Why go to graduate school in the UK

Original article HERE

Jason Via, our new communications intern, studied for a postgraduate degree in English literature at the University of  Bristol. He explains why he chose to go to graduate school in the UK, and what he learnt from the experience.

How to pick the right university.

Let’s establish one universal truth before we start: getting into an international post-graduate program is difficult. In accordance with this universal truth that we all hold to be self-evident, let it also be known to the judge and jury that turning down any offer for post-graduate study, even if it is not from the ‘University of your Dreams’, is next to impossible. I liken it to turning down free pizza on a diet or trying to resist a ‘Here Comes Honey Boo Boo’ reality TV marathon. Try it, I dare you, and while you’re testing your willpower, this Honey Boo Boo-watching, pizza-devouring, Master’s-degree-from-the-UK-holder will give you a few tips on why choosing a program in the UK is   the better choice. (Preface: Add swear words at your own discretion, because nothing says graduate school like stress and a lot swearing.)

Money sucks and no one has any.

Ironically, what the UK offers for post-graduate study is the most American thing I can think of: instant gratification. What I mean is that you complete your Master’s degree in one year, as opposed to two in the USA (which is great for money-conscious people like me). I am not one of those supremely talented people that put themselves through school by working a full-time job, while being a full-time student, while having a social life, etc. I used FAFSA loans and side scholarships to fund all my studies and living expenses. All bills considered, the amount I spent for my one-year Masters degree was just as much money as I would have paid for the typical two-year programs I found in the US.

This is a perfect window into how my mind operates. If I could have the same debt for graduate school, no matter whether I studied in the UK or US, would I prefer to complete my program in one year, have an extra year to start working and not accrue a year’s extra interest on my loan? Or would I prefer to study for two years and deal with all the loan issues later? More than 24 years of uninterrupted full-time school led me to believe I needed to finish school once and for all, as soon as possible.  What was even better than ‘finishing my Masters early’, was that after adding the cost of living for the programs in the US, I found I ended up saving money by going to the UK in the long run.

Don’t be blinded by reputation

The first trap of international post-grad study is only knowing the basics before you apply or accept your offer. Amazing classes, worldwide university and academic department rankings, and a faculty of currently publishing professors are only the foundation of your postgraduate experience. I may sound pushy, but unless the university treats all of its students to these perks, these impressive-sounding criteria will mean nothing to you. Do your research, and find out what the university will offer you, in your chosen subject area. My postgraduate curriculum was based around literary research, which meant I needed a comfortable chair and access to old, asbestos-ridden books. Yes, a track record in ground breaking blood research (courtesy of my super genius room mate) and a top notch law school are both wonderful and useful to the better part of society, but the fact that the university had those meant nothing to me and my arts degree.

Don’t fall for the traps. Instead, save your extensive research for seeking out specific professors who teach amazing classes. Find their research, check out their books from libraries and see if their angle is worth exploring for what you want to study. Professors in the UK may appear stingy and distant in lectures, but they more than make up for it when you discuss your research with them in private – I was never not given a cup of tea, biscuits and asked about my day for the first ten minutes of any meeting.

I’m not talking about just the amenities either. If I studied in America, I would not have been able to visit the Keats House museum in London and see John Keats’s original, marked up copy of Milton’s Paradise Lost. My professors called in many a favor so that I could see  Keats’s manuscript, as well as a few paintings in the British museum, which helped in my research tremendously.  There’s also a certain conducive-to-learning charm about having lectures in a 200-year-old house, renovated by the university, that I wouldn’t have been able to find in the US.  Sitting in an armchair in someone’s  refurbished 19th century living room, listening to my professor talk and then give the class a break to make tea next door in the kitchen, was the perfect reward for the hard work I put in to complete a Master’s in one year.

(Pro tip alert: Make sure these amazing professors ARE NOT on sabbatical while you’re studying. I, of course, would not be stupid enough to fall for that … a friend of a friend of a friend told me this…)

I am now a millionaire

Today, as a pseudo-professional with things like loan and car payments to re-start paying (almost always on time), I can say that my employers have all been beyond impressed with my international degree, more so than I ever could have expected. Suddenly, I have become an employable postgraduate with valued practical knowledge, as opposed to an undergrad who was dismissed amidst piles of countless other job applications.

It’s like that annoying adage about how wealth is more accurately measured in love, not money. My Master’s degree is helpful because it is a Master’s degree, but the true value of my degree comes from having studied and lived in the UK.   To my employers, my degree from the UK says that I am independent and can communicate across cultures. I saved money, had an educational experience that was not only unique but stimulating, and grew beyond what I thought was possible in the US.

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