Postgraduate study

Really enjoyed your subject and want to dig deeper? Need a further qualification to pursue your career goal? Considering a career in research?

Why carry on studying?

There are many reasons to consider further study; the list below highlights reasons good and bad. It’s really worth clarifying your motivations and expectations of postgraduate study so that you can make the right choice for you.

Good reasons to continue studying

  • You’d like to develop your knowledge of a particular area.
  • You need a particular qualification to enter a certain profession (teaching, nursing, law)
  • You’d like to convert to a new career area (law, medicine, IT)
  • You’re considering a research or academic career
  • The course is likely to improve your chances of employment in a particular area

Bad reasons to continue studying

  • You’re doing it because you don’t know what else to do
  • The course is unlikely to improve your chances of employment in a particular area

Exploring your options

One of the first decisions you will need to make is what sort of course to take. The reason for pursuing further study will direct your choice, so being clear about your motivations will really help you decide.

The guide below explains the main options:

  • Postgraduate certificates / diplomas are usually vocational courses leading to professional areas of employment e.g. teaching or law. Their length and structure may vary and can include placements.
  • Taught masters courses, commonly known as MA or MSc, include formal teaching, as well as an element of research. They tend to be one year full time or two years part time.
  • Higher degrees by research, also known as MRes or PhD, require you to undertake an individual piece of research usually carried out in a university and supervised by a member of staff. An MRes typically takes one year of full time study while a PhD will usually take three to four years to complete full time.

The following sites will help you research courses and opportunities:

Read this transcript of a web chat which took place to enable students to get expert advice on postgraduate study from Careers Network advisers and Roaa Ali, a Postgradute Recruitment officer, currently working on DRES (Doctoral Researchers Enquiry Service)

How do I choose what and where to study?

There are lots of options out there so choosing which course to pursue can be confusing. It may help to consider the factors:

  • The quality of the course: If it’s a vocational course, who teaches it? Are there placements? What have previous students gone on to do?
  • The course focus: What does the course cover? Will it complement your existing qualifications? Will you get to pursue your interests?
  • Fees & funding: These vary considerably from course to course, often even at the same institution. The availability of funding and / or the likelihood of being able to support yourself through the course might be important considerations.
  • If you are keen on a research course spend time identifying universities and academics engaging in your interest area and find out something about potential supervisors' national / international reputation.

How do I apply?

For most postgraduate programmes applications are made directly to the university of your choice and you can apply to as many as you choose. Most involve completing online applications; often there is no official deadline but be aware that popular courses can fill up quickly.

Some vocational courses (e.g. medicine, law, teaching, social work & nursing) require you to apply through online systems by a certain deadline so it’s important to do your research. They will also look for some experience so contacting course providers prior to application is a good idea to find out all the entry requirements.

There is no set time by which you should apply for postgraduate research degrees although you are more likely to be allocated a funded place (studentship) if you apply earlier rather than later. Start to research possibilities by talking to lecturers to find out opportunities and institutions they might recommend.

You can contact possible supervisors whom your tutors or your research of university websites have identified and visit potential departments. Aim to apply by the beginning of the New Year but be aware that studentships are advertised until much nearer the next academic year.

How will my course be funded?

This can be a confusing and complex area as there is lots of variation between courses, disciplines and institutions. Roughly half of those starting postgraduate courses receive funding whilst others are self funded through personal loans or other means. Prospect's "Funding my further study" page will help you get started. 

You need to cover both tuition and living expenses and many graduates choose to live at the parental home to reduce their living costs.

It might also be worth checking out our PG funding site to have a look at some of the resources that we have available.

Other useful websites:

Further resources

You will find further resources about postgraduate study on the Careers Network website