We’re trying not to make everything about this horrible virus so in a bid to break it up a bit, Emma Bentley gives some very helpful advice to anyone who has or is thinking about doing an MA course. We hope it helps somewhat!

I don’t know about you but I have to start thinking about something other than COVID-19 otherwise I’m gonna go into full panic mode. Many of you who are in self-isolation have lost your jobs and even those working from home (WFA!) for a non-creative company may be thinking about how you can make some big gear shifts to your life, once everything returns to normal. These times are certainly good for reflection – and although I don’t want to put any pressure on anyone to change the world in isolation – this could be a potential turning point for anyone feeling like something is missing. With this in mind, let’s talk Masters Degrees! Have you been thinking about applying? I am in the final year of one and would like to offer some thoughts. Bear with…

What MA are you doing EB?

I am doing a MA in Writing for Stage and Broadcast Media at The Royal Central School of Speech and Drama. I have been doing it part-time over two years and (fingers crossed if all is well) will finish the course in September this year. Mostly, I am in one day a week, so have been juggling the course with part-time coffee shop, auditions and of course, AYT!

Sorry but I’m gonna go straight in there, don’t you have to be rich to do an MA?

YOU CAN GET A GOVERNMENT LOAN TO DO AN MA. I repeat, if you are from the UK, you can get a student finance loan for your Masters Degree. But yes, if you are doing the course full-time you will definitely need some money in the bank before you start, in order to keep up with the work and eat without running yourself into the ground. I did have to pay a £1000 deposit at Central, but since then I have only needed money for travel to and from Uni and for books. Doing the course part-time has meant I have been able to work enough to pay my rent.

Why did you decide to do an MA?

I was feeling a bit lost at the time, having done a couple of Edinburgh shows and feeling as if they had not moved my career on. I knew I wanted to write more, and I had lots of ideas, but I didn’t have the confidence to sit down and allow them to come to life. This MA would force me to write, even if I wasn’t sure where to start. I also knew that MAs in creative subjects do not promise the same kind of career progression that ones in other professions do, but for me it was more about self-development, Yes, I could do this on my own by setting aside one day a week to work on my writing, or even by putting on another Fringe show, however, there was something about the need for a deadline set by an external force, a space to go and work at (with an amazing library in it!) and the opportunity to meet many different experts working in the field, that really drew me in. The 4 years since finishing my Undergrad had all been about risk, but I really needed to remove myself from that in order to grow.

How has it been so far then EB?

The course has definitely fulfilled the expectations that I set for it. The sheer amount of work that you have to generate forces you to learn a lot about how you work as a creative, with one of the most integral things it allowing is to work out where you want to be in the industry. Through reading and watching so much material, and then spending hours poring over it with your peers and teachers – who will often have opposing views – you work out how to stand up for the drama you believe in. On our course, as well as subject matter and genre, you are also constantly choosing between which medium you enjoy most: theatre, TV, film and radio. I have found that I am particularly drawn to TV, which was a real surprise to me as a year ago I would be so nervous to even open up Final Draft and get started. Even though every project is still a challenge, I am at least confident enough to begin.

Doesn’t it kind of suck being back at school?

If this is on your mind, my advice would be to stay away! Yes, you have the odd maverick visiting lecture, but yes, doing an MA is like school, except harder because you must do more complex and more self-led work. You also don’t get much help along the way! So, if deadlines, classroom politics, having to start class at 10am, teachers with bad computer skills and occasionally harsh feedback are all things that you are glad to have left behind, I would advise against putting yourself through this ordeal.

So basically, do you have any regrets EB?

No, I don’t! But I am talking from my specific Hermione Granger-type learning style; one that enjoys structure, reading set texts, meeting deadlines and coming to ‘class’. I imagine that I’ll never be able to pay off this loan, as I doubt I will ever make a proper amount of money (although, if I was to graduate and get my own Netflix series, I would pay off the loan as and when I could). If my career doesn’t change drastically after I have finished the course, it would still have been an extremely challenging 2 years and totally worth my time and energy. The MA has definitely given me hope about my future because I can literally see how my writing has progressed during the last year and a half. Even though when I sometimes compare my ideas to my classmates, I worry that they aren’t good enough, I at least have the confidence to carry on putting myself out there. I’ve always had a bit of a BIG chip on my shoulder about being stupid, so when I can say I have my MA, I might be able to squash that demon for good.

If you’re think about doing an MA, particularly in writing, I’m happy to talk… please find me on Twitter as Emma_J_Bentley. Sending happy thoughts to you all!