How to choose a master's program

June 27, 2024 •

6 min reading

How to choose a master's program: 7 tips for success

Written by

Whether you’ve completed an undergraduate degree and want to continue studying or you’re a seasoned professional doing a master's program to develop your career, there’s plenty to think about. For example, what accreditations should you look for, how will you structure your graduate degree program around your existing commitments, and what universities have the best links with employers in your industry?

In this article, we examine the factors to consider when choosing the right master's degree. There are no shortcuts in this process. However, by conducting thorough research, you can ensure the program ticks all the relevant boxes and delivers an excellent overall experience. This empowers you to make an informed decision that aligns with your career goals and aspirations.


Seven factors to consider when choosing a master's program

1. Your career prospects

The first thing to consider is: Why do you want to pursue a master's degree? Is it necessary to accelerate your progress or help you break into your intended career? In general, studies have shown that people who have a master’s degree earn 23% more than those who have only a bachelor’s. This increased earning potential can open up new doors and opportunities for career advancement, making it worth investigating to find the right program for your career path.

Certain careers require a master's degree for entry. Most jobs in education require some form of postgraduate qualification, and some managerial roles are only accessible to those with a master's.

Legal professionals such as solicitors, lawyers, and barristers must also complete a specialist postgraduate course in a specific area of law, although it doesn’t necessarily have to be a master's.

If you have a particular employer in mind, it’s well worth contacting them to ask what qualifications they look for in applicants and whether a master's will enhance your chances. Looking at job adverts for your intended career and the employability rate on the courses you are considering will also give you an idea of how a master's could enhance your career.

2. Accreditations

When choosing a master's program, it is important to look for specific accreditations, certifications, and memberships to ensure the program meets high-quality standards. These markers of quality ensure that your degree will be recognized and considered credible by employers, academic institutions, and government agencies.

Institutional accreditation applies to the entire university. It uses self-review or self-reporting by the university, combined with audits by a country’s national or regional accrediting body (such as NECHE, which accredits EHL Hospitality Business School). Other key accreditations include AACSB (Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business) for business programs, ABET (Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology) for engineering programs, and APA (American Psychological Association) for psychology programs.

Programmatic or program-specific accreditation applies only to specific educational programs. This is a form of third-party accreditation, which means that a program is delivered by an institution but established and recognized by an external institution or association. Some professions, such as nursing, dentistry, engineering, and psychology, require programs to be certified by specialized accreditation agencies.

Memberships: Educational institutions may join councils, foundations, and other types of educational and business associations that confer membership to parties that share their vision and standards for excellence in education. Examples of such memberships include the AACSB and the EMFD. Furthermore, membership in professional organizations related to the field of study can indicate that the program aligns with industry standards and best practices.

Certification & Partnerships: Additionally, institutions may establish partnerships or certifications through partner universities or professional associations to enhance the content or recognition of the program. For example, certifications such as PMP (Project Management Professional) for project management programs and SHRM-CP (Society for Human Resource Management Certified Professional) for HR programs can add value to the master's degree.

If you have any doubts or need more examples, check out this guide to accreditation for master’s degree students.

EHL Degree Programs  Which Master in Hospitality is right for you?  Discover which Master in Hospitality at EHL fits you best. It will only take  the time it would to make yourself a coffee  Start the quiz

3. Taught or research-based

Something else to consider is whether your course is a taught or research-based program. Both will typically take one to two years to complete, but the way that learning is structured is very different.

In a taught master’s program, you’ll follow a similar studying method to your undergraduate degree, with core and optional mobiles delivered via lectures, tutorials, and workshops. On the other hand, a research-based program allows you to immerse yourself in an independent research project and has far fewer timetabled hours.

When making your decision, think about the profession you want to enter. Generally, a taught master's program with a focus on practical skills and knowledge may be more appealing to employers in industries such as business, engineering, or healthcare, where specific skill sets are highly valued. On the other hand, research-based master's programs may be better suited for individuals pursuing academic careers, scientific research, or roles requiring advanced research and analytical skills.

In some cases, having a research-based master's degree can demonstrate a strong aptitude for independent thinking, problem-solving, and deep subject matter expertise, which may be desirable for specific roles and industries. Additionally, in fields where advanced research and development are crucial, such as technology and innovation, a research-based master's program could provide a competitive edge in securing certain positions.

Ultimately, the career outcomes between taught and research-based master's programs depend on the specific industry, job requirements, and individual career goals, so it's essential that you carefully consider your professional aspirations when choosing the type of master's program to pursue.

You should also consider your preferred method of study. If you like working alone and enjoyed writing your dissertation as an undergraduate, a research program could be for you. Alternatively, a taught program will be more suitable if you want to attend lectures and seminars and learn from others.

4. Industry links

Something that can impact your career prospects is the university or graduate school’s links with the industry you want to go into. Work placements and internships are vital parts of many master's programs as they allow you to gain real-world experience and get your foot in the door.

In addition to industry placements, many programs host guest lectures and workshops with industry professionals. These invaluable opportunities not only allow you to gain real-world experience but also reassure you that the program is relevant and practical. They enable you to start building your professional network and learn from those putting the theory into practice in the real world.

Career and personal development are also essential components of a master’s degree experience, even though these elements may not be part of the core program. Look for student support services, mentorship opportunities, recruitment platforms, alumni involvement, and other activities that will broaden your professional circle and give you the guidance you need to succeed in your next career steps.

5. Flexibility and program structure

A master's program typically takes one year to complete full-time or two years part-time. If you work full-time or have other ongoing commitments, you’ll usually be better suited to part-time study. While full-time courses are taught from 9 am to 6 pm during the week, part-time classes are generally in the evenings or on the weekends so students can combine their work and study.

You must also decide whether an on-campus, hybrid, or online-only course makes more sense. Online courses involve the same amount of work but reduce your travel time and give you more freedom to choose your university or school if you’re tied to a particular location.

6. Location

The location of the program is another major consideration. The prestige of the university or school and its reputation in your subject can impact your professional prospects. You must also consider practical aspects, such as living and travel expenses. Tuition fees vary by course and university, with some programs costing significantly more than others.

Your choice will also depend on your individual preferences and lifestyle priorities. You may want to stay at or return to your undergraduate university, change scenery, or even consider studying abroad. Some establishments don’t accommodate master's students, so that’s another consideration.

7. The finer details

Once you’ve narrowed down your search, you can start to look into the details of the program and, importantly, the entry requirements. You’ll typically need certain academic qualifications, but it’s not necessarily the end if you don’t. Many institutions are flexible and may accept professional experience instead.

You should look at details like the number of contact hours with your teachers, the availability of IT and library services, and the size of your cohort. If one course costs significantly more than another but has fewer hours of teaching support, you need to ask why. Equally, if the student-to-teacher ratio is exceptionally high, that’s not usually a good sign.

MBA in Hospitality  Apply new strategies and tools in the workplace  Designed to accommodate busy hospitality professionals, our MBA in hospitality  is delivered 80% online  Discover

Take your time

Choosing the right master’s program is not something you should rush. It requires careful thought and plenty of research into everything from accreditations and your career prospects to the flexibility and structure of the course. Keeping your professional ambitions in mind throughout the process and discussing your decision with family and friends will help you settle on the best option.

If you’re interested in pursuing a master's degree in hospitality: