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Postgraduate Study in the UK | Oxford University Careers Service Postgraduate Study in the UK | Oxford University Careers Service
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UK universities & courses on offer

There are 160 universities in the UK and almost all of them offer postgraduate degrees. There is a large amount of variation in terms of:

  • Mix of teaching and research activities
  • Size and make-up of student population
  • Range of courses offered
  • Campus vs town-based

The most common postgraduate level degrees on offer are Masters and PhDs, but a wide variety of other qualifications also exists. See Types of Course for more information.

Universities awarding degrees must be recognised by the UK authorities (UK and Scottish Parliament, Welsh and Northern Ireland Assemblies). In addition to institutions awarding degrees, there are also several hundred colleges and other institutions which do not have degree-awarding powers but who provide complete courses leading to recognised UK degrees. Courses at these institutions are validated by institutions which have degree awarding powers.

You may come across terms such as Russell Group which refer to groups of universities which share broadly similar origins and ethos. There main “mission groups” are: Russell Group, Million+ and University Alliance. While they may provide a useful way of finding similar institutions they are unlikely to greatly influence your choice of institutions.

Choosing where to study

There are several course search engines available (listed in ‘External resources’, below).

To narrow down your options:

Note that the reputation of the university as a whole may not accurately reflect the reputation of an individual department.

Doctoral Training Centres

There are a growing number of Doctoral Training Centres (often referred to as Doctoral Training Programmes (DTP)), funded by UK Research Councils, which bring together academics from multiple disciplines, and sometimes multiple institutions, to work on common topics of interest. Examples at Oxford include the Systems Biology DTC and the Interdisciplinary Bioscience DTP. DTCs are more prevalent in the sciences, and in particular the life sciences, but are not exclusively technical.

Doctoral training (leading to PhD or DPhil) at DTCs is often more structured, offering taught courses in research methods and other areas as well as possible opportunities to develop employability skills through internships. Applications for PhD places are made usually made directly to DTCs, and closing dates may be different (often earlier) to the general graduate admissions deadlines for the wider university. Find lists of DTCs for your subject area on the relevant research council website (linked from Research Councils UK).

Application process


Most UK university closing dates for graduate entry are between Christmas and Easter, with many falling in mid to late January. With this in mind, a sensible timetable for the year in which you apply could be:

Summer holidays preceding application: Start thinking about the kind of course you might like to do and review university websites. Make informal contact with potential tutors/supervisors, particularly if you are considering PhD applications. Explore possible sources of funding and make a note of any deadlines.

Michaelmas Term: Finalise which courses to apply for and check detailed application procedures for each. Attend workshops at the Careers Service on preparing applications and start gathering application materials. Don’t forget to look at funding deadlines and applications too. See a Careers Adviser if you would like to discuss how this course of study might contribute to longer term career plans, or for feedback on the content of your application.

Christmas Vacation: Finalise and submit applications.

Hilary and Trinity Terms: Attend interviews, make choices and concentrate on completing your current course!

What you’ll need

For most courses you will apply direct to the university using their online application system. A few courses have a centralised application system, notably graduate entry medicine and PGCE/School Direct courses for teaching (via UCAS) and the Graduate Diploma in Law (via Law CAB). Details differ between courses and institutions but you are likely to need some or all of the following:

  • Application form
  • Personal statement and/or research objective
  • Transcripts of university exam results
  • Two or three references
  • A CV
  • Examples of written work
  • Results of standardised tests (if relevant)
  • Payment of a fee

Check closing dates carefully. In the UK although most applications open during the autumn with deadlines between Christmas and Easter, some do close earlier (and scholarship applications may close as early as October).

Personal statements

Guidelines given vary from the simple “Provide evidence in support of your application” to the more common “Tell us why you are interested in the subject for which you have applied. Describe your academic interests and reasons for applying to XXX”. In general you need to convey:

  • Motivation, enthusiasm and a clear understanding of why you are making the application to this particular course, and to this particular institution.
  • How your academic background and other experiences have shaped your decision to apply and how the course contributes to your plans for the future.
  • Evidence that you have the ability, experience, skills and motivation to successfully contribute to the course, and to complete it.

Don’t use the same statement for all applications.

Need some inspiration? Come and have a look at the file of examples at the Careers Service, also see our page on Personal Statements and ask a Careers Adviser for feedback on your statement before you submit it.


In the UK the cost of postgraduate courses varies, but expect tuition fees of £3k-£10k and living costs of around £12k per year. International students pay higher tuition fees than UK and EU students.

Many postgraduate students get money from a range of sources, for example, money from bursaries, part-time jobs, charitable trusts, private savings and loans. Funding bodies usually have strict eligibility criteria. Some grants and loans are available can cover fees and living expenses, but they are not automatic.

In the first instance establish how students normally fund the course you wish to apply for; course administrators and graduate admissions officers should be able to help with this. For general information on applying for funding see Prospects Postgraduate Funding Guide and TargetPostgrad.

Funding sources

Scholarships, bursaries & awards

Information about available scholarships for each course should be provided by the institution you are applying to. Explore their graduate admissions and departmental web-pages, and talk to your potential department. There are also a number of more general funding search engines – none are completely comprehensive, but all are worth a try:

UK Research Councils (for research degrees)

Research Councils are the main public investors in fundamental research in the UK, with interests ranging from bio-medicine and particle physics to the environment, engineering and economic research.

Funding is allocated to university departments or Doctoral Training Centres, who then nominate students to receive the awards. Most research councils also publish lists of courses and institutions that have received studentships in the past which may be useful as a guide. None of the research councils accept applications direct from students – you apply to the relevant university institution.

Eligibility, particularly in the types of courses funded, varies according to the relevant Research Council. Check the relevant information carefully.

Loans for postgraduate students (from 2016-17)

Loans of up to £10k will be available for students on taught masters programmes, repayable on an income-contingent basis alongside undergraduate student loans. Details of the scheme are to be finalised, but see this useful summary for current information. A scheme to provide loans to support students on PhD and research masters programmes in also under under consultation.

Professional & Career Development Loans

Professional & Career Development Loans are bank loans usually offered at a reduced interest rate, and with interest paid by the UK government while you are studying. They are usually only available for courses which have direct link to an onward career.

Funding specific to Oxford University

Use the Graduate Funding Search to find details of funding options at Oxford. The Graduate Prospectus, The University Gazette, and the University’s website have information about funding opportunities for those hoping to study at Oxford. In particular, The University Gazette publishes a supplement at the start of each academic year detailing scholarships, fellowships, studentships, grants and prizes. Oxford colleges also provide funding for many of their students, explore college websites to find out more.

Sponsorship by employers or other external organisations

Knowledge Transfer Partnerships allow graduates to be employed while working towards a postgraduate qualification (typically a DPhil) based on real projects in small to medium-sized businesses (SMEs). CASE, CASE-plus and Industrial CASE awards allow industrial partners to top-up research council grants for research students in science and engineering disciplines. They are available from NERC, EPSRC, BBSRC, MRC and STFC, though you should approach your department in the first instance.

Part-time work

This may be either within the university or outside it. These options may include research and graduate teaching assistantships, which are advertised in the educational press, in specialist journals, and on Talk to your department about teaching opportunities. At Oxford and Cambridge you may get work giving tutorials to undergraduates through colleges. Oxford University’s Temporary Staffing Service may also be able to help.

Charitable funding

Charitable Trusts are organisations that administer sums of money set aside by individuals or corporations to help specific kinds of people. They may be able to help with costs such as maintenance, fees, books, equipment, travel, childcare, field trips; however, resources are limited, and help, if any, is generally small scale. The charity’s aims are likely to be very specific, e.g. they may help according to age, sex, nationality, religion, subject area and so on. There is no point applying unless you are sure that you fit their requirements.

There is no one source of information on charitable funding, so you will need to look a range of resources. Use the scholarship search engines listed above, and the books (available at the Careers Service) Directory of Grant-Awarding Bodies and The Educational Grants Directory.

Funding for non-UK EU Students

Students from the European Union are entitled to many of the sources of funding described above. Career Development Loans are available only to students in England, Wales and Scotland. Research Councils can award grants to cover the tuition fees but not the maintenance costs. You might find the European Social Fund, the UK Socrates/Erasmus Council for European Study, and the UK Research Office helpful.

Funding for International Students

International students will find that they are ineligible for many of the sources of UK funding. However, many institutions offer scholarships specifically aimed at international students, see above. You may also find the UK Council for International Student Affairs (UKCISA), the International Education Financial Aid, and The British Council helpful.

Our Resources

Related pages


The following books are available in our Resource Centre at 56 Banbury Road

  • The Directory of Grant-Making Trusts
  • The Grants Register
  • Grants for History: A Guide to Funding 2014
  • Perfect Personal Statements

External Resources

Funding search engines

Charitable organisations and special interest groups

Regional information sources

Further information

  • Prospects– extensive advice and information for those considering further study, including course searches and funding sources.
  • TargetPostgrad– search for courses, funding and lots more information.
  • Hot Courses– course search at all levels of study and including part-time options.
  • Education UK– British Council website aimed at international students interested in studying in the UK.
  • Vitae – primarily for postdoctoral researchers, but also has a section on applying for PhDs.
  • Research Excellence Framework– results of the 2014 assessment.
  • Quality Assurance Agency– assessments of teaching quality.
  • Unistats– information about institutions based in part on student satisfaction surveys.
  • RCUK– links to UK Research Councils.
  • Find a PhD
  • Find a Masters
This information was last updated on 08 September 2015.
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Recent blogs about Postgraduate Study in the UK

Share your opinion… and win £40!

Blogged by Hugh Nicholson-Lailey on November 27, 2015.

Feedback helps us to improve the tools and services that we offer you at The Careers Service and we’d be very interested to hear what you think about our new look Oxford Guide to Careers 2016.

Take the Oxford Guide to Careers Survey now.

It will only take a few minutes to complete our short survey asking you to tell us what you like best and what doesn’t work for you in this year’s Guide.

Your Chance to Win

As you complete the survey you will have the chance to enter our prize draw for a £40 voucher to spend online: the draw will take place at the start of Hilary Term.

You can access the survey until 18th January 2016.

Copies of The Oxford Guide to Careers can be collected from The Careers Service at 56 Banbury Road.

Postgraduate loans for UK taught masters

Blogged by Abby Evans on November 9, 2015.

First announced as part of the UK’s Chancellor’s 2014 Autumn Statement, new government-backed student loans are expected to ‘revolutionise’ postgraduate funding. They will be introduced from 2016 and provide up to £10,000 a year for taught Masters courses in all subject areas.

A consultation process for the postgraduate loans took place in early 2015. The government is now reflecting on feedback and is expected to announce a final plan and schedule for the loans soon.

Find a Masters have put together a useful summary of everything we know about the loans so far.

St Andrew’s Society Scholarships for study in the US

Blogged by Abby Evans on October 8, 2015.

For the academic year 2016-17, St Andrew’s Society of the State of New York will offer  up to two Scholarships of not less than $30,000 each to enable Scottish graduates to study for a year in the United States at a university within a 250 mile radius of New York City, or in the Washington DC area.

Candidates must be Scottish by birth or descent, and will be expected to have current knowledge of Scotland and Scottish current affairs, and of Scottish tradition generally. Applications are now open for graduates of a Scottish university or of Oxford or Cambridge who have completed their first degree course not earlier than 2015 or expect to complete their first degree course in 2016.

Preference will be given to candidates who have no previous experience of the United States and for whom a period of study there can be expected to be a life-changing experience. Selection will be on the basis of an all-round assessment, including personality and academic achievement.

Further details, application forms and referees forms are available from the Carnegie Trust, or by emailing Dr Abby Evans at the Careers Service. Completed applications and references should be sent to by 5pm on Monday 29 February 2016. Interviews will be held in Edinburgh in April.

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