Should I apply for a Master's degree?

Should I apply for a Master's degree?

After completing their Bachelor's degree in computer science, many students face the decision between leaving their university for good or applying for a Master program. This article summarizes my personal opinion and experience and might help You to make this decision.

During the end of my Bachelor program I was not sure if enrolling in the Master program and staying at the University for another two years was the right choice for me. There were a lot of lectures and seminars I did not like during my time as a Bachelor student and I often had the feeling, that I learned a lot more through personal and professional projects compared to the mostly theoretical lectures. My first priority and instinct was to finally get started and apply the theoretical knowledge in practice, before it was all lost.

Fortunately, a number of people advised and persuaded me to stay at the University for a while, before finally moving to the industry. I am very happy that I did, though I still think, that this a very personal decision, that highly dependents on the individual circumstances. Still I want to share my personal perspective and experience as I think, that many computer science students will end up in a similar situation like me. So please just take this as one of many inputs and make up your own mind! I highly recommend to gather as many different opinions as possible, before making such big decision. I urge you to talk to your professors, tutors and fellow students if you are not sure, what might be the right decision for you. When you get very mixed opinions you should trust you instincts or at least "try out" the master program for some time.

As already mentioned, I was not sure, if I should stay at the university for another two years. For a long time I had the strong opinion, that a lot of the lectures at our university were too theoretical and of little practical value when you wanted to follow a professional career in the industry (e.g. become a software developer). Learning mathematics, theoretical and technical informatics initially had very little impact on the way that I developed software and such "programming skills" were most important to me at that time. This opinion was very popular amongst my fellow students and many left our university after receiving their Bachelor degree to start a job in the industry. Surprisingly many alumni of my class had very little practical experience in software development, as they merely completed the required tasks within their courses and showed no further interest in computer science at all. This alone made me wonder, if an academic program was worth the time it takes to complete. So I asked myself why I should spend another two years on lectures, that did not interest me, seemed to had very little practical value and could be completed by people, that were not even interested in computer science at all.

Lucky for me, I got a job at our university a few month before completing my Bachelor program. In this new environment I quickly learned from my colleagues, that many of the theoretical knowledge taught in the most boring lectures can indeed be applied in practice to achieve far better results from a software engineering perspective. As I was now surrounded by PhD students who were far more interested in computer science than most of my fellow Bachelor students, I quickly learned to connect the dots and quickly grow as a professional (not only as a software developer). Many of my colleagues acted as mentors to me and I was very surprised how much my own opinion was valued in discussions even though I was far younger and less experienced than most of them. In the end, this environment was probably the most important factor, that persuaded me to stay a little bit longer, focus on the final semesters of my Bachelor program and at least "try out" the Master program.

This proved to be the right decision very soon as most of my problems with the Bachelor program had magically disappeared, which resulted in the best two years of my life (so far). For me the people made all the difference. The Universität zu Lübeck is rather small, so we were only about 20 new Master students (one third of the number of new Bachelor students) and everyone was very interested and personally engaged in different topics and aspects of computer science. As I studied media informatics we had a lot of UX Designers and Front-End Developers on board, but even a number of Back-End Developers. Most importantly: The people showed genuine interest in what they were doing, what their fellow students were doing and how they could grow personally and professionally over the next two years and beyond. This was very noticeable through high course attendance rates, the quantity and quality of discussions within courses and the productivity within our semester long projects. These two years changed my opinion on studying completely. In the end, I feel much better suited for a professional career in computer science than ever before and don't regret my decision at all!

Of course, this is a very personal experience and might be very different for you. When you are not sure if a Master program is right for you, you might just be in the wrong program (or) at the wrong university and if you can't wait to get started in the industry and the study contents sound very boring to you, your instincts can be right. Still you should talk to others to gain as many different insights as possible, before finally making an informed decision. Most people today are very young when they receive their Bachelor degree and will work for many decades of their life. Staying two more years at the university won't limit your chances at having a successful career in computer science and might even open the doors towards exciting new opportunities. Maybe you start wondering yourself if you should pursue an academic career after your Master... who knows?

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