Wednesday, 23 March 2016

5 Reasons why doing an MA is worth it

My campus in Stockholm
This time last year I was frantically finishing up my application essays, thesis proposal and scholarship application – feeling excitement and nervousness. I’m now six months into my Masters degree in the History and Culture of Fashion at London College of Fashion, University of the Arts London, and am currently doing an Erasmus study exchange programme with Stockholm University, which was both unexpected and unplanned.

Education is expensive, there’s no two ways about it. The fees are prohibitive, the loans restrictive, but what’s even harder is funding your own maintenance. I chose to study a Masters in my home city of London, and spent my first term working two jobs in order to support myself during full-time study. It was pretty exhausting. I have ended up moving back home to cosy suburbia for the last portion of my degree, as I couldn’t afford to pay market rents.  This is a serious barrier for many people dreaming of continuing, or re-entering education.

Saving money in London by biking a 14-mile round trip to uni
A contrast to cycling Lycra - Getting to uni in Stockholm in full snow gear!
It’s my personal opinion that nobody really needs a degree. I’ve always been a staunch advocate for vocational training and apprenticeship programmes, as my experience has been that formal education doesn’t prepare students well for the practical and social realities of the workplace. What it does do, however, is teach you how to think. It gets you questioning the world, how things work, and why they have come to be in a certain way. It exposes you to ideas and practitioners that you’d never have heard of or discovered on your own. And of course, it’s a gateway to the many positions that often don’t recognise qualifications outside of the UK university system.

But despite the stress of deadlines, the engulfing black hole of research, occasional feelings of frustration and even disappointment, I’m happier than I have been in years. A Masters degree is a luxury that most people don’t get to experience – but for me, it was worth saving for 4 years to do. Whilst you certainly don’t need a Masters level qualification for many jobs in the arts, if you were considering it, making some initial enquiries, or just on the fence, here are my reasons why I think it’s worth doing:

1. Shortcut to a career change. This one’s the most obvious: if you already have a bachelor’s degree, a Masters qualification offers the opportunity to specialise further, or do something completely different. And the more years of work- and life-experience you have before starting the Masters, the better it will inform and shape your studies.

Remi questioning the male barbie installation at London College of Fashion
2. Question the status quo. My favourite thing to do. University doesn’t necessarily teach you things, but it teaches you to think. Rather than being spoon-fed ideas, you are encouraged to do most of the learning yourself. Debate is encouraged, in an intelligent and considerate manner (not like that bloke down the pub). 

Intellectually considering Lucy Sparrow's felt sex shop installation in Soho, October 2015

3. Take time for reflection. Studying give you a passport to stand aside from your social and personal life, try on different hats, and work out your own stance on things. We don’t often get time to do this – or we don’t make time for it. With 20 hours or so a week of study, taking time out from your daily life is a requirement. 

One of my research sources - an advertisement from Vogue Paris 1951

4. Make new work. Whether it’s designing the collection you’d always thought about, making a series of sculptures, or (like me) combining postcolonial ‘speaking back’ and globalisation theory with the history of dress, this is a truly unique opportunity to make a contribution in your field. And as it’s a focussed amount of time (sometimes 24 months, but in my case 12 months), you have to stay focussed and keep moving forward.

Getting to see Dior's 1947 Bar suit in real life at the V&A Clothworkers archive.

5. Do new things, meet new people! Lastly, and importantly, university is an amazing networking hub! You will have the opportunity to meet people you would never have encountered, whether it’s one of your classmates, or the author of an inspiring book that may happen to give a guest lecture. You might not make new best friends or business partners, but you will encounter people outside of your normal social circles who will make you think in different ways. I unexpectedly became the first person on my course to do a study exchange abroad, which has fostered links both for me, and between the two institutions. Comparing the two education systems has been really insightful, and I’ve had the additional cultural experience of living in a country I’d never have considered living in before.

Embodying contradiction: looking/feeling extremely frazzled, but secretly loving it, during a stressful month of essay-writing in December.

Though it’s certainly not been all easy, my first 6 months of Masters study has already enriched my life in many ways. Whilst the future is still unclear, and the job market as terrible as ever, I feel more confident in my mind and my choices. I had to make compromises and some sacrifices to study a Masters, which will differ for everybody. I’ll disclose here that I was fortunate to get partial fees funding from scholarships (though I still had to pay several grand!!). But I’ve found that it’s definitely been worth it, and it could be great for you too.

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