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How to apply for postgraduate study

You can apply directly to universities for taught Masters courses and research programmes and there is no limit on the number of courses you can apply to. Alternatively, you can use the online application system provided by UKPASS.

applications icon Applications for postgraduate study

Once you have chosen your courses the universities will want to assess if you have the academic ability and motivation to complete it. The application procedure will vary according to the university and course you are applying for, but there are common features that you can expect:

 

Academic standards

Most courses will have different academic standards but as a general rule a 2:1 for your first degree is normally expected for research based courses, and a 2:2 for taught courses. You should check with the university to see if you match their academic criteria.

Your written application

This section features information on how to fill in application forms for further study. For information on applying for graduate schemes and other jobs, please see our info on  application forms.

Application forms for postgraduate courses commonly include a large space on the final page where you are asked to write a personal statement or asked to provide “evidence in support of your application”.

Sometimes you are given more detailed instructions about what to include in this section, such as in the following example from an application form for taught Masters courses:  

Please give details of any other experience/information which you consider to be relevant to your application and a statement explaining why you feel qualified to study for the degree and how you expect to benefit from it.

This part of a form is very important and you must use it to show why you are a suitable candidate for the course. Make sure that you pay close attention to what you are asked to cover in the section. The structure for your personal statement will be determined by what you are asked to include. Divide your text into paragraphs to make it easier to read and check that it flows logically. It can be effective to use sub headings to highlight the different components of the statement.

What to include in your statement

It is likely that the following information will be relevant for you to include:

Your reasons for wanting to do the course

Writing about what appeals to you about the course will help you to show your motivation to study this subject. The admissions tutor wants to know why this course interests you. Have you studied relevant modules on your current course which have given you a taste of this subject that you want to develop? Or is this a new area of study which would give you the chance to take up a fresh academic challenge? Show that you have researched the course and are aware of any recognition it has received for its merits.

What interests you about this particular university?

Show that you know what the university’s strengths are and be able to say why you would like to study there. As well as the University's own website, there is information on ProspectsTarget Postgrad and Unistats which may be of use.

Your academic skills

These could include projects you have done, extended essays and research skills. It could also be relevant to include information about IT skills, data handling skills and knowledge of any related subjects. Write positively about what you have done well and highlight your strengths.

Your other transferable skills

There will be a range of transferable skills that you will have developed in activities apart from your academic studies, which you can bring to a postgraduate course. These might include skills such as team workingproblem solvingcommunication and planning skills. Think of others that you have gained too. Write about how you have used these skills so far and how you see them helping you in your postgraduate studies.

The relevance of any work experience you have had

Any paid or voluntary work you have experienced, whether it has been part time, full time or vacation work, will have equipped you with valuable skills. The relevance of this experience might be direct or indirect, so think broadly about how you can use this in your personal statement.

Your career aims

You might not have a clear idea of what your career plans are at this stage, however do include some information about what your thoughts are and how the course will help you to achieve your aims. Some postgraduate courses will have very clear connections with a particular type of work, and if you are applying for one of these show that you have researched your options and know how the course will equip you to apply for jobs in this field.

Final points

Take care to write good English with accurate grammar and punctuation. Be positive and enthusiastic, so that your strengths and desire to do the course come across effectively (see our suggestions for effective words and phrases).

This section of the form really gives you the chance to put yourself across as a well-rounded person and should give the reader a clearer picture of why you have applied for the course, what makes you a suitable candidate and what you hope to get out of it. End it with an upbeat conclusion, which leaves the reader with the impression that you will be a well-informed, keen and committed student with much to offer.

Applications for research degrees (e.g. MPhil, PhD)

If you are applying for a research degree, rather than a taught postgraduate course, you will usually be asked to include an outline research proposal as part of your application. It is important to discuss your research ideas with your intended supervisor at the university you are applying to, before writing this. It is also recommended that you seek advice from a member of the academic staff who currently teaches you, to gain his or her opinion on your proposal.

Depending on the type of subject you are aiming to research, your application may need to include some or all of the following:

  • Title of proposed thesis
  • Any links to ongoing research projects
  • Why you wish to pursue this area of research
  • The methods of research proposed (e.g. survey, case studies )
  • A plan and a timetable of work 

There will probably be notes or guidelines produced to help you to complete the personal statement section of the application form, so do refer to these to make sure that you include all the information that is required.

Academic references

You will be asked to provide at least one academic reference from your undergraduate course. This will normally be from your personal tutor, head of department, or another academic who has sufficient knowledge of your ability and motivations.

Interviews

Applicants for taught Masters courses are not always interviewed, but candidates for PhD study usually are. For some vocational courses, such as teaching and social work you can expect to be interviewed as your suitability for a profession is being assessed as well as your academic ability.

Further help

For further help with the application procedure of postgraduate courses you should book to see a Career Development Adviser by calling in to Careers or phoning 01274 234991. You might also find it useful to seek help from your personal tutor.