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Scrap those lists of pros and cons!

Scrap those lists of pros and cons!


Master's special 2010: How to pick the best master's study

A tough research master's, or rather one of those one-year master's programmes that the labour market is crying out for? Choosing the right follow-up study - the Netherlands alone has some eleven hundred master's studies - can be a stressful experience. Renske Roet, study choice expert, recommends following your intuition.

Imagine you want to start a master's programme next year. You can of course just do a follow-up study at your own faculty. But what if you want to take a different direction? Or go and study in a different city? Or even in a different country? Then new choices have to be made. This often causes a lot of agitation. Trainer Renske Roet, connected to the Amsterdam training bureau Jobtraining, knows how students can tackle this stress. “I often see that people can't take decisions. They keep weighing up arguments against each other and making lists of pros and cons. This has a paralysing effect.”

Roet drew up a five-step plan to simplify making a choice:   

1) Inquire extensively: visit universities, talk to students who are doing the study that you have in mind, compare different options.

2) Determine which options are really serious. This shortens the list and the number of possibilities that need to be considered.

3) Set a deadline. Pick a day on which you will take the decision.

4) Until then, do not consciously think about it, so no lists of pros and cons and no endless worries about arguments for and against a certain master's programme.

5) Allow your intuition to speak on the day when you need to know.


Why should a student who is undecided not make lists? Roet: “Research has shown that you make the best decisions when you allow your subconscious to work.” Psychologist Ap Dijksterhuis from Nijmegen (with whom Roet graduated), for example, asked test subjects to choose from five apartments. “Just like choosing a study, choosing an apartment is complex, and the pros and cons cannot be viewed at a glance.”

One of the five apartments was clearly the best, one was the worst and three were in-between. The test subjects were divided into three groups: the first group had to decide immediately, the second group had to make a list of the pros and cons, and the third group had to do some calculations after the presentation of the apartments, so that they were not consciously thinking about the apartments, but their brain was given time to process the information about the apartments.

The second group - the ones who had to make the lists - turned out to choose the worst apartments, while the last group chose the best.


Limited capacity

The first two groups mainly used the conscious part of the brain, while the last group was given the chance to process the information with the much larger, unconscious part of the brain. Roet: “When you make choices with just the conscious part, you limit yourself tremendously: the conscious part of our brain can cope with approximately forty bits per second, whereas the total brain capacity is eleven million bits. Another argument for not making lists is that the pros and cons are often incomparable, while such lists suggest that you can cross them off against each other. “For some people, the city in which they are going to study is very important; others are not really bothered where they live, and may find it more important that there is a lot of practical experience in a study programme. If you make your decision intuitively, your brain can judge better than when you consciously use lists.”


Bad choosers

Maximisers are people who absolutely do not want to make a mistake in their choice, they continue to collect information and compare options, until they eventually become deadlocked and no longer know what to do. “To be able to make a good choice, it is not a problem if you don’t know everything,”  says Roet. “Wanting to know everything is a common pitfall. Continuously thinking about something affects your power of judgement.”

Did Roet ever doubt her study choice? “Yes, I wavered between the art academy and economics. I ended up somewhere in-between: communication sciences. If I had to make the choice again now, it would probably be psychology. I learned that a choice does not tie you down forever. In my work, I went in the direction of psychology.”


Riki Janssen, Welmoed Visser

Bachelor student UCM: “I like everything”

Halfway through her study at the University College, the Dutch Marie Zwetsloot realised that her major in social sciences, was not quite for her. She changed to life sciences. “I had already earned my credits, but I am taking a few subjects in life sciences.” In February 2011, after 3.5 years at UCM, she hopes to graduate. And then? “Difficult. I like a lot of subjects, that is why I chose UCM in 2007, because it's really broad. But in fact it's just postponing the choice. I am now thinking of agricultural sciences in Wageningen. I will take a few subjects there in November, such as botanical biology, international land and water management. I am hoping that by doing so I will discover whether this is the way for me to go. But I am also undecided about a master's in journalism or even something in the field of international co-operation.” Zwetsloot feels that she has to make a decision quickly. “I have a Fulbright scholarship. I want to register with a number of American universities. Their deadline closes in January.”


Master student Arts and Heritage: Choosing with a career in mind

In Leiden, the Dutch Michelle van Landschot had already earned a bachelor's and master's degree in art history. Last September she graduated from the master's of Arts and Heritage in Maastricht. “I would like a ‘practical’ job in the cultural sector. Exactly what I do not know, but I am thinking of something like conservator or manager of a museum or a cultural organisation. I would prefer a museum. The study of art history is very theoretical. I chose Maastricht with my future in mind.” Moving was not a problem for this originally South Limburg student. “I briefly considered going to Rotterdam, but that master's is focussed entirely on entrepreneurship. Arts and Heritage suited me much better. You get marketing, management, managing cultural legacy, even some philosophy. I learned a lot and I am more aware of what I am capable of doing.” Now it is just waiting for that suitable job.


Master student IB: “Tougher than I thought”

Sandra Fickweil from Germany just started her master's study of International Business (Organisation: Management, Change and Consultancy track). “I had two very good options: a master's at my university in Mannheim where I did the bachelor's programme of cultural and business studies, and the master's in Maastricht. I preferred the UM because the programme is very special, very up to date, it deals a lot with change and globalisation. And it’s in English, only one year and above all: PBL sounded great. Not as conservative as the system in Germany.” The fact that she had to move was not a problem for her. “I have moved before. But I had never been in the Netherlands, I didn’t know it was so nice here.”

She has enjoyed the first weeks. “It’s very interesting, but it’s also tougher than I thought it would be. I have a lot to read, I also study the whole weekend.”



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