5 things you should know before applying for a master's degree

STUDENT SUCCESS

In the second of a two-part series, learn about 5 things you should consider before deciding which type of master's program (thesis or non-thesis) is for you

If you are considering applying for a master’s degree, you have probably come across the two main types of master’s degrees offered at most European, Canadian and American universities - thesis (research-based) and non-thesis (taught, professional, or coursework-based) master’s degrees. If you have not, please click here to read part one of this series. 

Even if you have picked which type of master’s degree you prefer to apply for (or if the university you are applying to has only one type of master's program), you may still have many questions about how to apply, the skills you need to apply for each, and what it means for your future career. We caught up with Dr. Josephine Nalbantoglu, Dean of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies at McGill University, who helped to clarify some questions and misconceptions around applying for a thesis vs non-thesis master’s degree. 

Here are 5 things you should consider before deciding which type of master’s degree you should pursue.  

1. Every university and department is different and can have different models of the thesis and non-thesis programs, so make sure you do your research and apply to the program that is the best fit for you.  
The application requirements differ from one university to another, but also from one department to another within the same university. If you want to make sure you choose the path that fits your interests, we recommend you start doing your research well in advance by visiting the university websites, contacting admission offices, or asking your professors for advice.  

2. If you are applying for a thesis master's degree, you don’t need to have research experience. 
Although having experience conducting research is preferable, it is not a prerequisite to enrolling in and succeeding in a thesis-based master’s degree. What matters most is your interest in the field you are applying for as you will be focusing on a specific topic in depth as part of our research. Make sure you really enjoy reading and writing as well because you will be doing that extensively.  

3. For  both types of master’s programs, you don’t need to have a clear plan of what you want to research or focus your coursework on. 
What is important is to know what you are passionate about and to be motivated to study this subject more deeply. It is the role of your supervisor and/or advisor to help you choose a suitable topic to study, based on your interests and skills.   

4. You can still pursue a PhD after doing a non-thesis master's degree.
Contrary to popular belief, the thesis master’s degree is not the only path to doctoral studies and the world of academia. Although there are a few exceptions, you can enrol in many PhD programs after completing a non-thesis master’s degree. But before you start applying, make sure you check the requirements of the specific universities you are interested in.  

5. Employers value both research and taught master's degrees, but depending on the job and career you wish to pursue in the future, you will need to decide which one is a better fit for you.  
Although both types of master’s degrees demonstrate your seriousness and your commitment to your field of specialization to a potential employer, they serve different purposes and will teach you different skills. If you wish to pursue an academic career or one in research and development, a thesis master’s is probably the best option for you. If you are seeking to master different aspects of your field to help you prepare for a career in industry, you might want to consider a non-thesis master’s degree.  

While you are not expected to have a clear career plan in mind at this stage, knowing where you want to be in the future and what your interests are will help you make the right decisions.    

If you haven't yet, read part 1 of this series on how to choose between a thesis and a non-thesis master's degree here

Interested to hear more about this topic? Watch our interview with Dean Nalbantoglu here

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