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Making the choice for your postgraduate program and institution

When you have a list of the possible postgraduate programs available you can move to the second phase of choosing, which involves a careful comparison of the programs and the universities.


Choosing your postgrad programSo, what factors should you consider in choosing? Choosing a university and postgraduate program  is very much an individual decision, and will depend on a wide range of factors that you might want to take into account. Broadly, though, the factors to consider can be divided into two groups: the academic factors, relating to the program and the university, and the personal factors, relating to what is important in your own life and experiences while you are in the UK.

Academic factors

The main academic factors relate to the content and organisation of the program and its quality. If you are looking for a masters degree then you will need to decide whether you want to do a general program in your subject, which will probably allow you to take some specialist topics of particular interest, or whether you want a program that is highly specialised. This will determine whether there is a wide or narrow choice of programs open to you. If you are looking for a Doctoral program the same is true – but the choice is likely to be quite narrow because the academic staff with expertise in your specialist area who can supervise your research may be found in only a small number of universities.

What's best for you?

Whether there are large numbers of programs in your field or only one or two, you will want to identify which is the ‘best’. But ‘best’ is a difficult idea, for it depends on how you measure it. All this means that you have to decide what makes a program ‘best’ for you. The list below shows some of the academic factors that might be important in deciding which program is ‘best’:

• The program is in one of the most prestigious universities.
• The program is taught by well-known researchers.
• The program has a high reputation for the quality of teaching.
• There is a good ratio of staff to students.
• The program has excellent teaching resources (e.g. computers, workshops).
• The program has access to an excellent library.
• Graduates from the program mostly get excellent jobs afterwards.
• The program attracts large numbers of students.
• The program has many specialist options within it.

In addition, for a Doctoral program you might want to add the following to the list:

• All students have their own desk and computer.
• There are several research students each year working in your particular field.
• The research training program has good ratings and a strong reputation.
• The department has a number of students with prestigious scholarships, indicating it is highly regarded for research training.

Personal and social factors

These are the factors that are much more personal, and depend on how you want to live your life and spend your time while you are a postgraduate student. It includes factors to do with housing, social life, cultural life in the university and the nature and character of the town or city that the university is in. The following is a list of some of these factors:

• Does the university have accommodation in university residences available for international postgraduate students?
• Does it provide accommodation for students who have their families with them?
• How close to the university will you be able to live?
• Does the university have a large community of international students?
• Does it have a large community of students of your own nationality/faith?
• Does the university and the department have good social facilities and arrangements for postgraduate students, e.g. common rooms, eating facilities, clubs and societies?
• Does the university have specialist facilities for your preferred cultural needs (e.g. a Muslim prayer room)?
• Do you want to live in a large city, a smaller city or a smaller town or rural area?
• Do you want to live in or close to London?
• Do you want to live in a historic city or a modern or industrial city?
• Do you want to live with good access to attractive countryside and/or the coast?
• Will the cost of living in a particular town or city be relatively high or low?

Ask opinions from people with experience

Of course, although you can get the factual answers to many of these questions from prospectuses, handbooks and websites, bear in mind that what often makes a place a happy one is the chance set of friendships that you will make and the general feel and comfort of the place. A university that answers ‘yes’ to every one of your questions may still not be the best place to go – and often students who have by chance gone to a university that at first sight did not seem to meet many of their criteria have a wonderful experience as a student. To get the full picture it is always worth asking people you know – wherever you are in the world you will find people who have attended particular universities, and many universities have alumni societies in other countries who can arrange for you to meet and talk with a former student. Details will be on their website or in their prospectus.


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