Career AdviceCareer Advice - Master's Students

Completing a master’s degree: What’s next? How to devise a plan for the future

Nearing the end of a master’s programme comes with big life decisions. What’s next? After spending several years in higher education, this question can be challenging. Nonetheless, having a plan for the future is crucial. A list of concrete questions to answer, actions to take, and decisions to make helps you to devise such a plan.


Why the question ‘What’s next?’ can be difficult for master’s students

For many master’s students, the question ‘What’s next?’ creates an immediate stress response. Especially if they are unsure about what they want to do next.

However, even if master’s students have clear goals, they are often unsure whether they can accomplish these goals in the near future. Maybe they have a dream job in mind. But what happens if they don’t manage to secure this position?

Master’s students often feel pressure to have everything figured out by the time they graduate. The question ‘What’s next?’ asks them for certainty in an incredibly uncertain time.

Pressure and expectations from family or friends can even paralyse master’s students. If they feel too overwhelmed to make (what feels like) life-altering decisions, it is easier to procrastinate and not even think about it at all.

What is important to know if you find yourself in a situation like that is that it is completely normal. It is normal to be unsure of what you want to do.

Just know that whatever decision you ultimately make, does not set your future in stone. It is okay to try and test out things and to change or adapt your plans when necessary.

You may also like: Ten reasons NOT to pursue an academic career

Questions to ask yourself to devise a plan for after your master’s degree

While acknowledging that plans can always change, having a plan or several plans in mind provides master’s students with peace of mind.

If you are a master’s student looking to create a plan for your future, you need to ask yourself several fundamental questions:

  • Where do my interests lie? Even though master’s degrees are often more specialised than bachelor’s degrees, they tend to provide knowledge on a wide range of topics. Furthermore, many master’s degrees do not lead to a clear professional career path. Think about the fields, issues and questions that fascinate you the most in your education.
  • What are my strengths and weaknesses? Interests are one thing, and skills are another. Chances are high that you are looking for employment when you near the completion of your master’s degree. Therefore, it makes sense to honestly review your strengths and weaknesses and think about how they could match a specific professional profile. For example, if you struggle with public speaking, you should probably not start a job that requires you to give talks in front of large audiences without any prior practice.
  • What work environment fits best with my personality? Personalities differ, and work environments differ. Think about this carefully. For instance, if you thrive during group work or when collaborating with others, a work environment where you work mostly independently instead of as part of a team may be ill-suited for you.
  • Where would I like to live? When looking for a job post-graduation, too many options lead to stress and anxiety. Where to even start?! This is also called the paradox of choice! Having a city, region or even country in mind can help to narrow down your job search.
  • What does my financial situation look like? Devising a future plan for after your master’s degree requires you to be realistic about your financial situation. The financial support that many students receive will end when they graduate. So think about how much money you need to cover your living costs, and what options your financial situation allows for. For example, if you know that you will have very limited financial means after graduation, moving to central London and only then starting to look for a job may not be the smartest course of action.

After covering the fundamentals of your wants and needs, you should additionally reflect on several strategic questions:

  • Are there entry-level opportunities in the field or industry that I am interested in?
  • With my skills and knowledge, do I have a realistic chance to secure a job in the field that I am interested in?
  • Are there opportunities that meet my skills and interests in, or near, my preferred living location?
  • What compromises am I willing to make?

Actions to take when you are nearing the end of your master’s degree

No plan has ever been made passively. During your master’s degree, but particularly toward the end of it, make sure to take action.

Taking action is crucial to devise a plan for what to do after a master’s degree. Especially if you are unsure what to do, you should attend job information sessions and networking events, talk to different people, explore job portals and revamp your online presence.

Many universities organise job fairs or invite recruiters once in a while. Companies also organise these types of events themselves. Even if you think a specific presentation or industry is not for you, why not just check it out anyways? Learning more and talking with people is the best way to become aware of new opportunities.

Talking to your professors and asking them for advice can also be a good strategy. Your professors and lecturers often taught several generations of students following the same master’s degree, and they often know where former students ended up after their graduation.

Similarly, you can do your own research on LinkedIn to see where graduates from your programme now work. If you are interested to learn more about their trajectory, just send a friendly message and they may even be willing to meet you for a chat.

Additionally, in preparation for potential job applications, spend some time updating your own LinkedIn profile. For instance, by developing an effective LinkedIn headline.

And lastly, if you come across an interesting job opportunity and think it may be a long shot to apply, do it anyways. You will learn so much just by going through the process of writing a motivation letter, updating your CV, etcetera. It is definitely worth the time investment, even if you don’t land that specific job.

Decisions to make when devising your future after the completion of your master’s degree

Based on your answers to the fundamental and strategic questions, and your actions taken in the months or weeks leading up to your master’s graduation, it’s time to make some tough decisions.

The first decision is on your priorities and the order of different plans. This means, create a plan A, B, and even C or D:

  • Plan A could be, for instance, to apply for entry-level marketing jobs in New York while temporarily moving back home to your parents to save money on rent.
  • Plan B could be to apply for entry-level marketing jobs in other cities if you don’t manage to secure a job in your dream city New York.
  • Plan C could be to find a marketing internship or traineeship if you don’t manage to secure an entry-level position due to a lack of work experience.

The second decision you need to make is the time you give yourself to try and implement your different plans. Often, this is very much related to your financial situation.

Even if your plan does ultimately not work out in its entirety, having these options and timelines in mind can give you a sense of security and direction. Goals are usually not achieved without having any plans in mind.

And always remember: You can always change directions, even after a master’s degree. Maybe you start in the private sector, don’t like it and switch to the public sector after a year. The key is to gain different experiences and to put yourself out there.

Every path leads us somewhere in life. Good luck on yours!

Master Academia

Hello, I'm Master Academia, a tenured professor dedicated to guiding individuals through their academic journey. With experience and insights from studying and working across different academic systems, I currently work full-time at a university in Western Europe. Recognizing the impact of unspoken rules in academia, I founded Master Academia to make academic knowledge more accessible to all.

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