Over 500,000 people each year decide to undertake further study in the form of postgraduate taught courses. Before you commit to a postgraduate course, talk to people in your chosen sector to make sure that it's the right pathway for you.
Once you have decided what you want to study the next step is to find institutions which offer courses in your chosen subject. Depending on the subject area there can be a wide, or narrow, choice of institutions to choose from.
If you have to choose between universities offering similar courses it's recommended that you do some in depth research on the content of the course. Always read the prospectus carefully. The majority of courses have a core of compulsory modules plus options or electives. Check whether it will be possible for you to study the modules and electives you really want to. This is a consideration given that on some courses an elective will not be offered if insufficient numbers of students choose it.
Attending postgraduate open days or arranging a university visit can be an opportunity to speak to lecturers (and perhaps current students). Visits can also allow you to check out the institution's facilities and to get a feel of the place. Universities usually provide, on their website, information on the employability of people who have completed courses; e.g. the types of occupations and employers they went on to work for.
The following is a small selection of the many websites where you can search for courses:
Data released by the Higher Education Statistical Agency (HESA) 2012/2013 reveals that six months after they graduated 84% of Doctorate students who responded to a national survey were working and 4% were combining work and study, with 3% solely engaged in further study. Of those completing other postgraduate courses (excluding PGCEs) the figures were 70% in work, 4% who were working and studying, with 12% revealed to be solely engaged in further study.
Deciding to undertake further study is one thing, but funding courses can be a problem for many people. There are two main areas of expenses to factor into any cost calculations: academic fees and living costs. In addition some courses, for example medicine, may require students to purchase additional equipment. York St John also offer a discount on tuition fees for students who have already studied here.
How much can I expect to pay?
The cost of a Masters degree and other further study opportunities vary according to the type of course and the institution. Expect to pay less for part-time and postgraduate diplomas and certificates. The Guardian postgraduate league tables are a useful source of information as it's possible to compare tuition fees between different universities. Non-EU students will often have to pay double what those from within the EU pay. There are a range of funding options available to students including grants, studentships, bank loans and employer sponsorships.
Working and studying
Many postgraduate students are able to balance study with full-time or part-time work. This largely depends on the type of course and the number of contact hours and study requirements.
Research Council funding
Studentships are postgraduate positions, mainly funded by Research Councils UK, which come with funding for fees, living expenses or both. Research Councils UK is made up of seven grant-awarding bodies which offer funding annually for approximately 6,000 studentships across the full breadth of academic disciplines at postgraduate level.
Funding for postgraduate research training is paid directly to research institutions who then distribute the funds to eligible students through an application process. Depending on the subject, competition for studentships can be intense. Eligibility criteria fall into two categories: residential and academic.
Applications are made directly to the research institution department. When enquiring about postgraduate programmes it is advisable to ask universities about the availability of Research Council funding and when, and how, to apply.
The majority of universities will have some funding available for postgraduate study dependant on the institution, the course of study and other eligibility criteria (e.g. income). Graduate teaching posts and assistantships posts can be available and provide an ideal means of gaining valuable experience whist supplementing a student's income. Teaching assistants can expect to receive a salary of £14,000, equivalent to a Research Council stipend (the amount paid for living expenses), plus a waiver for tuition fees. It is likely that assistants will be expected to provide 120 – 180 hours of teaching time throughout the academic year which equates to six to eight hours per week.
Those experiencing financial hardship may be eligible to apply for university hardship funding. The amount of money available will be decided by individual universities. Awards range from £100 to £3,500 and cannot be used to pay tuition fees. Contact the university to find out about what funding is available.
Charities and Trusts
There are many charitable organisations and trusts which provide funding to students from a diverse range of backgrounds and academic disciplines. Some organisations only provide funding to specific universities whilst others award funds to individuals.
The Alternative Guide to Postgraduate Funding website is a resource for current and prospective postgraduate students (from all nationalities) who are seeking funding for PhD, Masters and Postgraduate Certificate in Education (PGCE) study in the UK through trusts, charities and foundations. The website also provides advice and information on applying for funding. To access the website there are 3 login options available:
- Automatic campus logon: (see blue box option 2) use your York St John username and password to log in as a 'guest'
- Create a personal username and password (green box option 1) – once this has been created York St John staff or students can subsequently login through blue box option 1
- Login for prospective students using YSJU pin (green box option 2) – pin number is 5464
The Family Action website provides a search facility to enable users to identify funding in relation to their specific circumstances.
The following publications, which may be available at local libraries, are a valuable source of information:
- the Educational Grants Directory
- the Charities Digest
- the Grants Register
- The Directory of Grant Making Trusts
Professional and Career Development Loans are bank loans, available from either Barclays Bank or the Co-operative Bank, designed to be used to fund courses and training to help with a career or to help get people into employment. Loans of between £300 and £10,000 are available and the government pays the interest on the loan whilst people are studying. Repayments begin one or two months after a course is completed.
The application process is different for each bank; it is recommended that applications be made three months before starting a course to allow the bank sufficient time to process an application.
Funding for disabled students
Postgraduate students from the UK with a disability may be eligible for Disabled Student Allowance. Postgraduate DSAs are not means tested so background and income will not be assessed prior. Applicants will be given a needs assessment in order for a decision to be made on what support / special equipment the applicant may require. The application process can take up to four months so it's a good idea to apply as soon as possible to avoid unnecessary delays.
- PostgraduateFunding – search for small grants for postgraduate study - Top-up Grants, Travel Bursaries, Exchange Programme Funding, Living Cost Grants, Fee Waivers, Masters Funding
- TARGET postgrad - search the Find Your Funding tool. Search by subject, course provider, charity/trust etc.
- scholarship-search.org.uk 'the most comprehensive resource for UK student funding from Hardship Funds & Grants to Bursaries, Awards & Academic Scholarships.'