A Master Guide to applying for master’s degrees

How to sell your skills from the OU as you move on to postgrad study.

If you’re like me, the thought of continuing your studies post-OU is exciting but also daunting.

Where do you start? What are applications like? And, if you’re thinking about continuing your studies at a brick-and-mortar university, how can you use your distance-learning experience to your advantage?

Having been through the application process and offered places at two highly-regarded, brick-and-mortar universities this past winter, I’m here to offer advice on mastering your Master’s applications. Let’s start with continuing your studies at the OU.

Postgraduate Studies at the OU

Although I did not apply to the Open University myself, the postgraduate page on their website is packed with useful information. Simply find your desired programme on their A-Z list or search for it yourself. Then, you’ll be taken to a page where you can view course details, entry requirements, and tuition fees. 

Applying for your place is fairly straightforward. According to the How to apply section, you must:

  1. Choose your qualification.
  2. Select your first module and review the entry requirements.
  3. Register for your module online.
  4. Pay.
  5. Send evidence to confirm you meet the entry requirements.

The application process for brick-and-mortar universities is a bit different. In addition to transcripts, they usually require a personal statement, and, at times, a writing sample. If you haven’t already finished your undergraduate degree, they will likely make you a conditional offer if you are accepted (but more on that later!).

Brick-and-Mortar Universities: The Personal Statement

The best way you can set yourself apart from other candidates is through your personal statement. So, what do you write?

Although everyone’s personal statement will take a slightly different shape based on their interests and experience, it is important that you include the following information:

  1. Why do you want to study at this particular university?
  2. Why do you want to study your programme of choice?
  3. How has your prior academic and work experience prepared you for this programme?
  4. What do you hope to learn from this programme, and how will it help you achieve your future goals?
  5. What sets you apart from other candidates? What can you bring to the university? Is it your international background? Your resilience? Your leadership skills? Keep in mind that most applicants will meet the minimum entry requirements, so, while good marks are a plus, they will not necessarily distinguish you from the pool of other candidates.

To make your personal statement less manufactured and more, well, personal, don’t merely tick the boxes above. Try to answer these questions while telling a story. Take the assessment board on a journey through your experiences. Remain clear, concise, and structured, but get a little creative and let your voice shine through.

As an OU student, in particular, it may also be useful to comment on:

  1. How distance-learning has given you the skills to take on in-person learning
  2. Why you want to make the switch from distance-learning to a more "traditional" university experience

Remember, you want to focus on why their university is the best step forward for you, but you also want to make sure to really sell The Open University for what it is, rather than criticise it.

Some aspects you may wish to highlight about the OU are:

  1. How it has developed your self-motivational skills
  2. How it has enhanced your time-management
  3. How it fostered collaboration through group assignments and feedback-giving/receiving
  4. How it asked you to complete a variety of assessments that built different skills relevant to your chosen career path
  5. How it allowed you to pursue other activities alongside your studies (such as work or volunteer opportunities)
Brick-and-Mortar Universities: Writing Samples

In terms of writing samples, some (but not all) universities like to see these. Even if the university you are applying to does not require one but gives you the option to upload a “miscellaneous” document, a writing sample could fit well here.

I would recommend choosing an academic piece that is relevant to the subject you want to study. Be sure to pick one that shows off your knowledge of the field and highlights your critical thinking skills. If you received feedback from your tutor on how the piece could be improved, consider making the suggested amendments and submitting the new version instead. There is usually a word limit for writing samples, so if your chosen piece is too long, consider submitting an excerpt or choosing a shorter one that meets the same criteria.

Brick-and-Mortar Universities: Receiving an Offer

If you are successful in your application, you will either receive an unconditional or a conditional offer of admission. Unconditional offers are usually for students who have already graduated from their undergraduate programme and do not need to fulfill any additional requirements in order to start their postgraduate studies. Conditional offers, however, mean that you have to achieve certain marks in your degree in order to enroll in your postgraduate course.

For example, both offers I received to study at the postgraduate level were conditional. I accepted one of these offers, and if I fulfill its conditions, I can enroll in my programme. If I don’t, however, I risk not being able to attend the university.

If you do not meet your conditions, a call to the university won’t hurt. Sometimes (not always), universities will still let you study with them depending on 1) how close you were to meeting the conditions, and 2) competition for spots in your selected programme.

All things considered, applying for Master’s degrees can be stressful – but also exciting. While this is by no means and exhaustive guide to the application process, and I am no expert, I hope this article helped you start thinking about how to approach your postgraduate study applications.

Best of luck!

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Katelyn Owens


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