UK study & funding
A postgraduate degree is a serious investment - both in time and money - so it's extremely important that you spend plenty of time researching your options. What is right for others might not be right for you. Choose the course that best fits your personal requirements. Here are some of the factors you might need to consider:
Will it help my career plans?
If you have a particular career in mind, make sure that your course qualifies you or gives you a push in the right direction. Some courses might also give you exemptions from professional exams.
If your main focus is getting a job at the end of the course, then you can also check what graduates from this course have gone on to do. The Careers Service at your target institution can usually help with this.
How good is it?
How much benefit you will get from it, will depend on what your goals are, however, it is worth discussing the reputation and specialisms of an institution or department and courses with your tutors. If you are looking for a research degree (see below), much will depend on who will supervise you, so think about this early on. For taught courses, you should also check out the course structure and contact hours etc.
Can I afford it?
This will be one of the major considerations for most people. The cost of a postgraduate course doesn't just include the course fees (have a look at our information on funding for this) but you should also take into account the cost of living - and this can vary enormously depending on where you want to study - and the fact that you will not be earning during your course. Are you prepared for another year or more of student life?
Will I get in?
Most postgraduate courses ask for a 2.1 Honours degree or above though, for courses which are very strongly career focused, relevant work experience might also be accepted. Your grades might also have an influence on whether you manage to get funding or not.
For many, practical points like location will also matter. Discuss your requirements and plans with a Careers Adviser to make sure you that you have all the information you need to make your decision.
Types of courses
There are two main types of courses:
- Taught Courses (PGDip, MSc, MLitt, MA (outwith Scotland) etc.)
These usually last no more than a year or two and are split into taught modules plus a dissertation at the end. This might sound very much like the final year of your undergraduate degree but expect to do more reading, private study and more assignments. Your dissertation will probably also have to be longer than that of your undergraduate. Some of these courses also function as professional qualifications, e.g. in Teaching (PGDE) or Social Work (PGDip).
- Research degrees (MLitt (by research), MRes, PhD etc.)
These can last up to three years. You either find and work on your own research project - this is more common in Arts & Social Science - or you could be part of a research group and work on a particular aspect of a larger project. This is often the case in Physical or Medical Sciences. It is now common to do a Masters first before you are let loose on a PhD. This is called 1+3.
A number of websites have course listings you can search by a variety of criteria, including key words or subjects, location and institution. The most important are listed in the resources below.
Once you have a short-list of courses you are considering, research them thoroughly. You can use some of the criteria listed under Choosing the right course for this or you might have your own in mind. Discuss your plans with a Careers Adviser and, particularly for research degrees, with your tutors. Academia is a small world and they will probably know the institution and your potential supervisors. They can also help you define a research project and proposal.
How much will it cost?
A standard postgraduate course currently costs around £3,000 in fees (for Home and EU students) but this will vary depending on the course and the institution. Make sure you check in your research.
On top of your fees, you also need to consider living costs such as
- Bills such as electricity, telephone etc.
- Books, computer equipment etc.
- Travel to conferences or to carry out research
Sources of funding
The main sources of funding are:
- Research Councils – There are six in the UK and they support study and research in different areas. Full studentships (fees and maintenance) are available for the best of the best. You can't usually apply directly though, so check with your chosen institution.
- Student Awards Agency for Scotland (SAAS) – If you are Scottish or have studied in Scotland, then you might be eligible for support but only for some courses, e.g. teaching. Check the SAAS website for details.
- Institutions – Universities sometimes make money available for particular courses or more widely (e.g. the College of Arts and Social Sciences at Aberdeen). Check University websites for information on these.
- Charities and Trusts – This can vary from a few hundred pounds to full fees and maintenance from some of the big ones like the Carnegie Trust. Often, this type of funding can be used to study at any institution. The Sir Duncan Rice Library has reference copies of the Grants Register and the Directory of Grant Making Trusts which you may find useful as many charities are fairly traditional and do not have a website.
There are a number of good resources at the Careers Service and online for finding funding and funded places on postgraduate courses. Check the resources section below for more information.
Our virtual library contains searchable resources available online and at the Careers Service. Use the links below to find the resources related to UK study and funding.