How long does half a master’s cost?

In my first year as a part-time student on City University’s MA in legal translation, I spent a total of 487 hours on the course, just over 12 working weeks.


The breakdown of the 487 hours is shown in the table below and includes everything related to the course: classes, general research, preparation for the modules, travel time and doing the assignments.

The classes were at City University in London in blocks of four days for each module. As I had to travel from Barcelona to London for them, I added eight hours as travel time for each of the four modules I did.

All other work—research, preparation for the modules and assignments—was done at home.

1.Classes (at City University in London)
128 hours26%
2.Assignments (at home)273 hours51%
3.Research & preparation for modules (at home)
54 hours 11%
4.Total455 hours93%
5.Travelling time32 hours7%
6.Total (including travelling time)487 hours100%

Why do I even know this and how accurate are the figures?

I find it useful to record the time I spend on all work-related things, which, as I’m a freelance legal translator, obviously includes a master’s in legal translation.

I might have missed out a few hours here and there, probably mostly for time spent early on reading to prepare for the course, but I would say that the figures are fairly accurate.

Are these hours average for the course?

The programme handbook says each module requires 150 hours for everything, including classes (but not travel time of course). This makes 600 hours for four modules, which is somewhat more than my 455 hours, although this type of course study-time estimate is probably too generic to mean much.

I actually have the feeling that I put in more work than was needed, at least on the assignments, so overall I might have done more work than on average.

As a working translator, the assignments, which are mostly annotated translations, should have taken me less time than it did for other students with less or no translation experience, but I faffed quite a bit on my translations and especially on the accompanying essays, and probably didn’t make up much time here compared to others.

I didn’t do as much research as I might have. I know that some of my classmates did manage to get the occasional book out from the library and do a bit of reading before the modules, whereas most of my module preparation involved reading or translating the documents to be looked at in the workshops, which was actually time consuming enough.

Has it been worth it?

Well, that’s probably a question for a whole other blog post, but, in short, yes (I think).

I can say that without thinking too much about it because it has got me firmly going in one direction as far as my business goes and also because I am enjoying the course, both in terms of the content and the course itself.

Financially, I don’t know that I will ever make up the foregone income, but hopefully in return I will be able to get myself into a position to take advantage of more and better opportunities.

At any rate, I enjoyed the first year of the course and am enjoying the second one, and it hasn’t really affected my lifestyle, except that I’ve had less free time and have had to go to London every couple of months.

Has it affected my business?

Yes, probably a lot more than I’d thought before looking at these figures—I hadn’t realised that I’d spent so much time on it.

487 hours is over 12 working weeks, and you can do a lot of translations in 12 weeks, although I wouldn’t have spent all that time translating if I hadn’t done the course.

Apart from the fact that some of those hours were weekend and holiday time during which I wouldn’t have worked anyway, some of it would have gone on other CPD activities and administration and IT tasks, and maybe I would have just slept for the rest of it.

As far as clients go, I haven’t lost any major ones, although I have had to turn work down from a few of the infrequent ones and also from a few potentials. These potential new clients probably won’t come back, and the infrequent ones might not either, so this is definitely a loss for me.

One of the positive effects is that it has been a lot easier to market myself since I started the course. When you make such a big investment, it helps give you a focus for the type of work you want to do.

I don’t want to completely give up the other areas I specialise in, particularly marketing translation—which is a different type of challenge altogether, but I’ve also got to get my money’s worth out of what I’m spending so much time studying, legal translation, which I can actually do a lot better than other types of translation work that I’m sometimes offered (i.e., just about everything else except marketing and IT, just so you know!).

Image courtesy of dlee.

Written by Rob

Rob Lunn is a freelance legal translator based in Spain. He translates from Spanish and Catalan into English.

2 comments to “How long does half a master’s cost?”
  1. Wow, this is actually very enlighting. Recording the time you spent in every aspect of the module is really a very clever idea (I would love to do it myself, but I’m sure I’d lose track and give up pretty soon). In any case, I am absolutely certain that I spend much more time than you in the assignments. I can therefore confirm what you said: having no professional experience as a translator DOES slow you down a lot for the assignments. A translation degree prepares you to be one, but it obviously does not build up the experience. I’m glad I’ve found your blog (through City’s webpage by the way), it is very interesting and you do all the experiments I’d love to do myself, so at least I get to see approximate results! Hope everything fine at home and that your first Christmas with your little baby is as happy as it could be. Merry Christmas!

    • Hi Bea! Nice to hear from you and I’m glad you found my blog too!

      Recording the time was more of an accident than a good idea as it was just a case of realising that I had the data and making use of it. It was an eye-opener though. I was quite shocked at the amount of time I’d spent on the course, although yes, I can imagine it might be a bit tougher if you’re just starting out. But, when you get through it all, it will give you a lot of confidence that you can translate to a professional standard (if you weren’t already sure of that of course!).

      Anyway, I hope everything’s going well with the course and you have a good Xmas and New Year’s. And Chloe’s fine thanks—getting bigger and fatter by the week and even smiling more than she cries now, which is always a plus. See you on whichever of our next modules coincide!

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