Students choose postgraduate study for a range of reasons including:

  • Intellectual and academic development
  • Prepare for a specific career
  • Personal satisfaction
  • Enhance career prospects
  • Avoid unemployment
  • Defer career choice
  • Prolong student life

If you are interested in postgraduate study you need to think carefully about your commitment and motivation. If your reason for undertaking postgraduate study is to enhance your career prospects, it is important to check that the course will help you achieve this goal.

Even for those careers where gaining a further qualification is a prerequisite, such as teaching, there is no guarantee that successful completion of the course will lead automatically to employment. It is advisable to ask the department concerned about the destinations of previous students. You can also contact University Careers Services for impartial information on career destinations.

Higher degree by instruction.
Most taught masters courses (MA/MSc/MRes) usually last one year. Courses usually include lectures and seminars and may include examinations. Training is given in research methods and you will need to write a dissertation. Some courses require previous knowledge of the subject, but others provide the opportunity to study a new discipline. There are also conversion courses specifically aimed at students who have no prior experience of the subject. Examples include Information Technology and Psychology.

Higher degree by research. 
All Doctoral and some Masters degrees are awarded after a period of original research culminating in a thesis and oral exam.  A Masters degree by research (MPhil) usually takes 2 years while a Doctorate (PhD/DPhil) takes at least 3 years.  Part time postgraduate study is also a possibility.

Diplomas and Certificates.
These are often vocational courses aimed at preparing students for specific career areas. Such courses are essential for certain careers eg Teaching (PGCE) and Social Work (DipSW). For other professions further study may be useful but not essential eg a Diploma in Public Relations. These courses usually involve both academic study and practical instruction. Placements can be an important aspect of these courses.

Requirements vary widely. For postgraduate research a first class degree or upper second is usually required while for many masters courses a lower second may be acceptable. For vocational courses, personal skills and experience can be just as important, if not more so, than degree classification. It is important you check with the department concerned what the individual course requirements are. Different institutions have different criteria.

When choosing a postgraduate course at a particular institution you will need to consider a number of factors: the nature of the course, research conducted there, destinations of previous students, geographical location and available funding.  You may also want to take into account the quality of the teaching and research undertaken by the department to which you are applying.

Institution Reports
These are carried out by the Quality Assurance Agency and relate to the quality of teaching and support for students in HE. The value of such reports is, however, contested.  For an example see the problems with relying on such reports Trial by Ordeal written by a team of economists who had just gained the highest score possible.

Research Excellence Framework
The Research Excellence Framework (REF) assesses the quality of research in UK higher education institutions.

Postgraduate study in the UK

Use the following websites to search for postgraduate courses and research opportunities in the UK. They have full course and contact details, as well as information about funding and other useful general information. You may also find it helpful to discuss postgraduate options with an academic in your chosen field or a careers consultant for more vocational courses.

Find a course at Prospects and find out about studying abroad.

Postgrad.com

FindAMasters.com
A one-stop shop for students looking for a postgraduate Masters qualification.

FindAPhD.com
A comprehensive guide to current scientific research and PhD studentships.

Department for Business, Innovation and Skills
BIS provide details of the awarding bodies for degree courses.

Postgraduate Studentships  
Extensive site with information on all aspects of postgraduate study.

Postgraduate courses at Keele University
Information about courses on offer at Keele and how to apply.

wiwi-online.co.uk  
WiWi-Online is a web site tailored specifically to the research needs of students, researchers, academic staff and young professionals in the fields of economics, accountancy and business studies.

Distance Learning Database
Useful if you are considering a distance learning course. Information on over 2000 distance and open learning courses. You can also check the website for details of over 1,000 institutions worldwide offering distance learning courses.

Learndirect
Information on flexible courses which are either computer based and could allow you to take them at home or in a local study centre.

Postgraduate study abroad

To find courses in other countries:

International Education Media
Information on both UK and overseas universities.

Universities Worldwide
To access university homepages worldwide.

Postgraduate Study in the USA
A number of websites containing general information about US courses and universities as well as information about funding and a link to a course search facility.

Study in Holland
Covers both undergraduate and postgraduate study in Holland with details on universities, courses and tuition fees.

German Academic Exchange Service
For searches by course subject in Germany as well as other useful information for potential students.

Study Overseas
Covers Europe, Canada, Australia and the USA.

Association of Commonwealth Universities
Information on finding courses and funding.

The majority of students in postgraduate study fund themselves. As well as tuition fees, students also have to consider their living costs. If you intend to do postgraduate study you need to think very carefully about what you hope to gain from your studies and how you intend to pay off any loan undertaken. Because of funding problems increasing numbers of courses are being offered on a part-time or distance learning basis. This enables students to fund their studies while working.

Sources of funding for postgraduate study:

Funding from research councils

Securing funding for postgraduate study is not easy. The situation varies depending on a range of factors including the nature of the study/course and the institution where you intend to study.

Most funding for academic courses stems from the seven Research Councils.

Applying for funding
It is best to check directly with the various funding bodies regarding types of awards on offer, eligibility criteria and application procedures. For most funding awards you apply direct to the relevant university department and not to the funding body. The department will then nominate suitable candidates for awards. Closing dates vary and it is important you allow sufficient time to ensure departmental and research council deadlines are met. 

Funding for vocational courses

The Post Graduate Certificate in Education (PGCE) is the only course that attracts a mandatory award from a Local Education Authority. All other LEA awards are discretionary. Funding for such courses from other sources is limited. Examples of courses that may attract funding (for some students) include Librarianship, Social Work, Information Technology, Journalism and Museum Studies.

Whatever type of study you are considering it is advisable to consult the department running the course about funding. They will know if the course attracts funding from research councils or other government agencies and also have information about other possible sources of funding.

Portfolio and alternative funding

Many students use a range of funding sources to finance their way through postgraduate study.  The following list features some of the main sources:

  • Alternative Guide to Postgraduate Funding 2019/20
    A useful guide to over 500 sources of funding for postgraduate study
  • Target Postgrad
    Two databases covering postgraduate courses and funding opportunities.
  • Employer funding
    Information from the Prospects website.
  • Postgraduate Loans Guide (Masters)
    Information about the new postgraduate loans scheme, provided by FindAMasters.com.
  • Postgraduate Loans Guide (PhD)
    Information about the new postgraduate loans scheme, provided by FindAPhD.com.
  • Masters Funding Guide 
    General funding information about Masters courses, provided by FindAMasters.com.
  • PhD Funding Guide 
    General funding information about PhD courses, provided by FindAPhD.com.
  • Postgraduate Funding for International Students  (Masters)
    Funding information for international students interested in postgraduate study, provided by FindAMasters.com.
  • Postgraduate Funding for International Students  (PhD)
    Funding information for international students interested in postgraduate study, provided by FindAPhD.com.
  • Institution awards
    Information on Keele awards. Check with individual institutions for information on their own particular funding awards.
  • FindAMasters.com scholarships
    Every year FindAMasters.com award £12,000 in scholarships for postgraduate study. The 2018 funding scheme will be opening for entries in May.
  • FindAPhD.com scholarships
    Every year FindAPhD.com award £12,000 in scholarships for postgraduate study. The 2018 funding scheme will be opening for entries in May.
  • Professional and Career Development Loans
    A bank loan worth between £300 and £10,000 for up to 2 years of study (3 years if the course includes work experience).
  • Scholarship Search
    Database of funding opportunities from the academic, charity and commercial sectors.  Also relevant for undergraduate study.
  • PostgraduateFunding.com
    A website that allows you to search for postgraduate specific funding opportunities.
  • Scholarships  
    The Association of Commonwealth Universities advertise both scholarships and courses for universities in the UK and overseas, particularly in Australia, New Zealand and Canada.
  • Charities and trusts
    A large number of of organisations make awards although these are usually for small amounts.
  • DAAD
    The German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) offer funding opportunities for study and research in Germany.

Use the following databases to find out about which courses are available at which universities in the USA as well as how and when to make applications.

  • Fulbright Commission
    Excellent information about all aspects of postgraduate study, including information about funding and awards for postgraduate study.
  • Accredited Online Colleges
    Useful search engine for online postgraduate courses in the US.
  • GMAT test page
    This contains details of the test required to enter US graduate business schools, as well as practice tests.
  • GRE test page
    The GRE is taken by those applying to US graduate programmes, including some from business schools. It covers analytical writing, verbal reasoning and quantitative reasoning.
  • GRE advice
    Further advice on taking the GRE.
  • Petersons Educational Centre
    As well as general information, this site allows you to search for appropriate courses by subject/discipline.
  • http://educationusa.state.gov
    Contains details of how to apply to Graduate Schools in the USA.
  • Students' Guide to studying in the US
    An article providing advice to students preparing to study in the US.