Underachiever to highflier: perform well in your master's...

picture of an upset student ...  after a 2:2 or 3rd class undergraduate degree.

Many students face the dilemma of underperforming when it comes to their undergraduate degree. Whether it's just that they made a few mistakes along the way or they chronically did not put in the effort, many students are handed their diploma when they graduate and are disheartened to be holding a lower second class or third class degree.

For many, this means the end of the road for their education. Many are put off postgraduate study by their bad experience as an undergraduate, or even if they aren’t put off they find that they can’t get a place on a master’s course with their degree classification. But if you do have a place on a master's course and you recognise that you made mistakes as an undergraduate that you’re willing to rectify, there is no reason why you can’t make the transition a little later in life from underachiever to highflyer.

1. Recognise the mistakes you made If you underperformed in your undergraduate degree, you must ask yourself why. You must identify the problem and analyse the mistakes you made so that history doesn't repeat itself.

Look back on where you went wrong and try see how you could have acted differently. Was the problem that you didn’t put enough work in consistently, or that you didn’t work enough directly before exams? Was it a problem of not understanding the work or not doing enough work? Once you can answer these questions, then you can begin to right your wrongs.

2. Go back to the study basics Throw out your usual study plan - because it obviously wasn’t working. Instead, read around on studying tips and tricks and try them out. See what works best for you. For example, many people find it beneficial to work in small chunks throughout the day, whereas others learn more from sitting down for hours as a time. You’ve got to throw out the book and start over - learn what REALLY works best for you and go from there.

3. Always stay on top of your work load One of the most basic tips that most people forget is to be completely aware of every piece of work they must do, and be aware of when it must be done. If planning is something you had problems with before, make sure that it is something you conquer now. Postgraduate study requires you to be independent, more so than your undergraduate degree ever required. This means that you are responsible for yourself and must ensure that you have all the information you need.

4. Learn the differences between an undergraduate and postgraduate degree, and enjoy them.

For many who struggled at undergraduate level, postgraduate study can actually be a refreshing change of pace. If you stumbled in your degree because you found being spoon fed in lectures boring, then you should learn that a postgraduate degree is completely different. In a postgraduate degree, you direct what you want to learn and you learn on your own terms. Yes, this is responsibility, but it also means that you stay engaged because you are the one who chooses what you learn.

5. Don’t let your past problems get you down The biggest problem most people have is that they get disheartened by the problems they’ve had earlier in their education and just give up. This is never the best option, as there is always time to turn things round if you want to change. People are capable of anything if they set their mind to it, so don’t tell yourself that it’s too hard or you’re not smart enough. If you adapt a positive attitude and work hard, your past doesn’t matter. You can get a good postgraduate degree and get your education back on the track where it belongs.


JIMOH MUYIWA Nov. 4, 2016, 8:19 p.m.

Very good advice.

kwami agbowada Dec. 8, 2016, 12:29 p.m.

Nice one

Anikwai May 14, 2017, 4:36 a.m.

A nice read indeed. Thanks!

Charlotte King May 14, 2017, 4:17 p.m.

We're glad you found it interesting!

Florence Tirane June 5, 2017, 9:50 p.m.

Thank you very much for this piece.Seriously considering going for a Masters now that I have a year of work experience but I am constantly discouraged by my undergrad. results.This has encouraged me.thanks again!

Charlotte King June 14, 2017, 9:34 a.m.

Good luck with your masters application Florence!

Emmanuel Olulaja June 22, 2017, 11:41 p.m.

Good advice. Thanks

Tamara Mubele June 23, 2017, 10:55 p.m.

Your advice is spot on. I know I could have done better on my undergrad degree but I always left work till last minute...i'm starting Msc public health in September and I'm determined to do well. Thanks for the tips.

Charlotte King June 26, 2017, 5:03 p.m.

Hi Tamara,

That's great news that you're doing a masters in Public Health - did our article help you make your choice of course?



Sreya Ray Sept. 11, 2017, 8:27 a.m.

I am from India. I have a very low 2:2 in my Undergrad with a lot of 3rds in my many major and Gen ed units. And no, unfortunately I don't have the luxury of saying - I did not study at all throughout my Bachelors, so ended up with poor marks in my first two years. Truth is - I struggled lot with my units. I had a (then) undiagnosed learning disability and though I was attending the classes, reading up and taking notes , doing research - I was a regular at the library, I failed to put them into a Uni level answer - I was thinking like a school kid - was reading but not comprehending - and in the end - my answers lacked the maturity expected of a university level students. There were no help centers at my Uni for struggling students, no tutors, no academic counselors nothing. At times, I approached my profs to guide me where I went wrong - but they refused to spoonfeed me - ( Here I must mention - I went to one of the top colleges of my country - and profs there were unwilling to personally guide any particular student - as students were expected to have ''superior academic skills''. ). They mostly gave generic answers - which did absolutely nothing for me.

So my grades in my 1st two years comprises of mainly thirds and low 2:2s in my modules. The examiners did not fail me or give me Ordinary pass - as they could see, that I did my work, knew stuff - just couldn't make it into competent answer. I somewhat made it up on third year and got a good 2:2 ( still couldn't get 2:1 alas) and graduated with a low 2:2 ( 53%). I can't look at my transcripts, without hating myself.

For what it's worth , getting a 2;1 or even a good 2:2 was very difficult at my college back then - as it was affiliated to University of Calcutta - known as one of the toughest graders, at this part of the world. Virtually no one ever got a 70 ( First) at my subject ( History) and the topper or the top 5% of my batch would have low 2:1s. But that's not an excuse.

In India - there's no academic probation or dismissal. Would have been a blessing if it existed. I was clearly not ready for Uni level work at that point - as my best efforts only fetched me 2:2s. Quite a few of my classmates dropped out after disappointing first year grades - but I foolishly stayed on and hoped that things would somehow improve if I worked harder. ( It did not)

I aced my Masters ( 2 years) and got a good GPA. Aced a national all India exam to become a lecturer. Now I am studying a 3 year LLB from Delhi University ( one of the best Uni's at my nation) - I have pretty good marks ( 68%) first year. I have overcome my learning disabilities, and have mastered the technique of getting good grades . Admittedly it came in several years too late.

I really want to go in for an LLM at a decent law school at US or UK. Given my abysmal performance at UG - will my good LLB scores count for anything?

Charlotte King Sept. 11, 2017, 10:18 p.m.

Hi Sreya,

I am sorry to hear that you didn't fulfil your potential as an undergrad - but am sure you can still go on to successfully study an LLM.
Our sister site LLMstudy.com has plenty of great advice about studying an LLM program - take a look here - https://www.llmstudy.com/
I think you best course of action would be to contact the law schools that you are interested in studying at and finding out what their entry requirements are.
Good luck.


Ruth Rhodes Oct. 12, 2017, 12:29 p.m.

Just a word of encouragement to you all I achieved a 2:2 for my LLB I was devastated because I put a lot of hard work into my studies.I later went on to do my LPC, postgraduate in legal practice, I passed this ok but wanted to achieve a distinction in my LLM. Last week my result was released and I had achieved a distinction. I am 56 a grandmother and have 6 children 2 currently at university. It can be done with Gods blessing hard work and dedication.
Never give up.

Charlotte King Oct. 30, 2017, 10:08 p.m.

Hi Ruth,

That's great news - well done!

Maybe you can add your words of encouragement for readers of the LLMstudy Blog:




Oliver Oct. 31, 2017, 5:18 p.m.

I just got my confirmed final result for my Structural Engineering MSc and I'm so pleased to say I got a Distinction!

After getting a high 2:2 for my BEng I was gutted because I wasn't allowed to progress onto the MEng. I started work and my employer was really supportive and convinced me to do the MSc part time. I know this is not a luxury everyone will have and I was really lucky that they saw my potential because I had done a placement year with them. They were able to help me with the uni application as I was initially turned down based on my 2:2. I was able to get an interview and convince the uni to take me on - persist with these types of decisions as ultimately it comes down to someone's judgment on your ability!

I studied part time for 3 years and this was a completely different format to what I had done for my Bachelors degree. Fundamentally, a fresh start and a change of scene and pace was exactly what I needed. But the most important thing was to go in with the mentality to perform at your best and prove what you are capable of!

Charlotte King Nov. 3, 2017, 3:56 p.m.

Hi Oliver,

Well done! That's fantastic news - and just goes to show that you can go on to successfully study a masters program even if your bachelors results are disappointing.

Thanks for sharing your story.


Cynthia Feb. 9, 2018, 6:40 p.m.

Hi Charlotte,
I'm really sad, just got through with my Masters in diplomacy and strategic studies with a CGPA of 3.79 classified as a pass. I feel bad because I can't go for my PhD. Just don't know what else to do.

Charlotte King Feb. 18, 2018, 10:05 a.m.

Hi Cynthia,

I'm sorry to hear this. Are you sure you've explored all the PhD possibilities? It is probably worth contacting your former university and asking them for advice.

Good luck.


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