Postgraduate Study in the UK

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. The full range of types of postgraduate course includes diplomas, certificates and other vocational qualifications too.

In the UK, degrees can only be issued by universities that are recognised by the UK authorities (UK and Scottish Parliament, Welsh and Northern Ireland Assemblies). 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.

Expand All

There are several course search engines available (TARGETJobs Postgraduate StudyHotcoursesProspectsFindaMastersFindaPhD) which you can use to create a longlist of courses.

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

Doctoral Training Centres (often referred to as Doctoral Training Programmes (DTP), or Centres of Doctoral Training (CDT)), are funded by UK Research Councils. They bring together academics from multiple disciplines, and sometimes multiple institutions, to work on common topics of interest. 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. They may also provide opportunities to develop employability skills through internships.

Applications for PhD places are 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 UK Research & Innovation).

 

Timetable

Most UK university closing dates for graduate entry are between Christmas and Easter, with many falling in mid to late January. Some Doctoral Training Centres have deadlines that are independent of their host university, and they could be well before Christmas.

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 most teacher training courses (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 most applications open during the autumn with deadlines between Christmas and Easter, but some 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 help? Read more about writing 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 enormously. Expect tuition fees of £3k-£15k and living costs of around £12k per year. International students pay higher tuition fees than UK. Costs for EU students from the academic year 2021/22 onward depends on decisions made during the Brexit transition phase.

Many postgraduate students get money from multiple sources, for example, money from bursaries, part-time jobs, charitable trusts, private savings and loans. Funding bodies usually have strict eligibility criteria.

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.

Funding sources

UK Postgraduate Masters Loans

England: Loans of up to £11,222 (2020/21) are now available to UK and EU students (subject to eligibility) for study at UK universities. These are not means-tested. Repayment begins after your postgraduate course ends, and only when your income exceeds a threshold amount. These loans are only available for students who do not already hold a masters degree. They are not available for students who have an integrated masters as part of their undergraduate study (eg via a 4-year science course) or for masters which are part of a PhD course. For full details see the UK government information on Masters loans and the useful overview of UK masters loans by Find A Masters.

Funding for postgraduate loans is different if you normally live in Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland. In Scotland funding is administered by the Student Awards Agency ScotlandStudent Finance Wales advise on funding in Wales and in Northern Ireland the relevant body is Student Finance Northern Ireland.

UK Postgraduate Doctoral Loans

Loans of up to £26,445 are available to UK and EU students. These are not means-tested. Repayment begins after your postgraduate course ends, and only when your income exceeds a threshold amount. Doctoral loans cannot be used to top-up funds from other UK government sources, for example a research council or NHS bursary. For full details see the UK government information on doctoral loans and a useful overview of doctoral loans by Find A PhD.

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 to 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.

NHS Bursaries

Government buraries for some NHS-related courses are available for Masters in Social Work courses and for Graduate Entry Medicine and Dentistry courses in the UK.

Disabled Student Allowance (DSA)

The Disabled Student Allowance provides up £20,580 (2020/21) for students diagnosed with a long term health condition, mental health condition or specific learning difficulties to contribute to expenses incurred in accommodating that condition.

Scholarships & 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:

Funding specific to Oxford University

Use the Oxford University graduate funding search to find details of funding options at Oxford. The Graduate Prospectus, The University of Oxford Gazette, also contain 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.

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 Jobs.ac.uk. 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) The Directory of Grant Making Trusts and The Grants Register.

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 also find Erasmus, 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.

Impact of Brexit?

The UK government has guaranteed that EU students starting a degree in the UK in  2020-21 will pay the same fees as UK students and continue to have access to student loans and other funding for the duration of their courses. Arrangements beyond that depend on decisions made during the transition period.

The situation for UK students studying in the EU is not clear. The current withdrawal agreement allows UK students to continue on pre-Brexit terms until the end of 2020. If a no-deal Brexit occurs each EU country will then make its own decision about the rights of UK students.

The FindaMasters Brexit blog provides clear and up-to-date information on the likely impact of Brexit on postgraduate study.

Related pages

Books

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

  • The Directory of Grant-Making Trusts
  • The Grants Register

Relevant events

Check for dates on CareerConnect

  • Seminars on applying for postgraduate study and writing applications for further study take place each Michaelmas Term.
  • Insight into Academia: programme of lunchtime seminars on accessing graduate study and careers in academia.

Funding search engines

Charitable organisations and special interest groups

Regional information sources

Further information

Looking for more?


Check the CareerConnect platform for all our upcoming events and opportunities, book appointments, find jobs and internships, and more.

Login to CareerConnect