Frequently asked questions about our master’s degrees

Published on 22 March 2021

Linda Waldman

Director of Teaching and Learning

On 6 March 2021 more than 80 prospective students joined our webinar on international development-related master’s degrees. The webinar comprised of a short presentation given by Linda Waldman, Director of Teaching and Learning at IDS, and Ayusha Misra, Student Representative, MA Development Studies, followed by questions and answers. For those who missed it, here is a selection of the questions and responses, together with a link to watch the webinar in full. Visit Learn at IDS for more information about our courses and life at IDS.

Watch the webinar


How essential is it to have one or two year’s work experience prior to applying?

Having adequate experience is important. You will need to show on your personal statement that you have experience, questions and ideas that you can bring to our classroom discussions. Voluntary work and internships count. If you have a bit less than one year’s work experience we still encourage you to apply.

Can I come straight from an undergraduate degree onto an IDS master’s degree?

For someone that has no work experience and wants to go straight into international development, IDS probably isn’t the right place for you. There will be students at IDS that have, for example, twenty years’ experience of working at the World Bank or UN and if you have no grounds to respond to questions and engage in the discussions, it can be quite tricky. But your work experience doesn’t have to be somewhere exotic. You don’t have to have worked with poor communities in South-East Asia; for example, having volunteered at a charity in London is just as relevant. It’s about the ability to bring your life experience to your learning, to ask development-related questions about what you have seen and experienced and to have a point of reference in which you are thinking about the issues that have been raised in the classroom.

When should we start applying if we’re completing our undergraduate degree this year?

You can apply from September and we usually accept applications until one month before the course starts if you are a UK applicant, and two months before the course starts if you are an international applicant (in order to allow sufficient time to process a visa). But we recommend you apply early as possible as this is a very competitive subject area. Applying early will help to ensure you get your offer letter in good time if you are also applying for a scholarship.

Is the application process done on a rolling basis?

The applications are processed on an individual basis in the sense that we read and judge each individual application on its own merit. We don’t hold all applications back and process them in a batch of 100 or 200. We review applications throughout the year. After August it gets too late for students to get visas – that’s one of the biggest problem for international students applying after August for September entry.

What is the admission rate from previous years?

Approximately 69 per cent of applicants have received an offer from IDS. When issuing offers to applicants, we don’t have a set cut off point. For example, if we reach 69 per cent we will continue to make offers to students who we think can make a significant contribution to our degree. However, if we think a degree is getting very over-subscribed, we won’t make any further offers on that degree and, if indeed this happens, it is likely to be in late July.

What is the relationship between students studying at IDS and students studying other related master’s degrees at the University of Sussex (such as in international education and development, or migration and global development)?

There are informal opportunities to interact in that students on courses based in the University of Sussex Global Studies Department are invited to attend the Sussex Development Lectures and our Participatory Workshops celebrating the work of Robert Chambers, but there is not a close formal connection between IDS degrees and most degrees taught by the University of Sussex. The degrees that have the closest connections, and where there is a very close integration, are the two degrees that are taught jointly by IDS and the University of Sussex – the MA Food and Development and the MSc Climate Change, Development and Policy.

Is development studies at IDS focused more on the practical or theoretical?

There is a strong theoretical focus – you do have to be able to write term papers and essays, and the dissertation is an academic dissertation (although some dissertations also have a strong practical element). Depending on the modules you take there is more or less focus on practical elements of the work. For example, some of the group projects might involve you writing a policy brief or a consultancy-style report. Ultimately, this is a University degree and so you will need some academic strengths in order to pass.

Do all IDS students live in Brighton? Is it necessary to live in Brighton or would it be possible to live in Brighton for several days a week?

Most students stay in Brighton full time. Obviously, in the past year Covid-19 has changed things. It partially depends on your module choices. We try to organise activities so that, if you are doing one module we try do all the work for that module on one day, or that day and the following day. We try to make sure that every student at IDS has at least one day where they are not expected to come into class. That’s easier to do in the first term than it is to do in the second term when all the students have quite a lot of choice in their modules. So, it’s possible to only come into Brighton for select days, but it’s also probable that this could (depending on your choices) be most days a week.

Can I do an internship while doing a master’s degree?

There is nothing stopping you doing an internship. We don’t offer internships at IDS except for in our MA Power, Participation and Social Change which is a placement-based degree where students find and organise their own placements. However, the IDS master’s degrees are short; the time goes very quickly and you will be very busy! We advise against doing an internship while doing an IDS master’s so that you can get the most from your time at IDS.

If I do a master’s part-time, how many days a week would it be?

The way it normally works is that you would do half the modules in the first year and half in the second year. This equates to around three days per week, but this may not be even throughout the year (for example, you might do two days a week in term one and four days a week for part of term two). It will depend on your module choices.

With current Covid-19 restrictions, is it still possible gain a multicultural experience assuming that most lectures will be online?

We know that many students have responded positively to our online teaching which, while not the same as face-to-face, has in many cases exceeded expectations. Students have continued to share multicultural experiences in seminars and daily interactions as well as in extracurricular activities. Yes, it’s easier in a face-to-face environment, but if you really want to engage you can, for example students this year have engaged in all sorts of ways including karaoke parties on Zoom.

Will degrees in 2021-22 be taught online or face to face?

It depends on so many things, not least on guidance from UK Government and the University of Sussex with whom we partner to deliver our degrees. We wish we could tell you definitively and clearly. We believe that it will be most likely a combination of online and face-to-face teaching but at this stage are sadly unable to confirm anything for sure.

What kinds of topics students write their term papers and dissertations on?

The range of topics is vast. We recommend students write on topics that interest them most. Here are examples of students’ term papers and essays from 2019, 2018 and 2017.

How do you prepare yourself beforehand to make the most of your master’s and time at IDS, since there’s so much to do and learn?

We don’t expect you to do any preparation. Before you come it would be helpful for you to get a sense of the kinds of work that IDS does, see where your interests lie and see if there are particular faculty you want to meet. You could explore our website, join one of our events, follow us on social media, listen to our podcast or subscribe to our newsletter. If you don’t know what your interests are, that’s also fine – you can make the most of your time at IDS exploring that.

There are of course may other questions you may have. For more information, please visit the Applicant Hub on the University of Sussex website.

The views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author/s and do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of IDS.


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