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Applying for Postgraduate Study

Postgraduate study is a good choice if you really enjoy your subject and want to take it further, or if you need a postgraduate qualification to enter your chosen profession. It’s also a great way to develop specialist know-how and thus enhance your job prospects.

Choosing your course

There are lots of postgraduate courses on offer and you’ll find information on universities’ websites and in their prospectuses. If you’re not sure where to start, check out a postgraduate courses website that lets you search by region and subject.

For professional study, the relevant professional body will indicate which universities offer accredited programmes. You’ll then find more detailed information, regarding fees, funding possibilities, specific entry-requirements and how to apply, on each individual university’s website.

Finding out more

Universities run postgraduate open days where you can meet students and tutors from the courses on offer. It’s also a good opportunity to check out the facilities. It may be a bit inconvenient and costly, but going to an open day is always worth it. After all, it’ll give you the chance to find out what they are looking for in you as an applicant.


Some postgraduate courses have strict closing dates for applications. Others will just stop taking applications as soon as they are full. So apply early, at the beginning of your final year; don’t wait to secure funding. You can always defer or withdraw later if you can’t actually take up your place.

On the other hand, courses which aren’t full will consider applicants right up to the last minute, so if you make a last minute decision to apply, it’s always worth a phone call to check if you can still be considered.

There is no limit on the number of courses you can apply for, with the exception of some professional courses like teaching and some branches of psychology, where there is a central application process, and often a very early closing date.

The application form

Most postgraduate courses use a fairly standard application form, with space for the usual factual details about yourself and a personal statement, which is where you’ll be required to ‘make your case’ as an applicant. Some may follow this with an interview.

Motivation & ability

There are two things that postgraduate admissions tutors look for: motivation and ability. Firstly, do you really want to be there? Will you put in the effort to complete the course? You can demonstrate this on your application form by talking about your reasons for doing the course and how it will help with your long-term plans. Secondly, do you have the academic ability to do the work at master’s level?

It really is a step up from undergraduate study, requiring more analysis and greater critical thinking, which is why many universities require candidates to have a first or 2.1 at undergraduate level. Consequently, you need to provide evidence in your application form; not just from your grades, but by saying something about how you manage your study, meet your deadlines and so on.


Further evidence of your ability to study at postgraduate level will come from your referees. Usually two academic referees are needed, so you could use your personal tutor and your dissertation tutor, for instance. Make sure you ask them before you include their names on your application. It may be your responsibility to obtain the written references from them, so check carefully what you need to do.

Do apply for postgraduate study because:

  • You're passionate about your subject
  • You want to gain access to a profession
  • You want to progress in your sector

Don’t apply for postgraduate study if:

  • You have no idea what else to do
  • You want to put off starting your career
  • Your mates are doing it

Like to know more? You can buy Judith and Rachel’s book, The Brilliant Graduate Career Handbook, at a 20% discount here: www.pearson-books.com/BrilliantGraduateHandbook

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