It is that time of the year when we are all busy in our own ways; vacationing in Thailand, going on a shopping spree in Dubai, building the CV by interning at a local or international firm, finishing off those series you did not get to watch all year (although it cannot be the famous ‘Game of Thrones’ because who does not get time to watch that one even if there is an exam the next day, right?), or just lazing around at home. That being said, if you have graduated or are going to graduate next year and are planning on pursuing a Master’s degree, now is the time to get to work.
Applying for a Masters is not an easy job for it requires weeks and months of planning, applying and waiting. I was there last year, and I think I started the whole application process a little late. Being in my final year of a BSc, while having to attend classes, study on my own at home, and deal with the whole application process simultaneously, I remember wishing I had started earlier during the summer vacations following my second year examinations when I had nothing better to do than laze around.
The first and most important thing you will need to do is research. Loads and loads of research. If you already know the exact Masters course you want to apply for, well and good. However, if you are aware of the subject area but not the exact course, you will want to go through the various courses offered by different universities to help you make a more informed decision. Apart from the choice of course, you will want to research on the universities that interest you the most. This research will lead you to shortlisting a few universities, and their respective courses that you will be applying to. Once you are past that step, you will need to research the chosen universities’ websites inside out. I recall visiting and re-visiting their websites again and again, opening around 30 tabs at a time (only to hear my sister tell me the laptop would crash thanks to me). All this is necessary, because you have to know everything about the universities before applying to them, from the faculty, to the courses, the location, accommodation, scholarships, facilities, extra-curricular activities, etc.
The next step of the research process is related to the course of each university you are applying to. Each course has its own eligibility requirements, course and fee structure. It is important to check the requirements and the course content to know what you are applying to and what you have to do to start preparing for them. Requirements include your current or previous qualifications, English language requirements, other test scores like the GRE or GMAT, and other supporting documents. The best thing to do would be to list down all the important information in an Excel document or a Google sheet. This will be useful for future purposes, so that you do not have to keep visiting the websites and will have all the information gathered in one area. One thing that must be noted is, however, that most universities (for the UK at least) update their websites later, around September. Hence, while you will get a pretty good idea of the course, you must keep visiting the website from time to time, to keep yourself updated on any minor or major course eligibility or structure changes.
Once you are done with all the research, you need to get started on preparing for any tests including the GRE/GMAT and/or the IELTS/TOEFL, depending on the universities and courses you are applying to. Preparing for the GRE/GMAT is a whole separate process. I sat the GRE as it was required by some of the universities I was applying to. I had to keep the score requirements in mind as well. Most universities do not give a specific cut off score. However, some universities do give a range that your score must lie in. Meeting that score range can be a tedious task, but with a lot of practice, it is definitely possible. I am not very aware of the GMAT, but for the GRE, the first thing to do is to go through the ETS official guide to the GRE which includes practice tests. Once you are done with that, you can move on to other guides including KAPLAN’s, Princeton, Barron’s, amongst many others that are available online. I prefer hard copies (yes, I am old school), so if you are like me, you can hit the nearest book store to get your hard copy. I sat the GRE twice because I was not very happy with my first score. The key to getting a good score is practice, especially through the practice test simulations on the official ETS website. For the English language requirements, depending on whether you come from an English-speaking majority country or whether the language of instruction of your university education has been in English, you may be eligible to apply for a waiver. If not, you may have to take the IELTS or TOEFL test. You may have to take the test more than once in case you do not meet the score requirement in your first attempt. Hence, it is always good to take the test well before a deadline to allow for such possibilities.
Moving on to perhaps the part that is pivotal to your entire application is the personal statement. You can google ‘personal statements’ to find a variety of tips and sample personal statements. However, there is one tip that you will find common to all search results, and that is, to be honest. The personal statement is not a list of all your qualifications and extra-curricular activities. Rather, it is a chance for you to ‘dazzle’ the reader, setting you apart from other applicants, by portraying some of your most important achievements and interests in a way that gives you a competitive edge. So take your time to write down your personal statement. It could take weeks and months, and a lot of re-writing and editing before you come up with your final personal statement. You could also have someone else to read your personal statement to give you advice on how you could improve it.
Getting references from your lecturers or professors is something you do not want to leave for the last minute, as with the busy schedule that they have, they may take a few weeks to write you a reference letter. Hence, there is no harm in giving them prior intimation. In fact, it would be best to contact them a good one or two months prior to the time you submit your application. Similarly, submitting your transcript is a vital part of your application. Contacting your institution for an official transcript could take months. In my case, being an external student of the UOLIP, I had to request an order for official transcripts from the UoL Transcripts Office around 6 to 8 weeks before I submitted my application. Some universities require you to have an official transcript sent to them directly from your current institution, which would have its own time-frame.
Finally, you will need enough time to find out about the scholarships being offered by the universities or external organisations, as each scholarship usually has its own separate application process and requirements that you will have to consider alongside your application for a Masters.
Once you are done with everything, make sure to go through your checklist for documents to be submitted, and apply away! The only thing you need to do next is wait, wait and wait. That is indeed the hardest part.
I hope this rough guideline will help you organise yourself for the whole application process, as it can be a daunting one. Good luck, and get started!
Zara is studying the BSc (Hons) Economics at a recognised teaching institution, University College of Islamabad (UCI), in Islamabad, Pakistan