My Master's Degree Experience: Expectations vs. Reality and Everything in Between

21 March 2018

Just over a year and three months ago I graduated with an MA in Media and Public Relations with Merit, and it was one of the proudest moments of my life. It was one of the most challenging years of my life so far and given that I considered dropping out a good three times, it was nice to come to the end of it and be rewarded for my endeavours. 

Generally speaking, I underestimated my master's degree in many ways. I thought I'd have enough time to balance twice weekly blog posts, a social life, my bar work, my assignments, all my reading, extra-curricular activities, finding a job and get enough sleep whilst doing it all, but I couldn't and I didn't. I actually still have old blog photos all archived, yet to be published on here. 

Essentially I wanted to write this post for anyone considering further further education or for those who have recently started a master's degree, because when I was going to open days, putting together my application and starting my course, there wasn't any content like this on the blogs I read. Hopefully this post will give you a further insight into what it's really like studying for a master's, or give you an idea of what to expect from it!
Where and what I did: just for a little background I did a taught MA over one year in Media and Public Relations. I chose to stay on Newcastle University where I had done my undergraduate  degree because everything from the city to the campus to the people were familiar to me. I could have come home to London to study for a masters, but I felt that the courses didn't really fit what I wanted to do and the tuition fees were at least double, if not triple the price I would pay at Newcastle. Plus I had secured a scholarship and alumni discount, so living costs evened themselves out and I could be independent for one more year before returning to the Big Smoke to start my career. 

Just Another 3rd Year? My 3rd year was the best year of my life so far. To most uni-goers that may seem like a bizarre statement but I honestly had the best time in the last year of my BA despite the increased workload and the stress that came with it. I had moved in with some incredible gals off my course and managed to perfect the work-life balance - even though I was the most involved I had ever been in extra-curricular activities, I juggled it all pretty darn well. My social life was the best it had been and I didn't really want it to end, which probably contributed to my decision to stay another year more than I'd like to admit. Either way, when applying for a master's I expected it just to be another third year in terms of difficulty and the amount of work I had to do - but as my tutors began to tell me, it was really a two year course packed into the one, which meant it was a lot more intense, stressful and difficult than the final year of my undergraduate course.

Know Your Reasons for Doing It: As my BA came to a close, I knew that I wanted to work in the media industry but doing exactly what, I wasn't sure. Having never actually studied media, despite having an internship and work experience under my belt, I felt like I could do with a bit more education in the area (and buy myself a bit more time before joining the "real world"). I ended up starting my masters straight after finishing my undergraduate, which perhaps wasn't the best decision as I found myself burning out about half way through my degree - and now I understand why people take a gap year or two to either earn some money or travel the world. By the end of my degree, I began to resent it a bit and I think a break in education would have given me more time to re-appreciate the learning and studying experience and my love for all things media.
Money, Money, Money: Luckily, the UK government are now offering student loans for master's degrees - and it's about time too! However, when I applied there was none. This initially put me off when I first looked into applying for a masters as it seemed virtually impossible to get funding for the course I wanted to do. However, as I mentioned before I luckily secured a scholarship based on my performance at undergrad level and an alumni discount so all in all my tuition fees came down to £3000 - a 1/3 of what I (well the government) was paying for one year of my undergraduate course. To earn a bit of money on the side, I worked on a zero hours contract behind my Student's Union bar, which was so so flexible compared to a usual part-time job as they were really understanding of deadlines and workload. So if you are looking for a part-time job, whilst studying full-time I definitely recommend applying for a job at your Union or around your University campus.

Anxious Feelings: I'm not going to sit here and diagnose myself with anxiety or depression, but overall my masters' degree effected my self-esteem and mental health. Half-way through my first term was one of my lowest points as I had failed my first assignment and at that point I felt like I was wasting time and money. I hadn't made a massive amount of friends on my course either and spent pretty much all of my time studying, which definitely got me down. So I found friends through other means of uni life and soon went out more than a Master's student should, but in having those moments to 'let my hair down' I felt happier, generally less anxious and gave my brain a bit of time off.
The Dreaded Dissertation: Don't let this header fool you too much, I loved the topic of my dissertation as I researched sponsored content as a PR strategy on UK fashion blogs but the process was a lot more stressful than my undergraduate dissertation. Having only three months in total to work on it was difficult, and doing it over summer when everyone else was holidaying and having fun in the sun was even more so. Getting people to take part in my surveys and interviews was a challenge, especially because there wasn't anything in it for them. With my masters' dissertation I found that I had less support and structure than I did at undergrad, which felt frustrating and as though I had more freedom than I actually did. Moreover, as the dissertation was right at the end of my degree and as I still hadn't secured a job, I started to panic and spent a lot of time scouring the Internet for jobs instead of wholly focusing on getting my writing done which definitely had a negative impact on my grades - although luckily in the end it was worth it. 
The Job Hunt: As mentioned above, I let my dissertation marks drop in my job search. I had been applying for jobs since January and despite a fair few interviews and a tonne of applications, it took me until the beginning of August to fully secure a paid internship. At times it felt like all my hard-work in my masters' was a waste of time, as despite popular belief, it didn't seem to give me much of an edge or added value to my application as despite it teaching me really practical skills in PR (like writing press releases, drafting budgets and producing campaign reports), it wasn't direct experience. I was rejected from essentially what was an office b**** job because an interviewer at a top beauty company thought I didn't have enough experience to run around getting people lunch and doing office admin, which felt like a kick in the teeth as I knew my hard work was worth more than that. Also the phrase "we loved your enthusiasm for the company but we have gone with someone with slightly more experience" began to become the story of my life, and it felt as though employers expected graduates to have 20 years of experience before joining the world of work, without even considering their potential to do well. But luckily through a grad recruitment company I found my first position out of uni. In my first interview I was told "you have the most relevant experience out of everyone we've seen" and I was gobsmacked. My dissertation and past experience of working with bloggers very much helped me bag that internship. And from there, when I was told I sadly couldn't be made permanent in that role after the agency lost their biggest client and after 6 months I began a new role at another agency. In my interview for it, I had brought up my modules in advertising and re-designing a magazine all of which where relevant to the role and proved my enthusiasm for working in media and advertising. So all in all, although the job hunt was not quite what I was expecting, the interview practice was great and so I now feel a lot more confident for any applications I may make in the future and a masters is definitely a great starting point to prove your dedication, self-motivation and passion for a subject.
Graduation: Having a winter graduation was again, a whole lot different to my undergraduate graduation (which you can read about here). If I'm honest I found the day itself rather stressful as it was the first slot in the morning at 9:30, it was still dark outside and raining. And don't even get me started on how difficult it was to find a dress that would be winter weather worthy but still look pretty under the robe. After searching high and low - I did manage to find this tea dress number from Topshop and sneak a thick cardi over the top that was invisible under the gown. On the plus side, graduating in December meant that it did coincide with Christmas which is one of my favourite times of the year. Despite the stress, it was so nice to have a day for it all to come to an end (even if I did fully deck it on Newcastle's main shopping street in front of a big crowd wearing these heels).

This post has been sitting in my drafts pretty much ever since I finished my degree, because I still feel as though I have mixed feelings towards it. I see people straight out of university stroll into the job role I currently have and wonder if I wasted my time, money and energy. At times it was overwhelming and at others it was so rewarding, but all in all, a masters ultimately can prove your ability for determination and self-motivation. 

Overall, without my masters and my dissertation topic, I wouldn't have landed what was my dream internship or got to where I am now - so I am grateful for the opportunities that did arise off the back of it and the skills I gained from it - #noragrets and all that.

Have you ever considered doing a masters degree or have you already done one? It's always lovely to hear your thoughts and if you would want me to elaborate on anything like landing a job in media, let me know!

Cx

PS. Yes my jacket is inside out in the pic of me holding my dissertation, which pretty much sums up my whole year to be honest, and in my defence I had been awake for 32 hours after pulling an all nighter the day of my deadline.... well done me

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