Masters degrees: Pricey, but is it worth it?

It's not cheap and you're often left to your own devices. Harriet Williamson, doing an MA at York, ponders whether or not she's getting her money's worth

After 2013 research from Which? and the Higher Education Policy Institute showed that one in three first year undergraduates believe that their course is not good value for money, I began to wonder how I would judge the economic value of a taught Masters degree.

With the average course coming with a price tag of between £4,000 and £6,000, and record numbers of students choosing to continue in higher education after their first degree, are we receiving enough bang for our buck? Of course, postgraduate (and undergraduate) experiences vary from person to person and from institution to institution, but there are key elements that should be provided by the university and things that we can do as postgrads to get the most out of our degrees.

Contact time

The reduction in contact time and increased focus on individual study at Masters level means that the degree cannot be measured simply in terms of the number of hours spent in lectures and seminars. Personal feedback from staff is essential for academic growth and I’ve found that having the right tutor is essential to gaining the most rigorous criticism.

For the first two terms of my MA I had a spectacularly disengaged personal tutor, but being assigned a new tutor for my dissertation has been a completely different experience. He shares my research interests and goes into real detail regarding improvements to my writing. You get out of a Masters what you put in, and there is no academic hand-holding, but finding a tutor who is a good match is crucial.

Library services become especially important during a Masters dissertation, when there is no suggested reading list and students are conducting their own research. David Maclean, completing his MA at the University of York praises their ‘MoreBooks’ scheme because it allowed students to ‘actually have some spending power in the departmental library’, only lamenting that it didn’t last for the whole dissertation period.

A well-stocked university library that feels accessible is a must, not least because purchasing academic texts can be very expensive. If your library doesn’t have a particular book or hasn’t paid for access to an online journal that you need, always send an email and ask if they’ll consider buying it for you.

Fees

Of course, our tuition fees pay for much more than just the academic side of things. Extra-curricular activities and student support facilities can feel even more necessary during an MA or MSc when study is isolated by its very nature. A friend on my course described student support as ‘non-existent’ and it can certainly feel that way if such facilities aren’t well-publicized on campus or you end up with a personal tutor who isn’t particularly interested in the pastoral side of their duties.

However, student-run nightlines and campus counselling services are available and departmental events organised for postgrads are useful for making good social links with your peers, something essential to staying sane! Getting involved in events and fun stuff with course mates should not be overlooked because it boosts your chances of getting the most out of your Masters year and ensures a more rounded experience that isn’t solely about study.

The most commonly cited reason for applying for a Masters, other than ‘I just wasn’t sure what to do next’, is that an MA or MSc will ensure that candidates stand out to future employers. For me, this remains to be seen.

Employment advice is available in the form of guest speakers from industries, workshops and conferences, and this is increasingly important when competition for graduate jobs is fierce. Departments should also provide readily-available information on what a PhD application entails, rather than shrouding the process in academic secrecy.

But is the taught Masters worth the money? The current cost of higher education is deeply daunting, particularly for undergraduates facing tripled tuition fees, and decisions regarding what degrees are worth in monetary terms seem to be made in an increasingly arbitrary manner. My academic growth in the last year has been marked and I feel very privileged in this sense, but the price was high and I and the majority of my peers are now much deeper in debt.

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Student

Ashdown Group: Graduate UI Developer - HTML, CSS, Javascript

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Graduate UI Application Developer - ...

Ashdown Group: Marketing or Business Graduate Opportunity - Norwich - £22,000

£18000 - £22000 per annum + training: Ashdown Group: Business and Marketing Gr...

Ashdown Group: Graduate Software Developer - Norfolk - £22,000

£18000 - £22000 per annum + training: Ashdown Group: Software Developer - Norf...

Guru Careers: Graduate Resourcer / Recruitment Account Executive

£18k + Bonus: Guru Careers: We are seeking a bright, enthusiastic and internet...

Day In a Page

Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

Join the tequila gold rush

The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
12 best statement wallpapers

12 best statement wallpapers

Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

Paul Scholes column

Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?