A Guide To Postgraduate Study | EWS UK

A Guide To Postgraduate Study

Our guide to postgraduate study is designed to help you decide what to do after graduating university. We've answered questions asked by real graduates, so you have all the information you need to make an informed decision with regard to postgraduate study and whether it's right for you.

What is postgraduate study?

Postgraduate study is a level of higher academic education open to graduates. Postgraduate study opens students up to more complex ideas and advanced theories that offer the opportunity for people to learn specialised knowledge in a specific field.

"How popular is postgraduate study?" – Jade, Creative Writing Graduate

More people are choosing to study a Masters than ever before. Over 300,000 people started a taught postgraduate course in 2016-17, the highest number in a decade.

This is the second year in a row to show a rise in postgraduate numbers. This suggests more people are seeking additional skills and training after graduating. At a time when undergraduate degrees are considered to be worth less than they were ten years ago, more students are opting to stay on and gain the benefits of an advanced level of education.

"What's life like as a postgrad?" – Alice, Business Management Graduate

Compared with undergraduate courses, postgraduate courses in the UK are challenging and intensive. They generally have a narrow focus, allowing you to specialise in one specific aspect of your chosen subject. Once you have started a course, induction programmes help you to meet other students and find your way around a new campus. Inductions are likely to be more in-depth for international students.

After induction, life for a postgrad is similar to normal university life. The difference is that more is expected of you and you are given much more autonomy. This means you have to be prepared to be self-motivated and be able to think bigger than ever before.

Before you apply, you might want to:

• talk to current students to get an idea of the social environment and support

• find out more about the academic resources and opportunities available for study

• ask about the mix of current students on a course to make sure you're a good fit

"How difficult is postgraduate study?" – Robert, Law Graduate

Whether you've been away from studying for a few years or coming straight up from your bachelors degree, postgratuate study is difficult.

A postgraduate course, such as a masters degree, is likely to be much more taxing than anything you've experienced in your academic life. You'll have to tackle new ideas, new concepts and new ways of working.

Like many things in life, the beginning of postgraduate study is the most intense. You will need perseverance, an open mind and drive in those first few months. But you won't be alone in your efforts.

However you decide to undertake your postgraduate study, we're here to provide support. Speak to us today and discover how we can help.

Universities and colleges can support postgraduate students in their studies. Before you start your studies, make sure you know who you can reach out to and what support you can get. Support for students may include:

• getting help to identify the skills you will need

• facilities or support to help you study

• language and academic writing courses for international students

"What qualifications do I need to do postgraduate study?" – John, Economics Graduate

You can find the requirements for study in the course information of the postgraduate course you'd like to join.

Not all postgraduate programs need an undergraduate degree. Many professional courses may allow you to join a postgraduate course without one. All you need is the relevant skills and experience.

However, most Masters programs expect applicants to hold an appropriate bachelors degree. This is partly because of the need to demonstrate your ability to apply academic rigor to studies that you only really learn at university.

Many people do not study the same subject as a postgraduate that they studied for their first degree. Often, they will divert into a similar subject. One example would be doing a Business Analytics Bachelors Degree and an Economics Postgraduate Degree.

Some postgraduate courses consider applicants who have relevant work experience instead of a first degree. This is known as 'recognition of prior learning', and depends on the subject area. However, it is more common for business courses and rarer in the arts and sciences.

"How can I fund postgraduate study?" – Ryan, History Graduate

The cost of postgraduate study varies between subjects, courses and institutions. To find out more about fees and funding contact the admissions office at the university or college you're considering.

There are a number of ways you can receive state funding for your postgraduate studies. A new masters degree loan was launched in 2016-17 where masters students under 60 can access a loan of up to £10,000 towards the cost of their study. For students starting their course in 2017-18 a loan of up to £10,280 will be available.

The loans are administered by Student Finance England and information about eligibility and the application process can be found on their student finance page at The Student Room.

Getting funding can be hard and needs research. You may be able to find funding related to your course, from your employer or other external sources. You may need to find funding yourself.

For students who live in Scotland, Student Awards Agency Scotland (SAAS) provide loan funding of up to £10,000 to cover tuition fees and living costs for full-time postgraduate students. They also offer access to £2,750 to cover tuition fees for part-time postgraduate courses. Further details are available on the SAAS website.

Why take a postgraduate course?

"Will postgraduate study help my career?" – Emma, Earth Science Graduate

Some employers place more value on a postgraduate qualification. The recognise the value in the advanced insight you can bring to a specialised role. However, this is not the case with all employers.

Most postgraduate degrees will allow you to step into a business at a higher level than regular graduates. How this helps your career will depend on many factors, because experience also plays a role in determining career success.

Speaking directly with an employer or a professional association should clarify whether a course is well-suited to a particular career path. If an employer is prepared to fund your study, it is a good indication that the qualification will be useful.

If you undertook postgraduate study to change career, your new degree will give you a firm grounding in your new work life. You will be able to combine your past experiences with the specialist knowledge of your course to add real value to your job.

Types of postgraduate study

"What options are open to me?" – Tanya, Mechanical Engineering Graduate

Masters degrees

Masters degrees lead to qualifications such as Master of Science, Master of Arts or Master of Letters. They usually take 12 months for full-time courses. In some cases, they 'integrate' with an undergraduate degree to form a single, four year course on which students gradually specialise as they go into the final year.

Taught vs research

Masters postgraduate courses are divided into ‘taught’ or ‘research’ courses. Taught degrees are best for students who wish to expand upon their subject knowledge. Research programs are designed for postgraduates who wish to spend more time on their own independent scholarship or project work.

• Taught masters are similar to undergraduate degrees. You’ll study a series of modules before going on to complete an extended dissertation.

• Research masters involve much more independent study. They can still include taught units, but you’ll spend more time on your own research.

Postgraduate diplomas and certificates

These courses are as academically challenging as a taught masters, but are generally shorter.

Professional or vocational qualifications

These courses improve or develop the skills required for a specific job and are often funded by employers. Examples of this type of qualification include a Legal Practice Course to help graduates become qualified solicitors.

Ways to undertake postgraduate study

Most UK students study postgraduate courses on a part-time basis. Full-time courses are more often studied by international students. UK students generally prefer to spread the cost of their postgraduate study and pay fees over a period of time. They also stay in work and use part-time study as a way of improving their career opportunities.

For a full-time student, you could be working 9-5 every weekday. Even if those aren’t your hours the idea is that, as a full-time student, your commitment to study is expected to be above six or seven hours per day.

As a part-time postgraduate student, you may well find that teaching hours and study time are very fixed. This can be an advantage or a disadvantage, depending upon your circumstances and perspective.

"Do I have to begin my postgraduate course as soon as I graduate?" – Michele, Biochemistry Graduate

Even if your course does require a bachelors degree, you don’t need to continue to postgraduate study immediately.

Don't commit yourself to a postgraduate program just because you're not sure what else to do. Any big investment requires solid thought and understanding. You need to research the subject area you're interested in as well as the options it will open up for you.

In fact, many students return to university after a period in work and gain qualifications that help them advance in existing careers – or change career path.

However you decide to undertake your postgraduate study, we're here to provide support. Speak to us today and discover how we can help.