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Postgraduate Study: - When & Where

The best time to undertake postgraduate study will depend on your individual circumstances and goals.

You can undertake further study full time, part time and, increasingly, through distance learning.

Study can be undertaken straight after a degree, after a year out, or many years later. Some of the issues are identified here. 

Straight after your degree

This route is particularly appropriate where the knowledge gained in your undergraduate degree is very relevant to your postgraduate programme. Some vocational courses would expect appropriate work experience before entry. Financial issues may be important with this option, particularly if you are intending to fund yourself. 

After time out

Many graduates take a year out before they start their postgraduate programme. You can use this time to work, to help you fund your studies and gain experience, or maybe you want to travel. If you are travelling, remember to apply for courses at the right time, and that you may be asked to attend an interview or an admissions test. You will need to plan well ahead, as long as 18 months in the case of some overseas programmes, and put together a schedule of action before focusing on your time-out activities. 

After working full time

Will you have lost the habit of academic study? What implications will there be for you financially once you are no longer earning and have to meet the costs of your study? What is the funding body’s (if any) attitude if you have been out of academic life for more than two years? What are your plans for re-entry to work and are they realistic? 

While working

Would part-time study or distance learning be a more feasible option? Part-time students make up the largest proportion of the postgraduate population. Study and work in some career fields will be inevitable as the study is an essential part of career progression and development. The concept of lifelong learning is not new but is now taking on more significance as new and updated skills and knowledge are constantly required. It is more likely that you will take this option if you can see real benefits to your career progression. Working part time or full time can also be a way of funding the study in which you are interested. 

There are often conflicting arguments and differences of opinion about the best place to study. You will have to decide for yourself what the best choice is for you, taking into account both the short-term and the longer-term issues. 

Your choice of institution will be determined by a number of factors including: 
the availability of the courses;

  • the academic entry requirements; 
  • the possibilities of funding;
  • the range and number of other postgraduate students;
  • the reputation of the course/institution;
  • the national/international profile of the course;
  • the relative merits (or otherwise) of changing institution;
  • personal considerations, eg where you can live cheaply;
  • the modes of study available.

Identify institutions that offer your course or specialise in your field of study by:

  • searching databases of postgraduate courses
  • talking to lecturers, tutors and other researchers in your department;
  • reading research journals and other specialist publications;
  • contacting the departments directly to gain detailed information about research opportunities. Most UK departments now have information online. Have a look at department profiles for more details.You should also consider contacting potential supervisors for initial discussions.

Research programmes

When making your selection you should also consider: 

  • Who would your supervisors be and how well would you work with them?
  • Will you be working alone or as part of a research group?
  • Is funding available from the Research Councils UK or from the institution? 
  • Will you be able to earn extra money by teaching undergraduates?
  • What is the department’s submission rate for research degrees?
  • What research rating does the department have? These are awarded through the Research Assessment Exercise, a four or five yearly assessment.
  • Date published: 16th November 2013

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