Career Testing
Career Testing
Career Testing
GRADUATES / APR. 18, 2017
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Applying for a Postgraduate Degree: The Process Explained

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Pursuing a postgraduate degree is the smart option for any graduate who’s looking to specialise in their industry. There are many benefits to gain from postgraduate courses; for example, increasing your chances of receiving a higher salary and climbing the ladder quicker - but what is perhaps the most important aspect is that it allows you to develop personally before you enter the workforce.

The problem is that applying for a postgraduate course can be very complicated and many graduates are too intimated to go through the process. But, you have nothing to worry about; the guide below will tell you everything you need to know.

Masters Degrees

When people talk about postgraduate degrees, they tend to refer to masters programmes as they are usually the first step in postgraduate study. Masters programmes can be pursued directly after a Bachelor degree, and they typically take between one or two years to complete. They help graduates specialise in a specific area of their industry and they are considered a prerequisite for anyone looking to continue their academic career.

Applying for a Master’s Degree

Choosing a postgraduate degree that suits you will increase your chances of getting accepted into the university and course of your choice. Complying with the universities’ regulations is also crucial so make sure you understand the process before you start applying.


Requirements will differ from university to university and from course to course, but you’ll find that most require:

  • A Bachelors degree (or equivalent) in a relevant subject awarded with a 2:1 or higher
  • Reference letters (generally two)
  • Personal statement
  • Portfolio (if required)

Application Process

To apply for a Master’s degree, you’ll need to go directly to the website of each institution and fill in their application form online (you can also download it and mail it via the post). Although UCAS’s UKPASS provides a centralised admission service, it’s only available for eighteen universities and colleges.

Usually, there are no deadlines for Master’s degree applications, but as most institutions work on a first come first served basis, you are always advised to apply ASAP. This becomes especially important if you receive a conditional offer because you will need time to comply with the university’s requirements. As a rule of thumb, applying eight months before the programme’s starting date will help increase your chances.

Although there’s no limit to how many institutions you can apply to, you are advised to not overdo it as postgraduate applications can be more time-consuming than BA applications. Be aware that you’ll need to provide a personal statement with each application and you might also be asked to attend an interview.

What to Include

Application Form

Your application needs to be as comprehensive as possible. Make sure that you don’t skip any necessary information and that any personal questions are not answered in a vague, generic way; each response should be tailored to showcase why you are excited to undertake this course.

Personal Statement

Although writing a personal statement might be time-consuming, it’s your opportunity to showcase your passion and suitability for the course. It’s important to discuss the various aspects of your character and personality that relate to the course, as well and any aspects of your undergraduate degree that make you a good candidate - any modules or projects that are relevant.

Proof of Academic Qualifications

This includes your transcript which you might not have yet. Your university will be able to give you a projected result, as well as any other documentation that you’ll need to submit. It’s likely that you’ll receive a conditional offer pending your transcript, but it’s important to have a place on the course of your choice anyway.


Your referees will essentially validate your application and personal statement. They will refer to your character and your potential which can increase your chances of getting selected. It’s essential to have your personal tutor, dissertation supervisor or one of your professors who knows you well write you a reference.


Portfolios are not required unless you are applying for a course where you need to demonstrate your talent and previous work. They are generally required for arts and humanities courses, especially in creative writing and art. Your portfolio should demonstrate your work and it should also showcase your commitment, abilities, creativity and personality. To make it as effective as possible make sure you organise it in topic groups and that you also include not only your best but your most recent work as well.

Research Proposal

Writing a research proposal is usually only required if you’re applying for a research course. If you do need to include one you should include exactly what you want to research and why. It’s also important to follow a specific structure so that people reviewing it will have a complete picture of what you’d like to do:

  • Introduction: discuss what your research is about
  • Aims and objectives: what do you want to achieve?
  • Theoretical literature: include the theoretical models you want to include
  • Contextual literature: provide information about your sample
  • Research gap: what is missing from existing literature that you can fill?
  • Methodology: how will data be collected?
  • Timetable: what is your time-frame?
  • Results: how will your research contribute to existing knowledge?


Submitting a professional CV is essential as it will help admission officers and tutors to understand why you are interested in the course. Unlike CVs submitted for jobs, however, you don’t need to focus as much on your skills; rather you should focus on your academic achievements and relevant work experience.

What Next

After your application is reviewed there are three outcomes:

  • Unconditional offer: You have a confirmed place on the course
  • Conditional offer: You will only be accepted to the course if you can comply with certain requirements
  • Unsuccessful: You’ve failed to gain a place on the course

PhDs and MPhils

MPhils are not that well known, but they are usually 1 – 2 years long and the first milestone for Humanities, Social Science and Arts students wanting to pursue doctoral research. People in the hard sciences, however, usually complete an MSc or just move straight onto a PhD after their undergraduate degree.

It’s common for people who earn PhDs to proceed to an academic career. As such, requirements are much more demanding. These courses typically take 3 to 5 years to complete, and students are expected to submit a thesis within twelve months of the end of their programme.

Applying for a PhD

The application process is almost identical to Masters degrees in the sense that individuals need to contact institutions directly and they need to follow much the same procedure. Some students propose their own research area and simply apply for funding, while other students may choose to work under a supervisor who has already secured funding.


To apply for a PhD, you must have a record of academic excellence as well as a research proposal that your supervisor has a real academic interest in.

  • A Master’s Degree awarded with a Merit or higher
  • A Bachelor’s Degree awarded with a 2:1 or higher
  • A research proposal
  • A portfolio (if required)
  • References
  • Personal Statement
  • Academic CV

As we’ve already discussed, the application process for a PhD is similar to a Master’s application process. But whereas a Master’s is all about finding a course that will teach you a lot about your chosen subject, with PhDs you need to find a supportive environment that will allow you to research your chosen subject-matter.

This is why it’s important to not only look at universities as a whole (ranking, alumni etc.), but it’s also important to look into their funding and academic staff as well. Securing a position in a university that is well-funded will make your life easier when it comes to finding the funds for your research. Finding a supervisor that specialises in the same or similar area as you will provide you with the guidance you need.

As such, your application should focus on your expertise. Showcase your academic excellence and don’t be afraid to show that you are passionate about what you are trying to do with your research. Be very articulate about the potential impact your research could have on your industry as this will help people feel more confident in trusting you.

Research Proposal

As your PhD will essential be the centre-piece of your academic achievements it’s crucial that you put a lot of effort into developing a research proposal that will not only help you get accepted onto a PhD programme, but that will also be meaningful for you.

You should follow the same structure as you would for an MA research proposal (find it above) and it’s also important to find a gap that will significantly add to the existing knowledge in your field. If there’s a time to go big, this is it so don’t shy away from it.

Make your proposal as professional as possible. The data needs to be correct and comprehensive and you need to research your methodology thoroughly and be able to support why and how it’s essential to your research. Put together an initial theoretical literature that showcases your expertise in the area as this will help your prospective supervisor that you have a good grasp on your subject matter.

Academic CV

Your application needs to be accompanied by a CV that lists all of your professional achievements. Make sure to include your published work, conferences you participated in etc. It’s important to focus on why you are interested in conducting the research you are proposing, but you also need to present yourself in a manner that demonstrates your knowledge and experience.

Applying for a postgraduate degree can help bring you closer to your career goals, so it’s important to be very attentive to your application. Keep in mind that the key is to prove that you can contribute something significant to the academic community so make sure that your application is strong enough to transfer this message.

Do you have any questions on how to complete your postgraduate application? Let me know in the comments section below!

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