Choosing a university and program

Once you have figured out what field you want to continue in, you need to focus your attention on deciding which Master's program suits your interests best. Again, the first step is thinking about what you expect of a program and its respective university. Do you prefer a specific Master's because the university has a good reputation, or because it is in a specific country of your taste? There are academic and non-academic reasons for selecting a program. From the academic perspective, you might like the prospects of doing research as a PhD student.


Whilst going through this chapter, and keeping an eye on the first chapter, we advise you to look at It lists most of the International Master's programs in Europe and gives a comprehensive description of each Master's and its prerequisites/content.

From an academic perspective

When choosing a university on the grounds of academic reasons you can, first of all, look at what makes this university interesting for you. Think of the quality and content of the programs and the reputation of the university and/or program, and how these two relate to your personal academic interest in the field. Secondly, you can look at what the academic program of the university offers you in the future, for example the possibility of doing a PhD or research after graduating from your Master's. When looking at the prospects of doing a Master's as an end in itself, it is wise to take the following factors and tips into account:

The quality of the university and the program

In order to try to evaluate the quality of each university’s education, a number of international ranking websites have been put into place. The most commonly used international rankings are the Shanghai, the Times, as well as Elsevier in The Netherlands. When surfing through these rankings, it is important to understand that while universities may be on top of the list, not all of their programs are of the same quality.

Ranking is not always quality

However, before jumping to any conclusions about the quality of a program it is important to understand that while these rankings offer information about the most prestigious universities around the world, this in no way means that normal universities are disastrous. During your studies you may come across people who write articles that bring out innovative perspectives on the subject matter or researchers who write books that you find fascinating - Google them, see where they teach and what programs their department offers. It may be that a particular university is famous for one specific program only and that by only looking at international rankings you are missing out on these interesting places.


  • Look up the details of programs online – go to websites of universities and programs you are interested in, and look at specific courses, curriculum, required or recommended reading etc. Compare the programs to see what they emphasize and how they differ. You could also email them with questions.
  • Talk to experts in the field – The people who have worked and studied in a particular field for years and years are usually also the people who are most aware of which programs are currently on offer in their field and which universities host the most outstanding variant of the program. Therefore, talking to your teacher or paying a visit to the respective fellow can give you more detailed insights into what you can expect from various universities and their programs.

Other aspects

Here are some aspects you might want to take into account when looking at your future academic prospects, such as PhD positions, teaching jobs and eventually, striving for a non-academic career.

  • What do you want to get out of your education – The world of university rankings is a complicated maze, full of tricks and pitfalls, therefore, it is important to maintain a critical stance on what you want to get out of your Master's education. If you’re pursuing a career in research or a PhD, it might be more important that you are doing a very critical and innovative program which teaches you to think creatively and is really working in the frontier of the field instead of going for the best known university. If your aim is a top paying or important (or both) job, prestige might be more valuable.
  • The types of Master's available are clearly related to the choice in the type of program you want to follow. You may come across programs with the same title but which differ in their focus on lectures or research. Some universities also offer a few professional Master's, which are usually oriented at people who have already been building their career but would like to further their expertise (MBA’s). Sometimes, experience is a requirement for being admitted, and you have to be sure you wish to study in such an environment of professionalism and job-orientation as well.

From a non-academic perspective

There are also some purely non-academic reasons why you might like to study at a particular university, like the financial aspects and the environment you will live in.

Considerations based on available financial resources

Unfortunately, dreams and ambitions are sometimes limited by the material realities we are grounded in. The prices of different Master's are related to country, city and prestige of the university. Usually, the more famous the university, the higher the price even though, as mentioned above, the most famous or expensive programs are not necessarily better in terms of content or better suited for your purposes. In addition, the possibility of getting a loan or the institution offering you a scholarship might make these institutions more appealing to you.


Your educational experience does not only have to be about academics but can also rely on your knowledge of the world. Thinking about the places where you’d like to live or the cultures you would like to experience might also be a part of your decision-making process. You could be very attracted to a country or city because your family or friends live there or because the area is related to your field of study. As an example, studying Arabic culture will have an extra dimension if you yourself become part of that culture. Then again, do take into account the potential culture shock you might experience when moving to another country.

In conclusion, the grounds on which you pick your program and university entirely depend on your own reasoning. This section has simply expanded your mind by bringing to your attention the variety of factors at play, be it the environment, the nuance of the program or the name of the university.