Nikolas Knickrehm

4 min read

Should I apply for a Master's degree?

Personal Development

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.

Should I apply for a Master's degree?

At 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 my job and other side projects compared to the mostly theoretical content of the lectures at my university. My first priority and instinct were to finally get started and apply all my new 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 depends 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 at the end of their Bachelor program.

Please only take this as one of many inputs and make up your own mind! I highly recommend asking your professors, tutors, and fellow students for their opinion. They could have great insights into your domain of interest that you might be missing. When you get very mixed opinions and are still not sure you should trust your instincts or at least "try out" the master program for some time (if you are studying in a country where education is actually affordable of course).

As mentioned earlier I was not sure if I should stay at the university for two more 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 want to follow a professional career in the software industry. Learning mathematics, theoretical and technical informatics initially had very little impact on the way that I was developing 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 really spark my interest, seemed to have 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 months before completing my Bachelor program. In this new environment, I quickly learned from my colleagues that most of the theoretical knowledge taught in even the most boring lectures can indeed be applied to solve very practical and common problems achieving far better results from a software engineering perspective. As I was now surrounded by Ph.D. 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 software developer (and also as a person).

Many of my colleagues acted as mentors to me and I was quite 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 in the Master which resulted in the best two years of my life (until that point). For me, the people made all the difference!

The University of L├╝beck is rather small so there were only about 20 new Master students every year (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 in our group but also a number of Back-End Developers.

Most importantly: The people showed genuine interest in what they and 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 before and don't regret my decision at all!

Of course, this is a very personal experience that 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 and/or at the wrong university. 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 at the university for two more years will not limit your chances of having a very long and successful career and might even open a few doors that would otherwise be closed for you.

Maybe you will even start wondering if you should pursue an academic career after your Master... who knows?

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