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Discover all you need to know about starting postgraduate study - from the types of courses to your postgraduate funding options, where to live, and tips and advice from current students.

Postgraduate courses and funding: everything you need to know

Postgraduate Certificate or Diploma (PGCert / PGDip)

A PGCert or PGDip is a shorter less extensive course of study at the Masters level. It can be useful for anyone who doesn't want to commit to a full year of study or who has a very specialised interest in just a few modules on a course. Both qualifications will in general omit the research element of a course but follow the same taught modules as the Masters.

Master of arts (MA) or Master of science (MSc)

These are taught courses which usually last one to two years full time or two to three years part-time. The taught element is usually quite significant and these courses will end with a research project and dissertation. Teaching can also include seminars, lectures, oral work, tutorials, project work and exams.

Master of Research (MRes)

This type of degree has a larger research element which is supervised by an experienced academic but will still have a fairly large taught element. This course is suitable for someone who may want to continue with a PhD or a career in research.

Master of Philosophy (MPhil)

An MPhil is a research only degree, similar in academic quality to that of a PhD but shorter in length, so it is suited to those who can't commit to the lengthy period of study. It is often a precursor to a PhD or a career in research. The course will include the production of a thesis and an oral examination to demonstrate your research skills, knowledge and understanding of your subject area.

Master of Laws (LLM)

The Master of Laws is a one year full time course which law students and professionals may study to have the opportunity to specialise in one particular field. It is not a requirement to hold an LLM to practice law and in most cases an LLM student will have gained a professional law degree such as an LLB in the UK.

Master of Business Administration (MBA)

An MBA is aimed at management professionals who already have a few years of business experience. They are usually fairly expensive, intensive and designed to create the business leaders of the future. Length of study can be from a year to 18 months full time, or up to six years part-time. Course costs can vary but typically a UK MBA course will start at around £28,000 and can rise to upwards of £50,000.

Professional Doctorate

A professional doctorate is usually a part-time course for experienced professionals to carry out some research related to their profession, as well as a a taught element. On completing a professional doctorate, students are entitled to call themselves Dr.

PhD

A PhD is seen as the highest qualification a student can achieve. A PhD is based on the student carrying out original research and this type of qualification is usually required by those wishing to lecture or teach in universities although it is now also valued in other career sectors too.

Government backed loans

The UK government has launched a Postgraduate Masters Loans scheme for loans up to £10,609 if your course starts on or after 1 August 2018.

The amount you'll get is dependent on when you started your course, and not based on your family's income. 

At the moment, the loans are only offered to masters students who are under the age of 60 on the first day of the first academic year of the course.

Charities and foundations

Bursaries and scholarships are available from a range of charities, foundations, trusts, professional bodies and societies.

These funds are often awarded to students from a low socio-economic background, those who've achieved academic excellence or those whose studying will benefit a local community.

Learned societies sometimes offer funding for postgraduate or post-doctoral research. Examples include the British Academy and the Royal Academy of Engineering.

Studentships

A studentship refers to a place in a postgraduate course (most commonly a PhD) that comes partially or fully funded.

There can be stipulations about how the money can be spent - i.e. all the funds to go towards tuition costs.

Studentships are highly competitive. The seven UK Research Councils award around 8,000 studentships each year to a range of institutions.

Bursaries and scholarships

A bursary is a monetary award given to students who meet a certain set of criteria. This can include household or family income, academic achievements, subjects studied or where a student lives.

The term 'bursary' is often used interchangeably with scholarship.

Depending on the institution, bursaries can be a one-off payment or given in installments.

Subject-based awards

Certain awards are given to students studying a particular subject area. These include teaching, social work, and medicine and healthcare.

Institutions and training providers may also offer financial support to students studying specific areas.

Professional and career development loans

Many banks offer professional and career development loans from £300 to £10,000. The loans are to help pay for courses and training that help further your career, or get you into work.

The loans are usually offered at a reduced interest rate, with the government paying interest while you study.

Hardship funds

Funds are available to students who are experiencing financial difficulties, including coming from a low-income family, are a single parent or are encountering unexpected financial difficulties.

You've studied hard and gotten good results, but how you can you translate all the skills, techniques and training you developed during your masters course to the job market? Here are some frequently asked questions about the best ways to showcase your Masters course.

Will a masters make a difference to how employers view me?

This depends on your course and the sector. In some areas a masters, while not necessarily a requirement, tends to be the baseline qualification that most employees have. The museums and policy sectors are good examples of this. In this case postgraduate study will of course be an asset. Your masters may have given you essential technical training, or turned a broad-ranging undergraduate degree into something more specialist.

My masters is theory based. How do I present it to employers?

Often having theoretical or conceptual training can help you to approach work creatively and strategically. You are likely to have developed a good level of research and analysis skills. In some areas, such as the social sciences, you might have looked at real world issues through a theoretical lens. Highlight these transferable skills in your applications and how they are relevant to the job you want. Make sure you explain the content of your course in non-academic language.

Can I apply for graduate schemes?

Yes! Many of the graduate recruitment schemes welcome masters graduates and undergraduates, and you may have developed skills and knowledge to give you a competitive edge.

Approach prospective supervisors

Identifying the best supervisor for you is key to your PhD search. If you are planning a PhD in the sciences, then it is more likely you will be applying to carry out your research with an advertised project, and will need to research those leading that project. In arts, humanities and social sciences, you’ll need to identify an area of research you’re interested in and draft a project proposal before researching the experts in the field who could act as supervisors. Look at the publications of potential supervisors to see what they have published in your area of interest. It’s also worth finding out about any PhD projects they are currently supervising, or have done in the past.

You will then need to get in touch with these supervisors. If they are in your institution, you may be able to see them face-to-face. If they are elsewhere, send them an email telling them a bit about your research interests, how your ideas match with their expertise, and why you would like them to supervise your project.

When to apply

Most PhD studentships start in September/October.  Deadlines for applications to studentships vary, but many open around January and close around April in the year the studentship will start. However, other funded and self-funded PhDs can start at any time of year.  You should begin the process of applying as soon as you have identified potential supervisors and have a clear idea of your research proposal.

Funding

Around 15% of PhD students have a full scholarship, usually from one of the UK Research Councils or research charities.  These opportunities are usually advertised on sites such as www.jobs.ac.uk and www.findaphd.com.