Applying to any Masters’ programme is akin to running for President of the United States.

I would compare this to the elections in my own country but the UK literally has the most boring politics in the world…apart from question time, that stuff is gold.

BACK to the point at hand.


masters degree


Applying for a Masters is worse than applying for a job because not only do you have to provide all the documents and know-how of a professional human being (CV, reference letters, impossibly high email writing skills…) you also have to supply all the academic crap to go with it.

And then of course, one cannot forget the vital documents to prove that you are indeed who you claim you are and not some North Korean spy! This includes, but is not limited to: passport, birth certificate, tax returns, parents’ tax returns, visa, work permit, existence permit, health certificate, grandfather’s immigration papers to the new world…the list is endless!

You will also have to arm yourself with a slick team of experts from different fields of expertise to get through this challenging and sometimes soul-destroying time of your life. This is where it begins to look a lot like the Presidential campaigns of our cousins across the pond (the other pond, I’m in China).

Right, first of all you need two or more bases to work from. I had the office where I’m an intern, which boasts fast internet connection, printers, photocopiers and is placed smack bang in the centre of town near photo places and other such useful places. I also had two back-up offices in the form of English Trackers headquarters (hey girl!) and office who both provided comfort and emergency printing when my office run out of ink. The university you are applying to will not care that your personal printer ran out of ink – they will rejoice at having one less application to sift through.

Once you’ve got your base sorted you will need three groups of people. A wonderful and patiently devoted person to support you and give you cash when work haven’t paid you yet and your UK bank has blocked your card again thinking it was stolen (get the message Natwest, I live here!). It helps if this person is a family member that is older than you as they have eternal wisdom and you can get more last-minute favours out of them.

You will then need entry level proof readers. If you have friends your own age-ish that are in Higher Education, went to uni with you, or at least know the system; this is the time to woo them. Get them involved by talking about what they would put in a cover letter. My good friend Sophie actually sent me her application letter and it was perfect to get me started on my own. Knowing she is in one of the leading universities in the UK reassured me that this was a good base to start from. You can ask a lot out of these people as they are your peers, but they can as easily let you down.

Finally, you will need professionals in the field you are applying to as well as experts in education: academics, people who work in the management/selection side of universities. The higher they are in their field of work, the better. The problem here is the feedback from these people is so so crucial that you want to show up on their doorstep and thrust your cover letter in their hands (don’t do that).

Instead, you have to strike a perfect balance of humility and praise because you really can’t afford to lose them if they think you are too pushy. I’m applying for a masters in International Affairs and the second I was about to print the cover letter, the director of a giant think tank in Beijing finally answered my email and gave me comments that changed the entire angle of the letter, for the better obviously. It made me late sending off the application but has probably done wonders in showcasing my strengths.

If you have a large posse and you are simply too busy to waste your own time, it can be advisable to have a gofer that just runs around printing, copying, scanning, making appointments and answering emails. I got through this application without one and was lucky enough to have no work on and so could devote all my office hours to running these errands.

Seven people were directly involved in me getting my application into the post and the staff from three companies were a great indirect help. Overall costs have come to nearly 2,400 RMB (nearly £250). Moral of the story is get that shit done early because you have no idea what will be thrown at you next. There is nothing more stressful than learning 24h before D-Day that you need NOTARISED COPIES from the country your diploma was issued in.

What went wrong for me: my referee didn’t understand the email (that I am not allowed to read), my other referee doesn’t have official headed paper, my high school diploma is locked in a trunk in an attic 12,000 km away from here, the embassy did not specify they need 24h to notarise something, and the embassy charges 315 RMB per notarised copy (I needed four).

I haven’t been accepted yet, but after this post I have probably jinxed it anyway. HAPPY LEARNING.

About the Author: This is a guest post by Allie Pasieka. When not in emotional turmoil over postgraduate applications, Allie kills time working for a French consultancy firm and is head blogger at’s corporate blog . If all goes wrong she will be chained to the blog for all eternity. Hopefully though, a Master’s is on the books for the fall. The longer term plan is to inherit the thriving multinational corporation English Trackers and subtly influence political campaigns to her advantage. At the last AGM, she was quoted as saying: “I would like to keep the company in the family and ensure the strength and legacy of its great founder.”

Photo credit: scholz via photopin cc

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