Considering an MA? We quiz UAL tutors on the big questions to ask yourself first

University of the Arts London is home to Europe’s largest postgraduate arts and design community, so they should know.

Date
23 March 2020
Reading Time
5 minute read

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Whether you’ve finished your BA and you feel like you’re just getting started, or a few years in the world of work has you yearning to expand your own practice again, postgraduate study could be just what you’re looking for. Offering freedom, self-initiated research with valuable feedback from professionals in your field, and a plug-in to an invaluable network of peers, a postgrad could be the next step in defining your practice. 

University of the Arts London (UAL) is a core hub for postgraduate study, offering over 100 courses (from graduate diplomas to MAs, MBAs, MScs and more) in six Colleges across art, design, fashion, screen, media, communication and the performing arts. With 2,400 students, it’s home to a huge postgraduate arts and design community, offering students a chance to diversify their thinking and practice by working collaboratively. And it all happens in London, a creative hub with countless professional and cultural opportunities on your doorstep, at a university recently named second in the world for art and design on the QS World University Rankings 2020.

But choosing whether to take up postgraduate study is a big fork in the road with lots of decisions to consider: not only how much it costs, where to go and what to study, but also why, and where that particular path might lead. To help you make an informed decision, we quizzed two tutors from UAL – programme director David Sims and director of international development Wendy Anderson – on the big questions, and the more practical ones too.

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UAL: Diamond Nuchjalearn, MA Fine Art: Drawing

INT: Should I continue studying what I’ve already been studying, or add another string to my bow? 

This is a key point to consider. You may have been studying on a more general BA, such as Graphic Design, and specialised in a particular subject or technical area. In this case, you might wish to pursue this niche further at MA level. If you want to gain more in-depth knowledge and carry out research into your existing subject, then continuing in the same related field makes sense. Many current applicants are looking to add to what they already know at postgraduate level, others want to move in another direction. Sometimes this means your portfolio and application doesn’t necessarily have what we are looking for at master’s level, and for this we offer Graduate Diplomas in various subjects. These are often intended specifically to help applicants move into another subject specialism.

INT: Do I need to choose a particular aspect of my work to develop? Are some courses more open-ended than others?

At postgraduate level, we are looking for a thread of development in the work and ideas, and a clear indication of what aspect of your work and what area of research and development you wish to pursue. This helps us understand how you and your work will be able to develop once you are on the course. 

INT: Why do students choose to do a postgraduate course?

Because we are a creative art and design university, most students are looking to be part of an inspiring community which will allow them to challenge what they already know and engage with new, exciting ideas. We are very keen for our postgraduate community to link up with industry and the wider creative communities, both in London and internationally. The benefits are being part of a course and its community, which builds you a whole new set of friends, contacts and networks.

Most MAs take an integrated approach to theory and practice in the pursuit of knowledge. It’s not necessarily vocational, but there are certain key skills that are developed, such as critical thinking and creative methodologies that can be applied to the world of work once you’ve graduated.

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UAL: Francesca Tingcungco, MA Theatre Design

INT: How does an MA differ from a BA, day-to-day? 

An MA is about building your own research and development. It is about testing and prototyping, setting your own briefs and creating your own research questions. Contact hours are fewer than on an undergraduate course, and you will work more independently. Research is key to developing your work in both a practical and written format. 

INT: How do I know if a course is going to suit me?

Go to an open day, talk to staff and students, and get a feel for the College and the course too. A good indication of whether it’s right for you can also be when you’re interviewed. As well as the academic asking you questions, you also have a great opportunity to ask them questions about the course.

INT: What questions should I ask myself to decide what course is right?

It’s good to really investigate the courses, as we are made up of six Colleges and there are clear crossovers between courses at different Colleges. Look online and read the course descriptions, research the academic team who teach on the course, and see what their backgrounds are: this could be a very important reason why you wish to study at a particular College or course. If possible, visit the College to get an understanding of the environment.

Look at the length of the course along with the costs, fees and living expenses. UAL offers 150 UK/EU Postgraduate Scholarships of £5,000 in fee waivers to home and EU applicants. Also think about where the course might lead – many UAL postgraduates have gone on to extraordinary achievements, winning Oscars and the Turner Prize, while others have founded their own design studios and fashion labels, and collaborated with major global brands. Your peers will go on to be leaders in their fields, which makes for invaluable connections in the future.

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UAL: Rochelle Saunders, MA Arts and Cultural Enterprise

Postgraduate study is about so much more than academia; it’s also about the creative networks and friends you make around you. UAL’s Post-Grad Community platform provides access to cross-College and cross-disciplinary events and networking opportunities for postgraduate students at UAL, along with various project funds you can apply to.

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UAL: Maja Quille: MA Fine Art Drawing

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UAL: Anna Tsuda, MSc Creative Computing

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