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A brief guide to applying for a postgraduate course

Last Updated:

14th July 2014

First Published:

04th February 2014

postgrad application guide

The days of checking your UCAS account for offers are well and truly behind you, as applying for a postgraduate course is a significantly less formulaic process. (Unless you are applying for a PGCE, then you need to apply through UCAS).


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


Secondly, deadlines vary greatly. Those thinking about courses in areas such as teaching, law or pre-registration medical and healthcare programmes may have stricter deadlines to adhere to than those studying English Literature or History, for example.               


There is considerably more flexibility on entry requirements, as often, (depending on the course) it may not be oversubscribed and therefore able to take the majority if not all applicants, if they can demonstrate basic requirements and a passion for the subject.


However, routes into Law and pre-registration NHS courses may be significantly 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. 


Personal statement


Not so different to your undergraduate application, the personal statement is your chance to make the application personal 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 as admissions tutors are unlikely to want to consider applications that run over significantly as it not only takes more times but reflects badly on applicants, as it may suggest that they can’t follow the basic requirements asked of them in the initial application process.


Dos and Don’ts




- Check thoroughly for grammar and spelling mistakes


- Put the p in 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 CV and/or application form is where you can put your previous education, grades and list any relevant experience, 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 areas of skills or interests that it values more than others, so it is important to tailor your application to these.




You will need a minimum of two referees normally, 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 personal tutor, dissertation supervisor or even a tutor for a subject who can offer a relevant and sound reference to the university.


Universities may be flexible for those returning to higher education after some times, 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 to 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 and it is often those who can demonstrate significant experience who get those coveted places.


Additional checks


Some courses may require applicants to be subject to CRB checks, medical examination 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. 


>Struggling to find funding? Apply for one of our postgraduate bursaries 


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