Postgraduate students guide
Our postgraduate guide outlines entry requirements, how to apply, and visa and employment conditions for the UK.
People choose to go into postgraduate education for a number of reasons:
You’ll boost your career prospects
A postgraduate qualification is a good way to enhance your job prospects. It helps you stand out from the crowd and shows that you have commitment and dedication.
For some professions, a postgraduate qualification is mandatory; for others it’s desirable. A postgraduate degree is as valuable in the private sector as it is in the public. An MBA may advance your business career in a way nothing else will.
You’ll learn even more
If you’re coming to the end of your undergraduate studies but still have a yearning to learn, a postgraduate course can satisfy your intellectual curiosity.
A postgraduate degree gives you the chance to specialise in a field that interests you, and advance your knowledge and expertise in a subject you enjoy.
You have options to fit it around other commitments
If you’re working or looking after family during the day, full-time study may be out of the question. However, you can now choose how you study your postgraduate degree to suit your lifestyle.
Many universities and colleges offer part-time courses delivered via evening and weekend classes, day release or study breaks, helping you to fit your studies around your daily life.
Entry requirements for postgraduate courses vary per institution. Most UK universities and colleges ask for a first-class degree or a good second-class honours. Some courses specify that you’ve achieved a 2:1 or above, others a 2:2 or above.
The same applies for a PhD, but you’ll probably also need a master’s degree, an MPhil or MRes, as well as evidence you know something about research procedures. Some experience of working alone on a research project, or evidence of good writing and communication skills, would be useful. The latter is especially important for humanities and social science doctorates.
If you’ve gained qualifications outside the UK, you can ask your local British Council office to help you compare them before you contact your chosen institution. Check for any English language requirements – you may need an IELTS score of 6.0 to 7.0, so ask your local British Council office where and when you can take the test.
There’s no centralised admissions system for postgraduate courses in the UK, so you should apply directly to your chosen institution if you’re based locally (international students can apply online via the British Council’s website).
The exception to this rule is the UCAS Postgraduate application service, which lets you make online applications to 12 universities and colleges:
- University of Bolton
- Bristol Old Vic
- University of Dundee
- Edge Hill University
- Islamic College for Advanced Studies
- London South Bank University
- Oxford Brookes University
- Ravensbourne University London
- Richmond, the American International University in London
- Royal Veterinary College, University of London
- University of Westminster
- University of Winchester
- Give yourself plenty of time by starting your application process one year before the course begins
- In your application, make sure to mention your research interests and any relevant work experience you’ve gained
- When writing your personal statement, think carefully about why you’ve chosen your programme and what it means to you
- Draw up a shortlist of institutions and courses – you can apply to as many as you want but student advisers generally recommend six to eight
- Remember to check with departments about the closing date for applications
- If you’re applying for a scholarship, apply at least one year before the course begins
If you’re thinking of studying a postgraduate degree as an international student in the UK, you’ll need to get your visa sorted as early as possible.
Students who aren’t nationals of the European Economic Area (EEA) need a visa with sponsorship from their institution to study in the UK. Your visa should allow for multiple entries into the country.
You’ll also need to show you can study in the UK without needing access to public funds: £1,000 a month for the first nine months if you’ll be studying in London, £800 if you’ll be outside London.
Students on Tier 4 visas have the right to work part-time for up to 20 hours a week.
If you’re an international student, you should first investigate funding opportunities in your own country and contact your local British Council office.
High-profile schemes for international postgraduates include the Chevening Scholarships, funded by the UK government’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office. These are very competitive (only one in 25 applicants is successful) and are aimed at international students whose studies will enable them to take part in development work in their home country.
The Shell Centenary Scholarship Fund offers scholarships at some UK universities, and you need to apply well in advance of your start date. There’s also the Commonwealth Scholarships and Fellowships and Commonwealth Shared Scholarships for students from certain Commonwealth countries.
Note that as an international student, you’re unlikely to be offered funding in the form of a teaching or research assistantship from your university, especially for a taught postgraduate course. However, at PhD level, you might be able to apply for an externally funded scholarship.
UCAS lists all postgraduate courses in the UK. There’s also Prospects, the UK’s official graduate careers website. For international students, the British Council is the go-to source of information about UK postgraduate degrees.