What to expect from a Masters in youth studies

Jemma Smith, Editor
April, 2016

Helping young people to realise their full potential can be incredibly rewarding. Find out how a postgraduate qualification in youth studies can lead to an exciting career in the care sector

Due to the ever-changing landscape of the public and voluntary sectors more youth workers are needed and an industry-approved postgraduate qualification not only boosts your knowledge and experience but is also highly regarded by recruiters.

'Professional validation demonstrates to employers that you are competent to work within the National Occupational Standards for Youth Work and that you have the skills to engage young people in purposeful activities and projects,' says Lorraine Gray, MA Youth and Community Work course leader at The University of Northampton.

Masters courses can ensure that you have the relevant experience and confidence to make a difference to the lives of the youngsters you work with.

'To be a good youth worker you need to have a genuine regard for young people, be interested in their world and in the factors that impact them,' adds Lorraine.

Be prepared to work hard, if you do you will be embarking on a challenging and exciting career that will bring great rewards

Entry requirements

To be eligible for a place on a postgraduate course you'll need at least a second class degree in a relevant subject.

'The MA offers a clear pathway for graduates from a variety of backgrounds. Our students have undergraduate degrees in teaching and social work, graphic design, tourism, marketing, social and community development and counseling,' says Lorraine.

However, in some instances a lack of formal qualifications may be overlooked if you can demonstrate significant experience and a passion for working with young people and communities.

Before applying for a Masters in youth studies you'll need previous work experience, either paid or voluntary. 'Gaining practical experience of youth work before you start will enable you to see if the career is suitable for you. You'll also need it to gain a place on many courses,' states Dr Pauline Von Hellerman, lecturer in anthropology at Goldsmiths University of London.

Look for opportunities in your local community by contacting local youth services, voluntary organisations or schools and colleges. You could arrange some part-time work experience in community centres, youth clubs, classrooms or summer camps. This will look great on your application as it demonstrates your commitment to the profession, your initiative in seeking out the opportunity and your passion for the job.

Entry requirements will vary between institutions so check before setting your sights on a particular course.

Course content

Masters programmes are primarily aimed at those already working in the sector however, courses are also suitable for recent graduates hoping to specialise in the area. The mixture of theoretical, practical and professional learning enables students to progress on to successful careers in the care industry.

One example of such a course is the MA in Contemporary Practice with Children and Young People at the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan). 'For people already in employment the MA shows employers that they have specialist competences which should be rewarded. For students from non-specialist undergraduate degrees it provides the skills and knowledge needed for direct work with children and young people in a variety of services,' explains Dr Cath Larkins, reader in children's citizenship at UCLan.

On the course you'll study theorising childhood and adolescence, childhood in law and welfare and safeguarding children. You will then pick three optional modules and complete a dissertation.

Another example is the National Youth Agency accredited MA in Applied Anthropology and Community and Youth Work at Goldsmiths University of London. 'The Department of Anthropology teaches the contemporary and social issues and anthropological research methods components, while the Department of Social, Therapeutic and Community Studies runs three field work placements. A dissertation presents the culmination of your work and is taught jointly by both departments,' clarifies Dr Von Hellerman. It is possible to exit with a postgraduate diploma, also fully endorsed by the NYA, if you do not wish to move onto the dissertation.

On all postgraduate youth studies courses a huge emphasis is placed on practical placements and the MA at The University of Northampton is no exception. 'Students undertake 600 hours of fieldwork practice. With the support of a professional youth worker students engage in variety of settings including youth projects, detached youth work, youth justice and alternative education,' says Lorraine.

When researching courses Dr Larkins offers this advice 'choose a flexible course that you can design to fit your interests. Think about what job you want at the end and pick all of your placements and assignments to build skills in that particular area.'

Search for postgraduate courses in youth studies.

Career paths

Upon graduation job prospects are promising as you will leave your course well equipped to work in a range of care settings including Local Authority Youth Services, residential care, Children's Services and housing associations.

'Our graduates find work quickly and examples of recent employment include a health youth worker, a mentoring and befriending coordinator and a community development worker,' explains Dr Von Hellerman. 'Some work with refugees or disability groups, while others join social enterprises to bid for contracts.'

The work experience and knowledge you gain will open doors to careers in social work, social care, education and health, including jobs in outreach with children and families, youth justice, informal education and wellbeing services.

Lorraine's parting advice is: 'Be prepared to work hard, understand yourself and how you interact with others and be motivated to seek answers, if you do you will be embarking on a challenging and exciting career that will bring great rewards.'