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Study abroad : Applying to University

Applying to postgraduate study

What is postgraduate study? Learn about the application process for applying to postgraduate degrees abroad, including funding opportunities, immigration and researching a course...

postgraduate study

If you are considering applying for a postgraduate degree you’ve no doubt already experienced a university admissions process via your undergraduate application. If you’re planning to apply at the same university or within the same country, you’re even more prepared for the admissions process to come.

Studying at a postgraduate level is a considerable step up from undergraduate level, and it’s important you follow the application procedure diligently in order to be accepted on your programme. Let our brief breakdown of the postgraduate application process from research to submission help make things clearer.


What is a postgraduate degree?

A postgraduate degree is a course you can progress on to once you have successfully completed undergraduate study of a related subject. At undergraduate level, you will have been awarded a BA Honours degree upon successful completion of three or four years of study. At postgraduate level, a successful graduate receives a Master’s degree (MA) after a year or two, and can progress onto a doctorate (PhD) which is slightly longer (there is also the option to complete a pre-masters degree to prepare for a Master’s course, and work part or full time).

A postgraduate degree is normally in the same area of or related to that of the undergraduate degree which a student has accomplished. This is because a postgraduate degree is further study of a subject where a high level of knowledge is already held. Usually the content will focus on a specific or niche area which was initially covered at undergraduate level.

Find out how pre-masters courses can help you proceed onto postgraduate study


Why study at postgraduate level?

There are several reasons why undergraduate students choose to study further, despite having already laboured for three or four years to receive their BA Honours at undergraduate level. Usually, it is because they have a significant interest in an area which they’ve covered during their earlier study which they’d like to learn more about or specialise in. There may be many different areas of study touched upon during an undergraduate degree, with one or two particularly catching your fancy. A postgraduate qualification will enable you to focus on one area specifically, and examine it on a much deeper level.

Whether or not one wants to become an academic and teach this subject at a high level, postgraduate study can largely bolster your career prospects. For some undergraduates, the job market is fiercely competitive in the area they wish to proceed; so they seek out postgraduate study to distinguish themselves further from their fellow graduates. Studying at postgraduate level may also qualify them to specialise in a particular role too.

However be aware that there are fewer places available on postgraduate courses compared to undergraduate courses. The positive is that this provides students with many more opportunities to network with professors and fellow students in a smaller environment who share their passion and interest. This can also create further employment opportunities for when you graduate, as you will have begun establishing yourself in the local, or even wider, academic community e.g. you may be asked to assist on a research paper or piece of research.

What you should take away is that postgraduate study is all about passion – more so than undergraduate even. It should be considered a serious endeavour rather than simply delaying the start of one’s professional career for another year. The criteria to be accepted on a course of this calibre are very high, and students should keep this in mind both when applying and completing it.


Choosing a course

Not many students begin their undergraduate degree with the intention of studying further; for others it will be clear that this will be essential for the career they wish to have. Usually a potential postgraduate student will consider their options as they begin their final year of undergraduate study. This may include looking at their prospects in their desired career field, or what they have studied so far. This is why – no matter how hectic things get in that final undergraduate year – it is valuable for students to take time in their final year to really consider which areas they would be happy to study. Is there a genre, area or speciality which you received high marks for, really threw yourself into or wished there was more of at the time?

Read our guide to choosing a course overseas


Applying and Immigration

Like undergraduate applications, apply as early as you can in the year before you intend to study. As there are significantly fewer places available within postgraduate courses, it is essential that you act early to secure your spot before they fill up. Hopefully you will have established strong relationships with some of your tutors in the three years you spent as an undergraduate, so they can provide references for you. On the bright side, application deadlines for international students are later than at undergraduate level to account for the release of undergraduate marks in the spring. Sometimes deadlines are just twelve weeks before the course commences, though we always recommend checking with your chosen university.

If you have studied abroad for your undergraduate degree, hopefully the application process will be somewhat simple, especially if you wish to study at the same university or in the same country again. You will need to check the language requirements set by the university you are applying to. You may have to produce test scores for a nominated language proficiency test. Note that requirements can often be slightly higher than they are at undergraduate level because the course content and teaching style is more intense (so take every opportunity to sharpen your skills in your undergraduate years).

If you have studied abroad as an undergraduate, you will be used to the overall process. We recommend you store all the supporting documents you initially used when making your undergraduate application in a safe place as they will likely come in useful again. You can refer to our undergraduate section to find out more about the immigration process. Students should note that if you do wait until the application deadline to submit your application, you risk not receiving the correct immigration clearance in time for your course’s start date.

Just like undergraduate applications, you can make your postgraduate applications through our i-Apply service. If you’re struggling to juggle final year undergraduate work and exams, applying for postgraduate study doesn’t have to be another stress.

Have you browsed our Visa Guides section yet?

Read our comprehensive guides to applications and interviews



One of the reasons that fewer students choose to go on to postgraduate level is because there are fewer funding options available if they can’t fund their studies themselves. There are scholarships, grants and initiatives available to help just as there are for undergraduate study; but one must meet more specific criteria to be eligible for them, as the study fields themselves are much more specific. postgraduate funding is also quite competitive.

You may also have the option to complete an assistantship or undertake a paid research role supporting a professor to either partially or completely waive your tuition fees. These positions also enable students to gain some practical, professional skills in their field whilst they complete their studies. Specific programme details and application requirements vary between institutions, and students are urged to get these details directly from their host university's website.

Students should start researching their funding options as early as possible so as to not risk losing the chance to complete their prospective course of study. Funding application deadlines can also be later than those at undergraduate level to give you time to assess your circumstances nearer to the end of your final undergraduate year.

Have you browsed our Student Finances section yet?

Read our guides to successful scholarship tips and how to ask about scholarships the right way


Now that you’re inspired to complete postgraduate study abroad, why not start browsing postgraduate courses now?


OR are you interested in undergraduate study instead?


Read more:

'Postgraduate courses: How to apply'

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About Author

postgraduate study

Paul Ellett is the editor for Hotcourses Abroad. His role is to plan, produce and share editorial, videos, infographics, eBooks and any other content to inform prospective and current international students about their study abroad experience. When he's not thinking about student visas in Sweden and application deadlines, Paul is an avid fan of comedy podcasts and Nicolas Cage films.