What can I expect from Graduate Courses as a Master’s Student?

What can I expect from Graduate Courses as a Master’s Student?

What can I expect from Graduate Courses as a Master’s Student?

Fair question. As with everything that is new, I was a bit concerned about what to expect from graduate school courses. Coming from a European country, everything regarding Asian countries was alien to me. It was my first time going to Asia, and I had no clue what to expect. Forums on the internet gave me a lot of perspectives and ideas, but I could never find any specific information about what graduate courses are like at APU. This blog will hopefully answer some of your questions.

First, please note that I am student in the Graduate School of Asia Pacific Studies (GSAM) with a focus on Society and Culture. The experiences of students in other divisions might not fully align with mine, but this should give you some insight into life as an academic at APU.

I have always considered several countries in the world to have the highest of academic levels: Germany, USA, and Japan. Just thinking of doing my master’s degree in one of these countries would bring shivers to my spine. They are the strongest economies in the world, with the best academics in the world, so deciding to do a master’s degree in Japan did not come without a drop of sweat on my forehead. Still, I took up the challenge and decided to push myself.

When I arrived in Beppu, I asked other master’s students that had already been studying at APU how the teachers and courses are. They all said that I should not worry. “The teachers are fine, and the courses are fine as well.” I was happy to hear this, but I was eager to experience this myself.

When classes finally began, to my surprise it was exactly as my fellow students had told me. The professors are nice, experienced, and very helpful. I felt extremely relieved. They told us not to hesitate and to ask them questions either in class, by email, or during their set office hours.

What’s more, I want to explain that APU is a very international university. At APU I have met people from countries that I had never heard of before. Although academic life differs from country to country, APU has done a great job in balancing the academic citizens of the world and accommodating an extremely diverse group of students.

Despite the fact the curriculum at APU aims to meet the needs of all students, expect to work hard. Very hard. There are several ways the professors assess you to calculate your final grade: attendance and participation, presentations, final reports, and exams. I would like to explain a little bit about each of these, so for those of you who have read this far, here’s what you have been waiting for!

Attendance and Participation

It goes without saying that you have come to APU to study, and it is a great privilege to be able to do this in one of the greatest countries in the world. As such, make good use of your time here and do not miss class. Some professors are strict when checking attendance, some are not. Regardless, make sure you are in class as this will increase your chance of getting a better grade. In all the courses I have taken so far, every professor graded students higher if they had participated in class. Some professors make participation around 30% of the final grade, some only count participation for 10%.

In order to participate, you have to be present. This might sound strange at first, but while assertiveness may not be expected in an Asian country, professors want to hear your thought process on given matters. One of my favorite professors addressed us students as sensei (teacher). He explained to us, “I am very old, but I am still learning from you, my students.” Make sure your participation is relevant to the matters that are discussed in class, but do not shy away from joining the discussion. Not saying anything is worse than giving a wrong answer.


Ah, presentations. The bane of my existence. I hate doing presentations. In my home country, the Netherlands, we love to do assignments and we dislike giving presentations. But at APU, presentations are the core of your academic performance. Every course has at least one presentation, either on a chapter of an article or on your progress for an assignment. The presentation usually lasts around 15 minutes. After that, there will be Q&A time. Interesting enough, I once feared doing presentations in class, but as I have had to do a lot of presentations over the past year, I have overcome this fear. Furthermore, going back to the previous section, participating in class is still important at these times as professors expect you to ask questions during the Q&A after your classmates’ presentations. Presentations are a major part of your final grade, so do not underestimate them!

Final Reports

This depends on what your professors expect from you. All professors differ when it comes to the final report. But they all require you to do actual research and find relevant articles, journals, and books on a specific matter. Remember, you are now an academic, and as such you have to act as one. This means you need to be sure to properly cite your sources at all times, preferably in APA style. If you have not mastered the skill of citing and referring to the author, make sure you teach yourself. The professors will, and I am not joking, fail you if they find any plagiarism. “When in doubt, cite it out” as another one of my professors once said.

And on another important note, do not miss deadlines. The deadline for an assignment is holy. Within GSAM, a vast majority of professors want you to write a good paper between 2500 to 5000 words. This means it must contain an abstract, introduction, literature review, data and analysis, summary and conclusion, explanation of the limitations, and references.


Some professors will give you a midterm exam. The exam format itself varies from professor to professor. Over the course of one year, I only had two midterm exams which were both multiple choice questions. I personally haven’t taken a final exam, but other students I know had final exams in the courses they chose.

The majority of professors prefer to assess master’s students through a long paper where you can demonstrate your research skills. It should come without a surprise that as an academic you will need to learn how to write papers and do research properly. But don’t fret. As mentioned before, the professors are always ready to help and teach you. Moreover, all the final reports you do over the course of your study are good practice to help you write your final thesis.


While your thesis is not a part of any particular course, it is the core of your academic life at APU. It is hard for me to discuss the thesis in detail however, as each professor has his/her own method, philosophies, and ideas on how to conduct your research. Therefore, I advise you to contact several professors on your topic. You have to make a final decision about your professor at the end of the first quarter of your first semester, and your final research proposal has to be submitted at the end of your second semester, meaning you have a year to finalize your research proposal. You will need to show your progress to your supervisor throughout the course of your study at APU.

Well, I hope this blog has given you a good idea of what to expect from professors and how they assess students, as well as a better idea of what to anticipate in APU’s graduate school courses.

■Recent Entries by Zack

Getting Started in the Land of the Rising Sun Coffee and Class, My Life at APU My Most Memorable Experience in Japan



Zakaria Ennahachi (Zack) is a 2nd year Master's student from the Netherlands studying Sociology within the Society & Culture division. Zack, our flying Dutchman, has always dreamed of studying in Japan and was able to fulfill his dream at APU. In his free time you will find him reading about all the developments in cryptocurrency and writing about student life in Japan on his personal blog. When he does this, his mouth is usually stuffed with sushi, takoyaki, okonomiyaki, ramen, chicken curry, and did we mention sushi?