To research, or not to research?
A) Research courses
Classes are minimal on this type of course as it focuses more on the research you carry out and the product of that research, namely your thesis. You can expect many hours of independent study on your area of focus with regular check-ins with your supervisor.
Some research-based programmes require students to produce scholarly articles for publication in academic journals as part of their degree. You may also have to defend your thesis before a board in a presentation at the end of your studies. This ceremony is known as the viva voce, although it is usually more common in more advanced postgraduate degrees such as doctorates.
B) Taught courses
This form of study is likely to be more familiar to those who have already undertaken a typical undergraduate degree. Learning is delivered by lecturers and tutors at lectures and seminars, either face-to-face or online. You will be assessed through examinations, coursework (assignments, reports, projects, presentations, etc) or both.
Taught courses are a better option for those who are less inclined towards research and producing a thesis as a result of their postgraduate study. However, some courses do require the submission of a final-year paper or short dissertation – it’s important to compare assessment methods when choosing a course to pick what’s right for you.
Studying full-time or alongside work?
A) Full-time study
Your lectures, seminars and contact with members of the faculty will take place during the day on weekdays. This is a great choice if you want to immerse yourself fully into student life and the academic environment. In many ways, it’s much less stressful than a part-time degree as you won’t have classes in the evenings or for long stretches on the weekend. However, because you won’t be able to pursue a degree full-time while holding a full-time job, selecting this route of study requires more financial consideration on your part.
B) Part-time study
This mode of study is usually for those who want to pursue their studies alongside their full-time jobs. Classes are held on weekday evenings or the weekend so they don’t clash with normal working hours. Although studying part-time allows you to gain a postgraduate degree without giving up your source of income, bear in mind that it usually takes twice as long to complete compared to a full-time course and requires much sacrifice of your personal time.
Will I be attending classes in person or online?
Any classes or interactions with your supervisors will take place in person on the physical campus of your university. Despite the convenience of distance learning, many still perceive the unique benefits of face-to-face contact with lecturers and peers. You will also get to make full use of the campus facilities, which is particularly important if you need to spend all your time in the library or in a laboratory. As you need to be physically present at the university campus for this type of course, you’ll have to factor geographical logistics such as transport and accommodation into your considerations.
B) Distance learning
Also known as online learning or e-learning, this allows you to access to learning materials, listen to pre-recorded lectures and contact your lecturers or supervisors all over the Internet. This could be done according to a timeline scheduled by the course provider or in a more open-learning fashion at the student’s own pace. In a way, distance learning courses are essentially part-time courses done through the Internet. It also offers the advantage of having access to courses and professors not available locally and the highest amount of flexibility for working adults.