How to apply for postgraduate courses

When it comes to applying for postgraduate courses, don't expect the same process as an undergraduate application.

Student on a laptop This time round there are no main admissions systems to follow such as UCAS – the universities deal with application administration themselves. So, depending on what and where you want to study, the application process can vary.

Some vocational postgraduate courses, for example, have clearing houses you have to use and formal closing dates, so you'll need to find out when they are and make sure you don't miss the deadline.

For the majority of postgraduate education there is no official closing date. Be aware though, that there may well be deadlines in regards to getting financial support from the funding bodies, so don't leave things too late.

"Generally speaking you apply to a taught master's course via an application form. Most do not have closing dates but there is some mileage in applying early to pick up the best options on any funding that might be available," says Mandy Burns, careers adviser at the University of Plymouth's careers services.

When to apply?

Courses normally start at the end of September or October, and often applications are made at the end of the previous year or at the beginning of the year the course starts. But applications are known to be accepted both earlier and later than this.

"This doesn't mean that you can apply for a course at anytime," says the University of Newcastle upon Tyne's Careers Service. "Delaying your application is unwise. Try and apply as early as possible –- early in the autumn term (or about 12 months before planning to start your course). If, however, you do make a late decision to pursue postgraduate studies it is worth making direct enquiries to the institution concerned."

Research-based study can be different again, and with even further flexibility.

"Applying for postgraduate research tends to be more flexible at MPhil and PhD levels though there may be deadlines attached to funding arrangements," says the University of Newcastle upon Tyne's Careers Service. "You need to carefully check the details appropriate to your particular area of study at the institution you are interested in studying at."

Essentially, the goal is to prepare early and make sure you've done your research. Each institution will have a different application procedure and deadlines and you will need to research these carefully to ensure you are aware of their specific requirements.

Components of an application

There may also be other requirements when applying for postgraduate study, again it all depends on the course you are applying for. You're likely to be asked for references, and if you are applying for a research-based course, you will need to write a research proposal. This consists of an outline of the research topic you are suggesting, your method and the sources of information you plan to use.

In regards to a taught course, you may need to complete a supporting statement outlining the reasons you want to take the course and why you think you are a suitable candidate, so be prepared!

Finally, when completing your application form, take the time out to consider what you are going to write. Make sure you show your motivation and commitment to the study, and explain why you have chosen this specific subject as well as noting why you chose that institution. Also highlight your appropriate skills and experience for the course.

If done well, your application will make you come across as the perfect person for the course and your application time will be over.

With thanks to:

The University of Newcastle upon Tyne's Careers Service
The University of Plymouth's Careers Service

Updated March 2017