Postgraduate study is one of the most exciting learning opportunities available to career-driven students. It is an experience like no other where you get to spend a year (or two – depending on your course) intensely studying your field of interest. You will have the chance to dive into unchartered territory and explore new avenues for your thesis – with the potential to be published one day! But the most important thing to know before you start this new adventure is how to prepare yourself for postgraduate study.
There are lots of myths about what postgraduate study is really like (some true, some not). However, what you will find is that the experience will be vastly different to your undergraduate studies – for many reasons. Our postgraduate study tips will help you begin a postgraduate study on the right track.
How to prepare for postgraduate study
1. Complete your pre-reading
It’s crucial that you start preparing for university study well in advance. Even though you may be busy in the lead up to your start date, prioritising your pre-reading is important. It may be tempting to leave this task until the last minute, since there will be lots of other things on your to-do list. However, if you take your time reading and digesting the information, this will be hugely beneficial. It will help you feel less overwhelmed on day one and get you ready to dive straight in.
If pre-reading is sent to you, that’s great! The best way to consume everything is to create a plan for tackling it in the months leading up to your start date. If there is no scheduled pre-reading, see if you can find out the course reading list in advance. Browsing these books early can help get you ahead of the game.
If finding the reading list early doesn’t work out, just delve into the subject yourself! Your postgraduate study will be packed with independent learning time. Getting used to working by yourself before you start will help you in the months ahead.
2. Reach out to your tutors
If possible, try and get to know your tutors before you start. Getting to know your teachers beforehand, or in the early days of your postgraduate study, will help you make a great first impression. By proactively asking for reading materials in advance or posing questions to them in your first few weeks, they will see you as someone engaged and keen to learn.
Some tutors may email you a few months before day one and offer their help with course preparation. If they do, take advantage of it! Since your postgraduate study will be more intense than an undergraduate course, you will likely have a different relationship with your teachers during the year. Making use of their open-door email policy to ponder questions (even the most profound) may become a daily occurrence in the future. That is why it’s a great idea to make an impact on your tutors early on.
3. Take advantage of pre-course social events
The first day of anything can be incredibly exciting, but also daunting. By having a handful of connections before your first day, you will be less fixated on the people and more focused on your course material. Plus, having a few people you know before day one can make your first week that little bit easier.
Almost every university will run freshers’ week activities and social networking groups where you can engage with your future classmates. It’s a good idea to take advantage of these opportunities as much as you can. You might even find some good tips from others about how they plan to prepare for their postgraduate study!
You should know that freshers’ week isn’t just a time to party and make friends. As a postgraduate student, you can learn a great deal from your fellow classmates. Your course could be full of people that have worked for years before undertaking postgraduate study. They may have already worked in your preferred sector and have some interesting insights to share with you!
4. Plan your learning schedule
Time management is important for any degree, but it will be even more important for postgraduate study. Your thesis will be a long-term project that needs to be planned and prepared well in advance of the deadline. You will need to plan your time appropriately to ensure you achieve everything you need to. By getting a learning schedule ready before you start your course, you will feel much better about jumping straight in on your first week.
During a postgraduate course, you will have more independent study than classroom learning. Having a learning schedule prepared in advance will help you break down how much time you will have in the future for studying, leisure, part-time work, and extracurricular activities. This can help you see which of your current arrangements need to change, such as your working hours.
If you already know what deadlines you will have, it’s also a good idea to plan your year around those deadlines. Make connections between the year ahead and any important, pre-planned life events. By knowing in advance that you have a deadline at the same time as your sister’s wedding abroad, you can plan your workarounds ahead of time.
5. Prepare stress-management tactics
Just like most degrees (or anything in life, really), you will face stressful periods. There may be times when pressures are high in both your professional, personal and student life. You may already have ways to manage your stress levels from your undergraduate degree. But if you don’t, this is the time to start building some tactics.
Before you begin your course, you can prepare how you are going to manage your stress levels by knowing what helps you stay calm. This could be things like taking time to reset your learning plan or engaging in a hobby that relaxes your mind. Having healthy coping mechanisms for dealing with stressful situations before you start your course can help you succeed. Having good stress-management techniques can help you the rest of your life, too!
6. Clean up your online presence
The internet is becoming an important place for business. In the modern world, almost every job application takes place online. While you are preparing for your postgraduate study, it will be helpful for you to build your online professional persona at the same time. Creating a LinkedIn profile (if you don’t already have one) will help you learn about prospective employers throughout your time studying. Plus, it will be easier to create this before you start your course, rather than at the end of term when you start looking for jobs.
You should also tidy up your existing social media accounts. Consider making your profiles private or deleting anything old and cringeworthy that’s in the public eye. Even though your university may not view your accounts, your future classmates might. Your fellow students at the postgraduate level could become business networks for life, and your social media profile may be their first impression of you. Make sure it’s the one you want them to have!
7. Prepare your finances
Preparing your finances early is an important pre-course task. Managing your money may be something that you’ve already learned in life or during your undergraduate degree. But it’s important to know that student loans for postgraduate study are unique. The funding you receive likely won’t cover your expenses or even the full cost of your course.
That’s why it is especially important that you prepare your finances in advance. Creating a budget for the year ahead will help you map your planned expenditure vs your projected income. If there is a shortfall, the best time to look for additional funding opportunities is several months before your course start date. Some funders will have their applications open right up until you start your course, but it’s always better to apply as soon as possible to avoid disappointment.
8. Build your CV
Your postgraduate study will be an intense period. Updating your CV from scratch is not something you will want to do at the very end of your study period when final deadlines are approaching. By having a fully up-to-date CV before you start your postgraduate study, you will be more prepared for job hunting at year-end.
In addition, updating your CV before you start your course will help you quickly identify what you need to do during the year to grow your professional experience. To make your life easier, take advantage of your university’s career service. They can give you advice on CV building and tips on what you need to focus on. This will help ensure that your professional profile is in the best shape for prospective employers at the end of your postgraduate study.
Interested in learning how to prepare for a Master's degree?
Hopefully, this post has given you the tips you need on how to prepare for postgraduate study.
If you are interested in learning more about postgraduate study, check out our advice on what to expect when studying for a Masters in London or read our tips on how to write a personal statement to apply for a Master’s degree.
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