The basics
Study abroad : Applying to University

Student Insights: How to apply to study a postgraduate degree

Choosing to study a postgraduate degree is a big decision and getting to grips with all of the elements involved is critical for a successful application. We take an in depth look at the application process.

Postgraduate applications

Once you have made the decision to pursue a postgraduate qualification it will be necessary to start planning. Central to all of your preparation will be submitting your application. This means you’ll need to be on top of the deadlines, documents and criteria. Don’t forget that not all institutions have identical application processes or deadlines so you will need to verify this. Many universities and colleges close applications between January and March, however there may be other intakes during the year depending on the course.

 

Leaving your application to the last minute is not advised, and although it seems like a very long lead time it’s generally recommended that you start your application process one year to 18 months prior to your intended study date. This will give you enough time to do your research, complete any tests and find a scholarship or funding opportunity.

 

Postgraduate online application

 

Online applications

 

The application process at universities and colleges has developed considerably since the days of an exclusively paper-based system. It’s no longer necessary to complete page after page of handwritten documents and submit all the paperwork through the post or in person. It eliminates the risk of documents being lost or misplaced, reduces the possibility of significant delays and dispenses with the anxiety that you’ve forgotten to include a key piece of information. Online application systems are now commonplace, with clear instructions and checklists to aid you during the process. The systems will generally ensure that unless all the necessary information has been completed and included, the application will not be sent.

 

A useful way of approaching the process is to consolidate your key information and documents in one place so that it is easily accessible. This will likely include a copy of your academic transcripts, degree certificates, passport and identification, visa, English test scores, letter of motivation, personal statement, recommendation letters and examples of work. Be sure that these are in the right file format as certain systems will not accept non-standard document formats. You’re usually fairly safe if you have the documents as PDF files. Importantly your identification documentation and certification should be in full colour rather than black and white. Don’t forget that you will likely be required to have your identification documents, academic transcripts and degree certificates certified by the necessary authorities in order for them to be authenticated by the institution you’re applying to.

 

Criteria for postgraduate study

 

In order to qualify for postgraduate study you will need to be able to demonstrate a good level of academic achievement fro both master's and PhD degrees. Each university can have specific academic requirements in order for you to be accepted, however a B aggregate, 70 per cent plus or 2:1 degree is generally the minimum standard for the majority of degrees. Your undergraduate qualification will mostly need to be transferable or related to the area of study you intend to pursue at a postgraduate level. There are certain programmes that allow for the complementarity of subjects or take into account professional experience, such as an MBA or engineering. You can also have a look at our guide to the top postgraduate degrees.

 

For postgraduate degrees that are research based and led, you’ll be required to produce a dissertation for examination and this means the submission of a proposal for your research. This generally takes the form of a written proposal and presentation, which is then evaluated prior to acceptance onto a degree course. Postgraduate study at an English medium institution means you’ll have to demonstrate the requisite level of English language proficiency. Institutions mainly accept IELTS and TOEFL English language test scores, however other tests may also be permitted. For IELTS the benchmark is usually 6.5-7.0 with a minimum of 6.0 in each component and a TOEFL score of 90.  If you studied your undergraduate course at an English medium university you might not have to submit an English test score.

Postgraduate application criteria

When applying to study a postgraduate degree abroad you could find that the university you are applying to will evaluate the transferability of your qualification, depending on where it was completed. This isn’t anything to be worried about and is merely a way of assessing and ascertaining as to whether your previous studies would be applicable or allow you to thrive academically. Most universities will make use of a degree equivalency table that benchmarks qualifications. Some institutions will offer postgraduate foundation or bridging courses that aim to prepare you for the rigours of a postgraduate degree and these may also include English language tuition.

 

Applying for postgraduate funding

It’s widely acknowledged that postgraduate study isn’t cheap and there are numerous costs to bare. That’s why it’s always important to keep an eye out for any funding or scholarship opportunities. You could find that the institution of your choice has designated scholarships for students from your country or that they offer merit-based funding to academically capable applicants. Getting in touch with a university’s financial aid department is always a good idea, as they can advise on deadlines, criteria and availability.  It’s useful to explore other funding opportunities offered by organisations, companies and governments. Examples of these include the Chevening Scholarship Programme, Rhodes Scholar programme and Fulbright Scholarship Programme. It could be useful to have a look at our in-depth exploration of how to understand financial aid and how to write the perfect scholarship application.

 

Postgraduate application checklist

 

Postgraduate application checklist

To use the often-repeated idiom ‘have your ducks in a row’ is very apt when discussing applying for a postgraduate degree. You’re going to need to have a handle on all of the variables involved and the documents you’ll need to have on hand. These include but are not necessarily limited to:

 

  • Certified academic transcript of results
  • Certified copies of diplomas, degrees and professional titles
  • Letter of motivation and personal statement
  • Academic reference letters
  • English language test results/ certificates
  • Personal identification (Passport, Driver’s license, Visa)
  • Research proposal
  • Financial statements (sometimes required to demonstrate your ability to support yourself during your studies).

 

Universities might also choose to interview candidates, and this can be via a video call or telephone call. Taking the time to research an institution and the course you wish to study can be critical when you’re faced with a barrage of questions. Interview preparation goes a long way in allowing you to project a professional and competent image to those evaluating your application.

 

How to prepare for postgraduate studies?

 

Whether you’re looking to enhance your credentials, have a passion for knowledge or want to advance in your career, postgraduate studies can provide you with the boost you’re looking for. From the get-go it’s best to be on top of things and well prepared. This includes thorough research and consultation prior to making your final decision and submitting your application. Give yourself enough time to craft the ideal application,  and make the most informed choice of the degree you’ll study. Speak to institutions and, if possible, their alumni to gauge what would best suit your needs. Ensure that you undertake all of the application requirements and fully understand the criteria. Apply as early as possible so that you can search for funding and scholarship opportunities if needed. If you’re in need of some inspiration why not take a look at what courses and degrees are on offer around the world.

 

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