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A brief guide to applying for a postgraduate course

Last Updated:

01st July 2020

First Published:

04th February 2014

applying for a postgraduate course

If you are thinking about studying a postgraduate degree, but are unsure of where to start or what to do, then read on - as our guide to applying will explain all.

Differences Between Undergraduate and Postgraduate Applications

There are many differences in the application process for Postgraduate courses compared to applying for an Undergraduate one.

The big difference is that the days of checking your UCAS account for offers are well and truly behind you. For most courses, you can apply directly to the university via their own website (unless you are applying for a PGCE, then you'll need to apply through UCAS).

You can also apply to as many courses as you want – there is no limit on this (except for the above example of PGCEs and some medical courses).

Another difference is that application deadlines vary greatly for postgraduate courses, with any postgraduate courses offer several starting dates, or intakes, throughout the year - normally in September, January and May.         

There is also considerably more flexibility on entry requirements, as often it may not be oversubscribed and therefore able to take the majority if not all applicants. This is of course dependent on the university and if applicants can demonstrate basic requirements and a passion for the subject.

That said, routes into Law and pre-registration NHS courses may be really competitive to get on to and it’s important to make your application stand out from the rest. This is where your personal statement comes into play. 

Next, let's look at what you'll need to complete your application.

Personal Statement

Not so different to your undergraduate application, the personal statement is your chance to make your application unique and explain why you should be offered a place on the course.

The statement may vary in length depending on the university and course and it’s important to stick to the word limit. Admissions tutors are unlikely to consider applications that run over significantly as it not only takes more time to read, it may suggest that if applicants can’t follow the basic requirements asked of them now, they won't be able to do so during the course.


- Check thoroughly for grammar and spelling mistakes

- Make it personal. A personal statement is about you and why you want to do the course, what you will contribute to the university and what you hope to gain from the course. Your application form is where you can put your previous education and list any relevant experience, so try not to speak about all of these in the statement, unless it fits in with the points you are making.


-  You wouldn’t use the same cover letter for every job you were applying for (well, we hope not anyway!). So why would you use the same statement for all your applications? It’s likely that each university will have different requirements or skills and interests that it values more than others, so it is important to tailor your application to these.


You will normally need a minimum of two referees - often one academic and one professional - but again, this varies from course to course.  For the academic reference, it’s likely you’ll need to get in touch with a tutor or dissertation supervisor from your undergraduate degree who can offer a relevant and sound reference to the university.

Universities may be flexible for those returning to higher education after some time, as it’s often unlikely their old tutors or lecturers from university are able to provide references. In this instance, applicants may be able to provide a referee from their professional life or even someone in their community, if relevant. 

Work Experience

For many courses, especially those that aim to send graduates into a specific branch of employment after the programme, work experience or a demonstration of your practical application and interests in a subject are important in your application.

For example, those applying for journalism courses, often have to show evidence of their involvement in the industry, whether it be through student media or work experience at local or national publications.  

The same can be said for medical courses, such as Speech and Language Therapy and Physiotherapy, which are always oversubscribed - it is often those who can demonstrate significant experience who get those coveted places.

Additional Checks

Some courses may require applicants to have CRB checks, medical examinations or other procedures, you need to find out from the university at which stage you need to supply evidence of or undergo such procedures and then make sure you leave enough time for these to process. 


- Search for postgraduate courses

- Read more helpful application advice



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