Masters student meaning – what being a graduate student really means

As a prospective graduate student, it is important to understand what it truly means to pursue a masters degree.

The life of a masters student is one that involves deepening knowledge and honing research skills while also balancing other parts of life.

From intensive coursework, to intense research, graduate school can be a challenging and overwhelming experience.

The outcome of this challenging journey is a valuable degree which will open doors to a wide range of professional opportunities.

This article will explore what it really means to be a masters student. 

What is a master’s degree?

A master’s degree is an academic qualification obtainable at the postgraduate level, allowing students to specialize in a specific field of study or area of professional practice.

It equips students with advanced knowledge and skills, making them experts in their chosen discipline. The degree can be pursued in various fields, such as engineering, medicine, law, business, education, and arts, among others.

Important PointsDetails
Level of StudyPostgraduate level, allowing students to specialize in a specific field of study or professional practice
FieldsVarious fields, including engineering, medicine, law, business, education, and arts
DurationTypically one to three years, with specific duration varying based on subject, country, and type of degree
Study CreditsECTS: 90-120 credits; UK: 180 credits; US: 36 to 54 semester credits
Criteria for Awarding DegreeAdvanced knowledge in the area of study, evidenced by intensive coursework, research, and professional practice
CulminationOften a research project or thesis
Value for Career AdvancementDemonstrates a higher level of education and provides expertise needed for success in the job market
Commitment to Academic and Professional GrowthPursuing a master’s degree involves independent and highly focused learning and research, showcasing dedication to personal development

Typically, it takes one to three years to complete a master’s degree, with the specific duration varying based on the subject, country, and type of degree. In terms of study credits, the European Credit Transfer and Accumulation System (ECTS) requires 90-120 credits, while in the UK, it takes 180 credits, and 36 to 54 semester credits in the US.

The degree is awarded to students who demonstrate advanced knowledge in their area of study, as evidenced by intensive coursework, research, and professional practice.

It often culminates in a research project or thesis.

Possessing a master’s degree is valuable for career advancement, as it demonstrates a higher level of education and provides the expertise needed for success in the job market.

Pursuing a master’s degree is a great way to show commitment to academic and professional growth, as it involves independent and highly focused learning and research.

What it means to be a master’s student

As a master’s student, one is expected to engage in rigorous study, producing original research on a topic of their choice culminating in a thesis.

The complexity and depth of the master’s study require students to demonstrate an advanced level of scholarship, critical-thinking, and research skills.

This process of attaining higher education provides mastery and expertise in the pursuit of knowledge in a specific field of study.

As a master’s student, one is expected to exhibit sustained intellectual curiosity, independence and the capacity for critical reflection in order to make an original contribution to their field of study.

A master’s degree provides the student with a specialized qualification that will open up doors for professional opportunities and advancement.

The experience of being a master’s student is not only academically rewarding but a transformative learning journey that equips one with diverse skills and tools invaluable in personal and professional development.

What do masters students do at the masters level?

Masters students are individuals who have already earned their undergraduate degree and have chosen to pursue further education in a specific field.

At this level, students typically have a more advanced understanding of their subject matter and are expected to:

  • conduct research,
  • develop critical thinking skills, and
  • collaborate with peers on projects.

Depending on the program, masters students may take courses in advanced topics within their field or focus on a specialized area of study. They also have the opportunity to develop skills in independent research and often complete a thesis or capstone project.

Apart from academic work, many masters students also participate in extracurricular activities or internships to help broaden their knowledge and skills in their chosen profession. Additionally, networking and relationship building with faculty, peers, and professionals in their industry is another critical component of their education, which often helps them in finding job opportunities after graduation.

Students often have a rigorous schedule that includes attending lectures and seminars, participating in group projects, and completing independent research.

Their daily life may involve waking up early to prepare for classes, attending lectures and seminars, spending time at the library for research, and working on assignments in the evenings.

They may also participate in extracurricular activities such as sports or clubs to help build connections with their peers and maintain a balanced lifestyle.

In order to manage their time effectively, these students need to prioritize their tasks, allocate time for self-care, and maintain a healthy work-life balance.

How do masters students study? Course Structures

Masters students face a challenging yet rewarding journey that requires commitment, dedication, and effective time management.

Many of them choose to study part-time while working full-time, with some attending lectures and seminars while others engage in distance learning to accommodate their schedules.

Critical thinking and independent research are key components of a master’s program, and students often rely on various resources like academic journals, textbooks, and industry reports to broaden their understanding.

A day in the life of a masters student, is a day filled with classes, lectures, and group projects.

In between classes, students might grab a coffee or lunch with friends, visit the library to study, or work on assignments.

For some, the day can extend well into the evening, with additional lectures and study sessions. Which it is often wise to choose a university conveniently located near public transportation, making it accessible for those living in different areas.

Balancing studies with social activities and personal life is crucial to the overall experience of a masters student.

By the end of the day, they may catch up on personal errands or relax before preparing for another day of learning and growth.

This journey equips them with expertise in their chosen field and a respected qualification, paving the way for career advancement and greater opportunities in the future.

Types of master’s degrees and courses

When choosing a master’s degree, it is important to consider the various types of courses and degrees available to find the one that best aligns with your interests and career goals.

For instance, a Master of Arts (MA) or a Master of Science (MSc) can offer a wide range of specializations, such as medieval history or polymer chemistry. Alternatively, there are shorter postgraduate certificates and diplomas, as well as specialized professional vocational degrees, which cater to different needs and preferences.

Type of Master’s DegreeDescriptionExamples of Specializations
Master of Arts (MA)Focuses on arts, humanities, and social sciences.History, English, Philosophy, Sociology
Master of Science (MSc)Focuses on natural sciences, mathematics, and technology.Physics, Chemistry, Biology, Computer Science
Master of Business Administration (MBA)Focuses on business and management disciplines.Finance, Marketing, Human Resources, Operations
Master of Engineering (MEng)Focuses on engineering disciplines and often includes a professional component.Civil Engineering, Mechanical Engineering, Electrical Engineering
Master of Education (MEd)Focuses on education, often for teachers or educational administrators.Curriculum Design, Educational Leadership, Special Education
Master of Fine Arts (MFA)Focuses on creative arts, often involving practice-based components.Creative Writing, Graphic Design, Film Production
Master of Laws (LLM)Focuses on advanced legal studies, often for lawyers or legal professionals.International Law, Intellectual Property Law, Human Rights Law
Master of Public Health (MPH)Focuses on public health issues, policy, and administration.Epidemiology, Health Policy, Environmental Health
Master of Social Work (MSW)Focuses on social work practice and theory, preparing students for careers in social work.Child and Family Services, Mental Health, Community Practice

In addition to the type of degree, the mode of study is also a crucial factor. Options range from full-time to part-time, taught courses, and independent research courses. Each university may have its unique approach, so it’s essential to research the specific modules, assessment methods, timetable, and fees involved in each course.

To explore your options, there are many websites that can help you gain an understanding of the specializations and programs available in your area of interest.

By comparing course descriptions and assessing the tutors’ expertise, you can narrow down your choices and determine which university and course are the right fit for you.

When choosing a master’s degree, it is also worth considering open days, networking with current students or alumni, and examining the research interests of the university’s staff.

This will help you gain an insider view of the course, ensuring you make an informed decision that aligns with your academic and professional goals.

Wrapping up

Pursuing a master’s degree is a challenging yet rewarding journey that equips students with advanced knowledge and expertise in their chosen field. This transformative learning experience involves rigorous study, original research, and the development of critical thinking skills. Balancing academic commitments with personal life and extracurricular activities is crucial for a well-rounded experience.

With various types of master’s degrees and courses available, it’s essential for prospective students to research and consider their options, aligning their choices with their academic and professional goals.

A master’s degree opens doors to a wide range of professional opportunities and personal growth.

The Author

Dr Andrew Stapleton has a Masters and PhD in Chemistry from the UK and Australia. He has many years of research experience and has worked as a Postdoctoral Fellow and Associate at a number of Universities. Although having secured funding for his own research, he left academia to help others with his YouTube channel all about the inner workings of academia and how to make it work for you.