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Saturday26 July 2014

Dear Matthew: "Is an MA a good investment?"

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BD’s agony uncle on how to weigh up the worth of embarking on a master’s course

Q: I am an architect and have become increasingly interested in city scale issues, and want to move my career in that direction. There are master’s courses out there that look brilliant. But the costs of the course and loss of earnings would be huge, and I would need to borrow a lot. Is an MA a good investment?

Matthew Turner

A: We have had it drummed into us for years that more education is a sure-fire way to improve ourselves, move on and succeed in our careers.

It’s great you have this interest, as study should ideally be undertaken because you are passionate about the subject. But with the rising costs of higher education, unless you are a rich kid, most people need to know it is actually helping their career. So that is where I sound a note of caution.

Universities are in the business of selling places on courses, and offering courses that appeal to the interests of students. The realms of architecture and urbanism are fertile ground for appealing-sounding master’s courses. But there is a gulf between what many of these promise and what they actually deliver in terms of career progression.

I say this from experience of recruiting. A few years ago, when I worked for an organis-ation that had a high profile in urban issues and policy making, we would be inundated with applicants who had wonderful postgraduate degrees from respected courses, even for a job that was not about formul-ating policies but administration (where tasks might be printing name badges for an event).

We all start somewhere, but this job would in no way deliver the intellectual payback on the tens of thousands of pounds spent on their education. Even before the recession, clearly there simply weren’t sufficient openings for the subject area the applicants had acquired.

So, to answer your question, I don’t want to dissuade you from pursuing knowledge, but I would suggest thinking very carefully before investing thousands in a master’s with the assumption that it will deliver career progression. Do your homework; don’t rely on the assurances of prospectuses that claim the course sets you up for a certain career. Be very wary of courses that offer high interest but hazy detail on the real work outcomes.

As an architect, you already have a professional qualification — there are perhaps other, less expensive, options to develop without getting into debt. With the changes to localism and the opportunities for community action, you could approach your interests through grass-roots city making, or local politics.

Architect Matthew Turner of buildingonarchitecture.com has worked at a range of offices as well as being a client adviser, project manager and competition juror.

DO YOU HAVE A QUESTION? email dearmatthew@ubm.com

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Readers' comments (4)

  • Go ahead! Study the bloody course, Borrow the money if need be. there is absolutley no need to be risk averse here.What you would be learning is being dumoed in your brain and is yours till you croak. Chose a good school like the Royal college or equivalent abroad, Don't spend a dime on third rate schools, the reason is that the schools helps make decent connections. Choose a school with tons of rich foreigners, because those cats will eventually go home and are usually quite connected on their various countries, Forget the UK if you want to be really well paid. Would not waste my time studying oure design though, as it is just a tedious business, try something in management. You are already a designer anyway, all I suspect you really want is a serious source of income while practicing your 'hobby'. Most famous designers as you know are borderline wretched relative to their peers in other equivalent educated professions. But for the love of your art and supposed investment in Architecture thus far. if you must continue dreaming, it;s all good, but try and combine it with an intensive foreign language program like Mandarin,cantonese, spanish, Portuguese,Punjabi or Russian,

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  • zecks_marquise

    Studying architecture isn't a good investment.

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  • I'd learn by doing. I'm not convinced an MA is needed, even though some places pay higher wages if you have one for some reason. I know people far more successful than me in their careers who never went to university.

    I'd do what the author suggests and try actually doing some of these things at a local scale. That's more impressive on the CV than having done things from a theoretical perspective in a classroom.

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  • It adds credibility and as they say knowledge is power, as it adds to your confidence in offering excellent solutions for clients.

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