- What is postgraduate study?
- Why do postgraduate study?
- Choosing a university
- Information sources
- Before you apply
- Applications & personal statements
- Study abroad
Already a Postgraduate? See Careers Help for Postgraduates and Contract Research Staff
Study towards a Master's or doctoral degree, or a postgraduate diploma or certificate, that is taken after having obtained a Bachelor's degree. This study may, depending on the degree taken, may be through a taught course or through research.
The titles of these degrees vary according to the subject and the method of study, but there is no standard definition so you will need to check exactly what is involved in studying for a specific Masters degree at a specific university.Some common titles are:
- M.Phil (Master of Philosophy). Usually signifies a Masters degree obtained by research, in any subject
- MA (Master of Arts) and M.Litt (Master of Letters) – both used for a range of arts and humanities subjects; MSc. (Master of Science); LLM (Master of Laws); M.Psych; MBA (Master of Business Administration)
You may come across many other titles!
Masters degrees may be awarded following a taught course or on a research basis.
Taught courses follow a similar structure to undergraduate degrees, usually over one year of full-time study or two years part-time. During the academic year you will follow a programme involving some or all of the following: seminars, lectures, coursework and exams. Over the summer vacation you complete a dissertation or research project and the degree is awarded on satisfactory completion of all these elements.
Research Masters degrees involve “the sustained, rigorous, critical and systematic investigation of a defined subject” over a period of at least one year. You will work independently to prepare a thesis under the guidance of a supervisor and are likely to receive training in research skills. You will normally be required to take a viva (oral examination) on your thesis before your degree is awarded.
Many students begin a research master’s degree with the aim of upgrading it to a PhD after the first year of study. In this case, you are never actually awarded a Masters but continue your research to the more demanding standard of a PhD (see below).
This is the highest level of academic qualification and the title of PhD is used across the full range of academic subjects. It involves an extended period (at least 3 years) of supervised research resulting in a thesis which "forms an addition to knowledge, shows evidence of systematic study and of ability to relate the results of such study to the general body of knowledge in the subject and is worthy of publication”. It is more demanding than a research Masters, not only in its length but also in that your research must be original and add something new to the existing knowledge on that subject.
Again, you will work independently to prepare a thesis under the guidance of a supervisor and will normally be required to take a viva. Once your PhD has been awarded you are entitled to use the title of “Dr”.
Your choice of supervisor is crucial – it is important to choose someone who not only has the necessary expertise in the subject but who will be committed to supporting your research and who you feel that you will get on well with.
You will often be required to register for a research Masters initially and then apply to be upgraded to a PhD student.
These are often vocational and include professional training, such as the PGCE (Postgraduate Certificate in Education) required to qualify as a teacher or conversion courses such as the Graduate Diploma in Law.
These courses usually last for one academic year of full-time study or two years part-time and involve seminars, lectures, coursework and exams. You may have the opportunity to upgrade your diploma to a Masters degree by writing a dissertation after you have completed the taught course.
For interest in the subject?
Whatever you choose to study, you will need to enjoy and be interested in the subject to keep yourself motivated, especially for research degrees. In some areas, particularly humanities, this is the most realistic reason for postgraduate study, especially if you don’t intend to go on into an academic career. But do consider whether your interest is so great as to be worth the time, effort and cost of a postgraduate degree.
As a career move?
A professional postgraduate qualification is essential for some careers (law, teaching, psychology) and may be helpful in others (journalism, human resource management, politics, economics). If you want an academic career, a PhD is essential – not because it is required by law but because of the competition for academic posts.
Employers in other career areas are not always as impressed by a postgraduate degree as postgraduates think. Only 20% of graduate recruiters will offer a higher salary to postgraduates. The majority of recruiters will value postgraduate degrees more for the skills gained through study (such as self-motivation and analytical skills) than for the actual subject knowledge gained.
The Occupational Profiles at www.prospects.ac.uk/links/Occupations will give an indication of whether a postgraduate degree is likely to be helpful in entering that career field.
Because your tutor has recommended it?
This can be encouraging and flattering – but it is you, not your tutor, who will have to undertake (and pay for!) postgraduate study so make sure that you too are sure it is the right option for you.
To improve your academic record?
A postgraduate degree can sometimes help to compensate for poor results in your Bachelors degree or A-levels, but not always: many employers are rigid in their requirements for UCAS points or a 2.1 even for postgraduates.
To keep on being a student?
In the past, many students carried on into postgraduate study because they enjoyed student life so much or to put off the day when they would have to go out into the “real world”. The financial pressures of being a student today means that this reason is less often quoted but it still happens. Don’t use postgraduate study as an excuse not to think about a future career at all!
To put off making a career decision?
If you undertake a taught Masters, it won’t actually put off your decision that long: many job applications need to be made at the start of the academic year. Where the extra year can be an advantage is in giving you time to build up your employability skills through involvement in University activities or in gaining work experience. Do think beyond your postgraduate degree and make sure it fits in with any future career plans.
You don’t have to have a First to go into postgraduate study (although it will help, especially in getting funding). A “good” 2.1 (65% or better) is usually expected. However, people with lower grades, including 2.2s, are regularly accepted onto postgraduate courses, especially if you have obtained better results in modules relevant to the postgraduate course than in your degree overall.
A relevant degree is usually required but “relevant” can be interpreted very broadly. For example, Law and History graduates regularly go on to postgraduate degrees in politics and international relations while politics graduates go on to LLM courses. Some Masters degrees, for example in Business, Computing and Psychology, are designed as conversion courses for graduates in other subjects.
Universities have a great deal of freedom in who they accept onto their postgraduate courses, so if you are in any doubt speak to the relevant department or the Graduate School at the university in which you are interested.
Your choice may be restricted – a taught course may be only available at one or two institutions; you may want to carry out research under a particular supervisor or you may need to stay in Kent for your further study.
If you are completely free to choose where to go, your decision may be difficult. You have the following options:
Stay at Kent.
There are many advantages in this: you know the University, the teaching staff and the area so you will not have the same potential problems in settling in and finding accommodation that you might elsewhere (this could be particularly important for one-year Masters students). Research students may have better opportunities to teach undergraduates when they and their work are already known to academic staff. On the other hand, you may find postgraduate study more challenging and rewarding if you move out of your comfort zone and study at a university where you will be exposed to fresh ideas and methods.
Study elsewhere in the UK.
There is a very wide choice of universities and a vast amount of information – see the links below to get started. Making a decision on where to study takes time and research. Don’t just look at the “top” universities. Research and quality assessments can give an indication of a university’s strengths but they will not give the whole picture or show which is the best university for you. Be sure to visit other universities before making your decision and try and talk to current postgraduates as well as staff.
You will need to start planning early for this, especially if you want to study in the USA. Many graduates will look at this and other English-speaking countries but universities in mainland Europe are increasingly offering postgraduate courses taught through English. The level of information available varies from country to country but our Postgraduate Study Abroad section at the end of this page will help you find some useful resources for individual countries.
General information on postgrad study in the UK. Start your research into postgraduate study with:
- Prospects.ac.uk - the official national graduate careers site – which includes pages on the following topics:
- About Postgraduate Study www.kent.ac.uk/careers/docs/AboutPostgradStudy.pdf downloadable pdf with comprehensive information about doing posgraduate study
- Why Do Postgraduate Study? www.prospects.ac.uk/links/PGStudy
- Postgraduate Study in the UK for International Students www.prospects.ac.uk/links/PGIntStud
- Explore working and studying abroad www.prospects.ac.uk/links/Abroad
- A searchable database of postgraduate courses and research www.prospects.ac.uk/links/PGDbase
- Hobsons Postgrad www.postgrad.hobsons.com Latest update on funding news, immediate vacancies, new courses and research places
- Target Courses http://targetcourses.co.uk 20,000 searchable courses and search results can be compared in a table which includes RAE scores, employability data from HESA, student reviews and employer ratings.
- Hot Courses www.hotcourses.com database of courses in the UK, including postgraduate courses and research. Type in your postcode to find course near you.
- Postgraduate Search www.postgraduatesearch.com
- FindAMasters www.FindAMasters.com Advice on Masters degrees plus a database of these courses in the UK and overseas
- FindAPhD www.FindAPhD.com Current Research and PhD Studentships – mostly in science but some social science and humanities opportunities
- FIND MBA www.find-mba.com global directory of over 2,000 MBA programs and community for prospective MBA students.
- New Scientist Study www.newscientiststudy.com/study/default.aspx science studentships and courses
- Map of UK Universities www.ucas.com/students/choosingcourses/choosinguni/map
- UK Pass www.ukpass.ac.uk online postgraduate study application service brought to you by UCAS. Only includes certain universities at present.
- Distance Learning and correspondence courses www.kent.ac.uk/careers/distance.htm
- Guardian www.guardian.co.uk/education/series/postgraduate-subject-tables-2011 "full details, fees and job prospects of each postgraduate and masters degree at every university in the UK".
- Education Guardian – postgraduate news and advice http://education.guardian.co.uk/higher/postgraduate/0,,889369,00.html
- HEFCE University Research Assessment Exercise – this takes place every five years and assesses the quality of research in Universities and colleges in the UK. www.hefce.ac.uk/Research/assessment/default.htm
- Teaching Quality assessments for UK Universities www.qaa.ac.uk
- League tables
- Times www.thetimes.co.uk/tto/public/gug
- Unistats http://unistats.direct.gov.uk
- Times Higher Education World University Rankings www.timeshighereducation.co.uk/world-university-rankings
- QS World University Rankings www.topuniversities.com
- Academic Ranking of World Universities www.arwu.org
In the Careers Information Room you can pick up a copy of the AGCAS booklet "Postgraduate Study and Research" and the Prospects Postgraduate Funding Guide
Funding and funding bodies .... or, Where will the money come from???
"The types and sources of funding for postgraduate study are many and varied. They are, however, rarely sufficient, either in number or in the level of support awarded"
How much will it cost?
Fees start at approximately £3000 a year for UK/EU students on full-time academic courses, but can be a lot more - £25,000+ for some MBA courses. International student fees start at around £8000
You will also need to budget for living expenses and the costs involved in your study and research itself, such as travel to libraries or to interview people and the cost of having your thesis produced and bound.
Where the money will not come from:
Your local education authority and the Student Loans Company are not allowed to make awards for academic study at postgraduate level except for PGCEs
Funding will not come from anywhere automatically
Where the money might come from:
Research CouncilsThese are autonomous, non-departmental public bodies which support UK research in the higher education sector through the provision of grants, including postgraduate studentships. They include:
- Arts & Humanities Research Council www.ahrc.ac.uk/FundingOpportunities/Pages/default.aspx
- Economic & Social Research Council (ESRC) www.esrcsocietytoday.ac.uk
- Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) www.bbsrc.ac.uk/funding/training/Welcome.html
- Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) www.epsrc.ac.uk
- Medical Research Council (MRC) www.mrc.ac.uk/index/funding/funding-personal_awards/funding-studentship.htm
- Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) www.nerc.ac.uk/funding
- Science & Technology Facilities Council (STFC) www.stfc.ac.uk/Funding+and+Grants/501.aspx
Competition for Research Council funding is intense. In many areas only a small percentage of candidates make a successful application. As a general rule, funding is easier to obtain in science and engineering disciplines than in the arts and social sciences.
Funding is normally only available to students on research-based postgraduate degrees who are resident in England & Wales (the Student Awards Agency for Scotland and DEL for Northern Ireland fund students from these countries). Students resident in other EU countries may receive a fees-only award.
The awards pay fees and maintenance and the closing date for applications normally at the end of April, but apply much earlier if possible. See the above websites for full details.
Many universities offer funding to their postgraduate research students. This may be an outright award or studentship or may involve undertaking paid teaching or research work within the department. Prospects.ac.uk includes a guide to university funding and the terms and conditions of postgraduate employment. Deadlines for applications are usually at around the same time as the Research Council deadlines.
Information on postgraduate research scholarships at Kent is at www.kent.ac.uk/scholarships/postgraduate
You may be able to obtain a bank loan to fund your further study, but will need to be able to convince your bank of your ability to pay it back after the end of your study. They will probably ask to see evidence of the salaries you could expect in the areas of work that this study will qualify you for.
Professional and Career Development Loans www.direct.gov.uk/pcdl are operated through banks but have a lower interest rate than normal. You can borrow up to £10,000 to help fund up to two years of learning. Unlike student loans (for which postgraduate students are not eligible) you will need to begin repaying these loans at the end of the loan period regardless of how much or how little you are earning.
Guardian article on funding postgraduate study via a loan www.guardian.co.uk/money/2012/apr/13/funding-postgrad-studies
Savings and earnings
You don’t have to start a postgraduate degree as soon as you have finished your undergraduate study. Many graduates take a year – or more – to earn money, pay off their undergraduate debts and build up some savings before beginning postgraduate study.
Like undergraduate students, many postgraduate students work during term-time to fund their studies. If you are worried about balancing the demands of work and study it is worth remembering that many postgraduate courses are available on a part-time basis.
There are a wide range of these but most can only offer small sums and many do not make grants to individual applicants. You usually need to demonstrate that you are in greater-than-average need of funding.
- The Funderfinder database in the Careers Information Room allows you to do a personalised search to find charities and trusts that may offer support to you as an individual. Their website www.funderfinder.org.uk/links_trusts.php carries links to funding bodies generally. You can also download copies of "Apply Yourselves" and "Budget Yourselves" free software.
- Hot Courses Student Money www.studentmoney.org lists 15,000 UK funding opportunities at undergraduate and postgraduate level;
- Turn2Us www.turn2us.org.uk gives details of hundreds of grant-giving charities that may be able to provide financial support and other services. Also a benefits checker.
- www.scholarship-search.org.uk lists funding opportunities for undergraduate and postgraduate degrees.
- ScholarshipsTimes.com information about scholarships across the Globe. Categorized in Government, NGO's / Trusts and Corporate Scholarships, Undergraduate, Postgradute, PHD / Doctorate, Post Doctoral Scholarships and Research Scholarships.
- EGAS www.family-action.org.uk/section.aspx?id=1037 the Educational Grants Advisory Service - specialises in charitable trust funding, and maintains a database of trusts and charities that assist students.
- Trusts and Charities www.postgraduatestudentships.co.uk
You can download the Alternative Guide to Postgraduate Funding here
It is quite rare for an employer to sponsor anybody not already working for them for postgraduate study, although many employers will support your study for professional or relevant academic qualifications once you have started working for them.
There are some exceptions to this: for example, law firms will often pay for their future trainee solicitors to complete their conversion course (if needed) and/or Legal Practice Course before they start their training contract and the Bank of England www.bankofengland.co.uk/jobs sponsors selected students to complete full-time masters degrees prior to joining the Bank's graduate training programme.
KTP www.ktponline.org.uk is a government-funded scheme that places graduates in small and medium-sized enterprises to work on knowledge transfer projects in a wide range of employers and locations. As well as salaried employment, graduates receive support to study for a higher degree and to gain a management qualification. Most vacancies are for graduates in engineering, IT and business-related subjects.
The British Association for the Advancement of Science produces a guide: Everything You Wanted to Know about Sponsorship, Placements and Graduate Opportunities www.everythingyouwantedtoknow.com
Further useful information on funding:
- University of Kent Postgraduate Funding Information www.kent.ac.uk/scholarships/index.html excellent information on scholarships and awards generally: not just on Kent scholarships
- PS www.postgraduateStudentships.co.uk searchable database of funding for postgraduates from charities, trusts and university departments.
- Prospects.ac.uk - Funding my further study www.prospects.ac.uk/links/Fundstudy
- Prospects.ac.uk - Public funding bodies www.prospects.ac.uk/links/PGPubs
- British Council (funding advice for international students) www.educationuk.org
- RD Funding http://rdfunding.org.uk health-related research funding, including social sciences
- Bursary Map http://bursarymap.direct.gov.uk postgrad bursaries throughout the UK
- FindAPhD.com Postgraduate Funding Awards – 9 annual PhD bursaries available in all subjects for study at any EU university.
- FindAMasters.com Postgraduate Funding Awards – 9 annual Masters bursaries available in all subjects for study at any EU university.
TARGET Courses http://targetcourses.co.uk/funding/search search for funding opportunities based on: level and subject of study institution, funding source and/or region of origin
Directories and booksThe following publications can be consulted in the Careers Information Room:
- The Directory of Grant-Making Trusts
- The Grants Register
- Students' Money Matters
- Hot Courses Student Money Directory
Ask for these at the Reception Desk
- Why do you want to do postgraduate study?
- Do you know what you want to do after a postgraduate degree?
- How will you fund yourself?
- Are you good enough?
- What types of postgraduate degree are available (e.g. taught course or research)
- Which is the most appropriate for you?
- How will you fund yourself?
- Where will you study? Will you stay on at Kent (by choice or by necessity), go elsewhere in the UK, or abroad ..?
- How stiff is the competition for postgraduate study in your chosen field?
- Once again, how will you fund yourself? What are your chances of getting funding in your chosen area? If you cannot obtain funding from a Research Council, university or other body, could you still study at postgraduate level? Are you prepared to work part-time if necessary or to take time out before you begin postgraduate study to work and raise funds for it?
These pages are an introduction and do not aim to give you all the answers to these questions. Even the links and information sources referred to will not be enough in themselves - although they will be a good start. Many of the questions can only be answered by you in relation to your individual aptitudes, interests and personal circumstances.
Talk to academic staff and current postgraduates, both here at Kent and in other universities, for a first-hand view of the realities of postgraduate life and your chances of succeeding at graduate study. Academic staff can advise you on your chances of success in your bid to continue your studies and on the best universities for you to do postgraduate work in your area of choice. They may even know of awards or research posts likely to be available. And, of course, you can discuss your options for postgraduate study with the careers adviser for your subject: see www.kent.ac.uk/ces/advice.html
|30,000 pupils plagiarised personal statements in UCAS applications last year, despite a new plagiarism detection system. Here are some of the most common plagiarisms is opening sentences:
Many applicants borrowed from the same website. 234 applications for medicine contained “Ever since I accidentally burnt holes in my pyjamas after experimenting with a chemistry set on my 8th birthday, I have always had a passion for science”
Other common ones were: “From an early age I have been fascinated by the workings of life. The human body is a remarkable machine”
There is no equivalent of UCAS for postgraduate academic study – you need to apply individually to each university in which you are interested. There is no limit on the number of applications that you can make (but don’t get carried away – 3 or 4 applications is usually fine).
Application may be by application form (paper or online), CV or both. Application forms are usually similar to UCAS forms, asking for personal background details (but not usually requiring information on your pre-university education), one or two academic references and a personal statement.
Similarly, there is no general opening or closing date. Some of the most popular universities and courses may fill up soon after Christmas; others may still be making offers during the summer vacation. Check the advice and application procedures for individual universities using the links from the Information Sources above.
Personal statements are frequently required in applications for postgraduate study, in particular business courses, such as MBAs, but are also required for areas such as postgraduate teacher training. You are typically allowed about 1 page of A4 (250-500 words) to "sell yourself". Sometimes you will simply be asked to "provide evidence in support of your application" whereas sometimes the question will be much more prescriptive:
" Describe briefly your reasons for wanting to teach giving the relevance of your previous education and experience, including teaching, visits to schools and work with other young people" PGCE - (teacher training) application form.
Sometimes (as in the example given above), you will be given a very clear indication of what you should write, but in the absence of this, here are some guidelines. Don't use the same statement for all applications. Each statement will need a slightly different emphasis, depending on the university you are applying to. Make sure that you answer the questions asked in each statement. Research the university and course/research area. Find out what sets your choice apart from other universities.
Use good English. If your statement is fresh, lively, and different, you'll be putting yourself ahead of the crowd. Read your statement very carefully. Do your draft on a word-processor and spell and grammar check it, but also give it to a friend to read. Be clear and concise. Don't woffle! Show the ability to put the salient points across in a few words. Stay within prescribed word limits. Pay attention to presentation - type the statement if your handwriting is at all poor. Be positive and enthusiastic – selectors will read many personal statements and you want yours to stand out.
Give your statement a structure with an introduction, a main body and a conclusion. The opening paragraph is important as it is here that you grab the reader's attention or lose it. This paragraph becomes the framework for the rest of the statement. The middle section might detail your interest and experience in your particular field, as well as your knowledge of the field. Be as specific as you can in relating what you know about the field and use the language professionals use in conveying this information.
Get your final draft checked by friends, academics or the duty careers adviser. A Careers or Employability Adviser is available to help with CV checks and/or other quick queries between 10.30 am - 12.30 p.m. and 2.00 - 4.00 p.m. every day*.
*except on public holidays and when the whole University shuts down over the Christmas period. Some drop-in sessions are for CV checks only: ask in the CES building for details of what the adviser on duty at particular times can offer. During vacations, the Careers Information Room will still be open all day, but will be unstaffed between 12.30 - 1.30 pm
Possible content for your statement
- Why do you want to do the course/research?
Try to convey your enthusiasm and motivation for study/research. Don't try to write what you think they want to hear, write your real reasons. Write about any projects dissertations or extended essays you have done if they are relevant or demonstrate relevant skills. Mention any prizes you have won, also travel or study abroad and relevant employment. Describe anything that shows creativity, dependability or independence.
- Why this subject?
Be clear about why you have chosen this. Is the programme noted for a particular emphasis, speciality or orientation? When did you become interested in this field and what have you learned about it? What insights have you gained? How have you learned about this field - through classes, seminars, work or conversations with academic staff?
- Why this university?
Be specific – don’t make bland statements such as “Because you are an internationally-renowned university with an excellent academic reputation”. Is the programme noted for a particular emphasis, speciality or orientation? Are there specific academic staff you want to do research or study with? What is it about the structure of the course, or the choice of modules, that appeals to you?
- What academic skills have you got to offer?
Computing skills, knowledge of relevant scientific techniques etc. If your A levels were poor (or you didn't do these, try to show an upward progression during your time at University).
In general the best candidates (for postgraduate funding)
- had read and followed the guidelines and provided the information sought
- expressed their proposed project convincingly
- avoided jargon and aimed to make their statement intelligible to readers with expertise in the general subject area, but not necessarily in the specific area of their proposed research
- were able to make a convincing case about the significance of the proposed topic, and show evidence of wide reading around the subject.
Arts and Humanities Research Board
- What personal skills can you offer? e.g. ability to work in a team, with little supervision.
Demonstrate that you've done your homework about the course/research and that you've seriously considered your strengths and weaknesses for postgraduate study or research. If you have done vacation jobs, what skills have you learned: teamworking, communication, working under pressure? Have you had to overcome any obstacles or hardships in your life? This may show evidence of determination/resilience.
- What are your strengths?
In what ways are you better than other applicants? If you can't answer this question, don't expect the selectors to answer it for you!
- What is the relevance of your first degree to this study?
Point out any circumstances that may have effected your academic results, that you think should be considered by the selectors.
- What are your career aims?
You may not have a very clear focus on what you want to do afterwards, but you should have some ideas. A clear direction will strengthen your commitment to do well in your studies and selectors will know this. Your desire to become a lawyer, lecturer, or whatever should be logical, the result of specific experience in your statement.
Further advice and example personal statements:
- Advice on writing a personal statement for the Legal Practice Course with examples www.kent.ac.uk/careers/cv/LPCStatements.htm
- Personal Statements for Teacher Training Applications www.kent.ac.uk/careers/cv/PGCEStatements.htm
- Personal Statement Writing Guide www.getintouni.com/Free/WritingGuide recommended by a Kent student.
- Writing a Personal Statement (with examples) - Purdue University http://owl.english.purdue.edu/handouts/pw/p_perstate.html
- UC Berkeley - step by step guide to writing the personal statement. http://students.berkeley.edu/apa/personalstatement
Brilliant statement by Hugh Gallagher: won the humour category of the Scholastic Writing Awards.
"I am a dynamic figure, often seen scaling walls and crushing ice. I have been known to remodel train stations on my lunch breaks, making them more efficient in the area of heat retention. I translate ethnic slurs for Cuban refugees, I write award-winning operas, I manage time efficiently. Occasionally, I tread water for three days in a row.
I woo women with my sensuous and godlike trombone playing, I can pilot bicycles up severe inclines with unflagging speed, and I cook Thirty Minute Brownies in twenty minutes. I am an expert in stucco, a veteran in love, and an outlaw in Peru.
Using only a hoe and a large glass of water, I once single-handedly defended a small village in the Amazon Basin from a horde of ferocious army ants. I play bluegrass cello, I was scouted by the Mets. I am the subject of numerous documentaries. When I’m bored, I build large suspension bridges in my yard. I enjoy urban hang gliding. On Wednesdays, after school, I repair electrical appliances free of charge.
I am an abstract artist, a concrete analyst, and a ruthless bookie. Critics worldwide swoon over my original line of corduroy evening wear. I don’t perspire. I am a private citizen, yet I receive fan mail. I have been caller number nine and won the weekend passes. Last summer I toured New Jersey with a traveling centrifugal-force demonstration. I bat .400. My deft floral arrangements have earned me fame in international botany circles. Children trust me.
I can hurl tennis rackets at small moving objects with deadly accuracy. I once read Paradise Lost, Moby Dick, and David Copperfield in one day and still had time to refurbish an entire dining room that evening. I know the exact location of every food item in the supermarket. I have performed covert operations for the CIA. I sleep once a week; when I do sleep, I sleep in a chair. While on vacation in Canada, I successfully negotiated with a group of terrorists who had seized a small bakery. The laws of physics do not apply to me.
I balance, I weave, I dodge, I frolic, and my bills are all paid. On weekends, to let off steam, I participate in full-contact origami. Years ago I discovered the meaning of life but forgot to write it down. I have made extraordinary four-course meals using only a Mouli and a toaster oven. I breed prizewinning clams. I have won bullfights in San Juan, cliff-diving competitions in Sri Lanka, and spelling bees at the Kremlin. I have played Hamlet, I have performed open-heart surgery, and I have spoken with Elvis.
But I have not yet gone to college."
The academic reference is a vital part of your application. Choose your referees carefully – they should know you and your work well. Somebody who has taught you for a module relevant to the postgraduate study you are applying for (or, better still, supervised you for an undergraduate dissertation) is ideal. You do not have to give your personal tutor as a referee if you don’t feel that you have had sufficient contact with them for them to be able to give a thorough reference.
It’s a good idea to discuss your plans with your referee, as they may be able to offer further advice and suggest suitable universities. Give them a copy of your application when you send it off and, if you are applying for funding, make sure that their reference is submitted to the relevant awards body before the closing date.
Some thoughts on academic references from the referee’s point of view www.guardian.co.uk/education/2013/jan/28/application-university-job-reference
An academic CV might sometimes be required if you are applying for a Master's degree or PhD – either instead of, or in addition to, an application form. Your academic achievements will be the most important section, but your work experience and extra-curricular activities should also be mentioned.
Normally these CVs will be chronological, starting with your current degree course and working backwards. Detail all the courses you have studied during your degree by year and give grades (if they are good!). Projects, extended essays and dissertations are particularly important in applications for postgraduate study and should be noted individually.
If you have any relevant interests, put them in. For example, if you are applying for a PhD in Space Science, you could mention that you are a member of the Astronomy Society and that you have your own telescope.
Universities like to see students who have got involved in university life outside their studies, so other activities and interests are worth mentioning, especially if you have taken on any posts of responsibility.
Use headings to emphasise technical content e.g. "relevant work experience", "areas of scientific interest", "laboratory skills and techniques".
Your covering letter should be constructed along the same lines as a personal statement. Say why you want to go to the particular university (for example - excellent reputation in that field of research) and try to show real enthusiasm for the subject you will be studying ( for example - evidence that you have read around the subject and know about recent developments).
You will not always be interviewed for a taught Masters but PhD candidates will usually be interviewed. Academic interviews are usually less formal than job interviews. They may be casual and more like a relaxed chat, but occasionally you might get a grilling on your subject knowledge.
Interviews for vocational courses are likely to be more formal than interviews for research. There are many similarities to job interviews such as the need to prepare well, to show enthusiasm and to ask appropriate questions. You may just be asked questions as you are shown round the department. Remember that academics may not be trained interviewers, so be aware that you may occasionally have to take the initiative.
If you are not interviewed, but just given an offer on the basis of your application and references, do make sure that you visit the department to make certain that you would be happy there.
Smart casual dress is usually acceptable for academic interviews, but business studies departments might expect more formality than art and design departments. For vocational courses such as teaching, you will probably be expected to dress in exactly the same way as for a job interview. Interviews for research are likely to require less formal dress, but dress smartly if in doubt - you will never prejudice your chances by doing this.
- Research the department carefully before you go for interview, and note any questions you want to ask. Similarly, read the draft of your application again to anticipate questions they may ask you;
- Check out the research interests of academic staff in the department;
- Budget for interview - remember that unlike interviews with employers, you probably won't be reimbursed;
- Research both the institution and town - make sure that you look round both the campus and town before you go home. Try to speak to current students in the department and have a look at notice boards to see what type of institution you are applying to join;
- Occasionally (e.g. for primary teacher training) you may get a group interview. Make sure that you speak up and make some points, and don't let others drown you out. See www.kent.ac.uk/careers/sk/teamwork.htm#Tips for further advice;
- They are likely to want to find out about you as an individual - will you fit in? Are you a good team member? This is especially important in smaller departments;
- Remember that they will be looking at your ability to think for yourself - your capacity for independent and original thought, your ability to communicate and reason. Be prepared to argue and to state your opinions rather than giving the answer that you think they want. They will be looking more at your ideas, attitudes and opinions than at getting the "right answer";
- They will also be looking for evidence of strong interest in the subject, as well as enthusiasm for your subject? Do your keep up to date with recent developments etc. do you genuinely seem to enjoy talking about it?
Avoid simple "yes" or "no" answers - if you are asked a closed question, such as "Have you enjoyed your course?", open it up. Don't confine yourself to very brief answers - the interviewer will expect you to be able to talk fluently, but watch for signs of encouragement or impatience.
Be polite, but don't be afraid to enter into discussion and to stand your ground. Some interviewers will deliberately challenge your replies to see if you can stand up for yourself and argue your point effectively.
Work out in advance rough answers to the following questions:
- Why do you want to do the course/research?
- Why this subject?
- Why this university?
- What academic skills have you got to offer?
- What personal skills can you offer? e.g. ability to work in a team, with little supervision.
- What is the relevance of your first degree (A levels) to this study?
- Have you considered potential areas of research.
- Tell me about your project/dissertation. How did you choose it? What have you learnt?
- How do you intend to fund your study?
- Current postgraduates. Have you led seminars/taught undergraduates/invigilated in exams?
- Technical questions - see www.kent.ac.uk/careers/interviews/ivscience.htm#TECHNICAL
Try to ask at least one and preferably more than one question in the interview as this will indicate enthusiasm and interest. Prospectuses are frequently lacking in detail and there may be questions that you must ask in order to have the information necessary to reach a decision.
- What is special about this particular course/department?
- What are your requirements for this course/research?
- What are the tutorial/supervisory arrangements?
- What are the possibilities of financial support?
- What sort of jobs or research posts have previous students gone on to after completing their degree?
- Research Interviews. What opportunities are there to develop my skills by taking seminars, demonstrating, invigilating etc.? (this could also help you financially but put the emphasis on the skills and experience it will bring you)
Practice Interview for Postgraduate Study www.kent.ac.uk/careers/interviews/ivpostgrad.htm
- Why study abroad?
- General guides, indexes and databases
- Study in Europe
- Study in the USA
- Study in Australia, Canada and other Commonwealth countries
- Study in other countries
There are many reasons why students and graduates of British universities look overseas for their postgraduate study. They may wish to study with a world-class academic in their subject; they may plan research that will be more easily carried out in the country to which it relates; fees may be lower or funding more readily available; they may already have friends or family there or they may just wish to live as a student in a different country and culture.
Whatever your reasons, postgraduate study outside the UK is a very real possibility and many overseas universities actively encourage applications from international students. However, begin planning earlier than you would for study in the UK: during your second year is the best time to begin investigating the opportunities.
Be aware that in the US and Europe, PhD's take much longer (typically 5 or more years) than the typical 3 to 4 years in the UK: in the United States you usually spend the first part of your PhD doing a lot of taught study. Also funding would be much harder to obtain abroad
The Explore Studying Abroad section of the Prospects website www.prospects.ac.uk/links/Abroad has information on study in over 50 countries and is a good place to start.
Below is a selection of links to a range of information resources on postgraduate study abroad, both generally and by country.
- Times Higher Education World University Rankings www.timeshighereducation.co.uk/world-university-rankings
- QS World University Rankings www.topuniversities.com
- Academic Ranking of World Universities www.arwu.org
- Universities Worldwide http://univ.cc searchable database of universities around the world;
- Braintrack www.braintrack.com University index with“8300 links to higher education institutions in 194 countries”
- Studentum.com www.studentum.com browse through courses in countries worldwide
- 4 International Colleges & Universities www.4icu.org international higher education directory featuring reviews and web rankings of 10,200 Universities and Colleges in 200 countries
Many postgraduate courses are now taught in English, especially in the Netherlands and Scandinavia, see Italian university switches to English. If this is not the case, you may need to take a language proficiency test. Some universities in countries such as Germany may require a Masters degree to enter postgraduate study as their first degrees are longer than in the UK.
Postgraduate study and work country profiles for:
- PLOTEUS http://ec.europa.eu/ploteus/home.jsp?language=en Portal on Learning Opportunities throughout Europe - covers education and training available throughout Europe. Provided by the European Commission.
- European Postgrad.com www.europeanpostgrad.com really comprehensive - has a database of postgrad courses across Europe that are taught in English (including UK courses) and also country profiles, fees information etc.
- Eurochoice www.eurochoice.org.uk guide to higher education in Europe
- Eurograduate www.eurograduate.com includes database of courses and research
- The College of Europe www.coleurop.be offers Masters degrees in European Studies (law, economics, politics or administration) taught through English and French at campuses in Bruges and Warsaw
- The European University Institute, Florence www.iue.it postgraduate research in social sciences and a taught Masters in European law
- CNOUS www.cnous.fr information on all aspects of studying and living in France
- Edufrance www.edufrance.fr promotes higher education in France and provides advice for foreign students. Increasing numbers of postgraduate courses are taught in English, for example at the Grenoble Graduate School of Business. See www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-22607506
- EGIDE www.egide.asso.fr course database and general information on living and studying in France.
Study in Belgium www.studyinbelgium.be study in the French-speaking areas of Belgium (some courses are taught in English).
There does not seem to be such a comprehensive site for the Flemish-speaking areas but you can find a list of Flemish universities at www.ond.vlaanderen.be/onderwijsaanbod/ho/universitair/alle.asp most of these will offer a number of courses taught through English.
- DAAD (German Academic Exchange Service) www.daad.de information on study in Germany, including courses in English. Postgraduate courses for foreign students are often taught in English and also are of low cost. See also the BBC article "Germany top for foreign students" www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-12610268
- Studying in Germany www.studying-in-germany.org information website for international students who wish to study in Germany plus help finding scholarships
- Postgrad Ireland www.postgradireland.com covers both the Republic and Northern Ireland
- NUFFIC www.nuffic.nl the Netherlands Organisation for International Co-operation in Higher Education
- The Danish Rectors' Conference www.rektorkollegiet.dk/english Guide to university education in Denmark
- Study in Sweden www.studyinsweden.se some postgraduate courses are taught entirely in English (for example at Lund University) and there are no tuition fees. Accommodation costs are also much cheaper than in the UK.
- Studentum www.studentum.se portal devoted exclusively to higher education in Sweden. In Swedish language. Browse thousands of courses and programs nationwide.
- Study in Finland www.studyinfinland.fi contains a database of English-language degree programmes, information about Finland as a study destination, our higher education institutions, and practicalities concerning scholarships, admissions systems and living in Finland.
- Studying in Switzerland Higher education is publicly funded and fees are very low for foreign students (usually less that £1,000). 200 MSc courses are taught in English: these are mainly in business or science.
- Fulbright Commission: Educational Advisory Service www.fulbright.co.uk superb information and advice on postgraduate study in the USA and all aspects of the US educational system. Should be your first port of call.
- ECA (US J-1 Visas) http://exchanges.state.gov/jexchanges/sevis.html Visa regulations for foreign students
- Graduate Record Exams (GRE) www.gre.org required for admission to many US postgraduate courses. You need to practice at this as many US students who take this get coaching on how to do it.
- Peterson's Education Centre www.petersons.com Advice for international students planning postgraduate study and in the USA. Has a searchable database that allows students to find postgraduate courses by degree level, subject area and/or geographical location.
- Gradschools www.gradschools.com/search.html Comprehensive guide to graduate schools by field of study as well as region of the US.
- US News www.usnews.com/usnews/rankguide/rghome.htm unofficial guide to “ America’s Best Graduate Schools”
- Princeton Review www.embark.com advice on rankings, admissions tests and scholarships
- Edupass www.edupass.org
- International Education Financial Aid www.iefa.org
- Students.gov www.students.gov
Remember that the academic year starts February in Australia and New Zealand, so you may have to wait a few months to begin your course. Universities in these countries are quite similar to those in the UK and normally have good academic standards. Overseas PhD students in New Zealand only pay domestic fees.
12% of Australian universities are in the World University rankings compared with 8.6% of UK universities. A Masters in Australia lasts 1 or 2 years: most NZ Masters are 2 years comprising a year of coursework and a year of research. THe academic year is from February to November. Fees range from $17-55000 in Australia and $17-45000 in New Zealand (ie start at around £12000). Students can work 20 hours a week in term-time and full-time in vacation. The Australian government is introducing a post-study work visa that will allow international students to work for up to 2 years after completing their degree. There are scholarships available but these are highly competitive – students need a First and even this is no guarantee. Loans are difficult as nether the UK nor Australian/New Zealand government will support these. Financial support is based on academic criteria and not on need.
- Study in Australia www.studyinaustralia.gov.au the official Australian Government site for studying in Australia
- Study Link www.studylink.com Details of postgraduate courses, MBA courses world-wide and study in Australia
- Study Overseas www.studyoverseasglobal.com
- Hobsons Studies in Australia www.studiesinaustralia.com iPad users can also download a free Study in Australia magazine from www.studiesinaustralia.com/ebook
- IDP Education Australia www.idp.com/students Wide-ranging information on studying and living in Australia. Includes a searchable course database and lots of useful information.
- Study Options www.studyoptions.com provide free advice and assistance to students wishing to study in Australia or New Zealand, from choosing a course to applying for a place and for a student visa.
- Study Options www.studyoptions.com represents 18 universities in Australia and 7 in New Zealand to promote them worldwide and to provide advice and information to people hoping to study there.
- Association of Universities and Colleges in Canada www.aucc.ca represents 92 universities and colleges across Canada, with a searchable database of courses
- Study in Canada www.studyincanada.com
- Canadian High Commission www.canadainternational.gc.ca/united_kingdom-royaume_uni/index.aspx?lang=eng has links and scholarship information
- CMEC www.educationau-incanada.ca/index.aspx?lang=eng
- Association of Commonwealth Universities www.acu.ac.uk international university jobs and vacancy emailing, plus information on scholarships and courses.
- Australia Scholarships www.scholarshipstimes.com/category/scholarships-worldwide/australia-scholarships
- Japanese Ministry of Education www.mext.go.jp/english/index.htm. There is a PowerPoint about MEXT bursaries to study in Japan here
- Daiwa Anglo-Japanese Foundation www.dajf.org.uk The Daiwa Scholarship is a unique 19-month programme of language study, work placement and homestay in Japan