incredibly excited to feel the stress of a not-significant result and a deadline for an assignment. At the end of the day, I’ve chosen to complete the MSc not only to help me get ahead professionally, but also because I truly love to research and learn. I believe that’s one of the most important qualities in a person studying a course at this level, because you’ve really got to want to do it – especially through distance learning. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t expect this to be easy to achieve, and I know it’ll be difficult at first to juggle work and study, but I’m really looking forward to the challenge. I’m also looking forward to being able to write about how I handled both, while also running a blog (and hopefully some semblance of a social life) in my application for the Doctorate in Educational Psychology in winter 2019.