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How to Be a Postgraduate Student by The End of the Year

Unlike undergraduate applications with set UCAS deadlines and start dates, postgraduate courses vary in both their application deadlines and academic year starts, which has advantages if you’re eager to become a postgraduate student. You should try to apply for a course at least six months before it starts – for example, if classes begin in September, make sure you’re putting the finishing touches to your university application by March. The key to getting on a postgraduate course quickly and efficiently is by assigning yourself set tasks each month. Do this and most of the hard work can be done in around three months, with little impact on your day-to-day life. 


Month one – Choose your course and qualification

Whether you want to expand the knowledge from your undergraduate degree or start something completely new, the first step to being a postgraduate student is not only figuring out which subject you want to study, but also which qualification. 

While being an undergraduate allows you a small selection of qualifications to choose from, there are a broad range of postgraduate qualifications offering a different teaching experience and outcome. 

Your main options are... 

  • Master’s – a taught or research-based qualification which can bridge an honours degree and a PhD 
  • Master’s in Business Administration (MBA) – a qualification based solely on subjects that could help you run a business 
  • Postgraduate Diploma (PGDip) – a short course that is often used as a route towards earning a master’s degree 
  • Postgraduate Certificate (PGCert) – an often fairly short qualification that can cover vocational subjects 
  • PGCE – a postgraduate certificate in education which takes around a year to complete 
  • PhD – a degree that usually lasts between three to four years where you'll research, write and publish an in-depth thesis 

You also need to consider how you want to study too. For example, do you want to study full-time or part-time? Do you want to do distance learning or be on campus? Seemingly small decisions like this will help you filter down your university options. 

Take these four weeks to explore not only what course you want to do, but why you want to study it. Do you want to expand your knowledge, use it to get ahead in your current job or go onto teach the subject you love learning about? How much time can you commit to studying? Have you got a year to achieve your goal or are you looking to stay in university for longer than that? 

Try and confirm a few of these items each week. Answering these questions will massively help you pick the right course and type of qualification to go alongside it. 

Go to: Search for postgraduate courses

Month two – Choose your location and university

Do you want to stay close to home or get as far away from it as possible? Planning to remain at the same university as your undergraduate degree? How about studying abroad? It’s time to start considering all these options in order to help you find the right location for you. 

Over the next four weeks, order as many different prospectuses as you can, and if possible, try and attend open days for those you’re particularly taken with. While prospectuses can show you the best things about the university, attending a postgraduate open day will show the reality, and if those state-of-the-art facilities that university will regularly boast about are as modern as they say.  

Go to: Search for university open days

Plus, open days provide the perfect opportunity to chat and ask questions to lecturers, students and general university staff, rather than talking to their email inbox. Having questions prepared I advance is always a great idea. 

Go to: Search for universities

Month three – Write and send your application

The trickiest and most time-consuming part is now upon you; writing the personal statement. This is your time to shine and sell your skills to the university admissions team. Tell them why you want to study your chosen subject, why you’d be a perfect fit for the course, showcase what you’re passionate about and what you hope to gain from it. 

Spend the first two weeks writing it, really taking the time to digest what the university has asked for on the application, what the course is about and what your strengths are so you can accurately show why you deserve to get a place. 

Once you’ve written it all out, spend the next two weeks editing it. Make sure you show it to any friends and family you can get hold of for proof-reading purposes, and generally hone it into close as perfection as you can get. 

Go to: Read more university application help

Then it’s time to hit send and await any offers. 

Once you’ve got your place...

If everything has gone exactly to plan, you’ll find yourself with an offer of a place on your dream postgraduate course. Celebrations will be in order! 

However, once you’ve celebrated, it’s back to work. You’ve got a few more important matters to attend to before you can take your seat in your first lecture... 

Sort out funding

The introduction of postgraduate loans has made further study more accessible than ever before. You can now apply to the student loans company for a loan of around £11,000 on a non-means tested basis for master's courses or around £27,000 for doctoral courses. Just like your undergraduate degree, you don’t have to repay anything until you start to earn over a certain threshold each year. 

Go to: Read more about Loan Options for Postgraduate Students

However, you don’t have to borrow money to afford a postgraduate degree. Many universities will offer scholarships and bursaries depending on your circumstances and the strength of your application, which can help you to pay for tuition and living costs.

Go to: Search for postgraduate scholarships and bursaries

Sort out accommodation

Figure out your monthly budget for rent and whether you want to live alone or share, and if so, with how many people. You should also think about how close you want to be to the university, as this will help when it comes to filtering out potential homes.  

There are various websites that list rental properties every day, and universities will often have teams to assist students locate accommodation too, so you’ll soon find the right room. You could also live in halls operated by your university. Many universities offer blocks of halls accommodation exclusively for postgraduate students so you can live with like-minded people. 

Go to: Read a postgraduate student's guide to finding accommodation


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