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Making an application

Find out how to create a strong application for postgraduate study courses across the UK.

Making a compelling application for postgraduate study is crucial, as popular courses are extremely competitive and you need to stand out from other candidates.

When to start

You'll need to check for advice about when you need to apply. As a general rule you should start the application process at least nine months in advance.

Apply to more than one

It is always advisable to apply for more than one course. Try and find at least two or three courses which you would like to study. There is currently no limit to the number of postgraduate applications you can make.

Who to apply to

Unlike undergraduate courses, many postgraduate courses have their own admissions procedure, so you apply to the course directly. This means the application deadlines and timescales may vary.

Some course applications are handled by central bodies (in the way UCAS handles applications for undergraduate courses). Examples include teacher training, law conversions, and graduate entry to medicine. Make sure you are aware of the procedure for the type of course you wish to pursue.

What to include

You'll need to be specific about why you want to study this course, at this institution. Look at the relevant course websites to find out what the selectors are looking for on each course – do they mention specific skills, academic interests, experience or knowledge? What documents and evidence do you need to provide in your application?

You may be asked to provide a number of elements in your application – eg a CV, a personal statement, a research proposal (for research courses), transcripts and possibly evidence of funding. You will need to leave yourself enough time to prepare and obtain these documents.

The personal statement is arguably the most important part of any postgraduate application form. It is your chance to stand out from other applicants. This can be vital if you are applying to a very popular course.

Try to convey your enthusiasm and express what you can bring to the course. The people judging your application will want to feel convinced that you have the motivation to perform throughout the course. You need to demonstrate that you have the intellectual ability and appropriate skills to be successful in postgraduate study.

Your personal statement needs to be tailored to the individual course you are applying to – you can’t use the same statement for every course, so it will need to be adapted and amended.

Before you start to write

Think about the points you need and want to make in your personal statement:

  • your reasons for applying to this particular course (eg relevant modules and how it builds on your undergraduate study)
  • what you can bring to the course
  • why you are enthusiastic about this area of study
  • if the course is a change of direction, clearly explain how you made this decision and why it’s right
  • your motivations for undertaking further study
  • your reasons for applying to this institution
  • your relevant skills and experience
  • how the course fits into your long term career plans.

Writing your statement

Once you have identified what you need to include in your personal statement, the next step is to gather the relevant and targeted information. Thoroughly researching the course or research area, the institution and relevant staff will help you to make a convincing application.

Institution websites often provide the necessary information, but you may need to contact the course administrator or course leader for more detail.

You will need to incorporate the key reasons you want a place on the course. Offer as much evidence as possible to reinforce what you are saying about yourself. Try to convey that you are serious about postgraduate study and that you see it as an integral step in your career progression.

Looking at examples of personal statements can be particularly useful. Try approaching staff in your current department for advice. Current postgraduate students may also be a useful source of information.

Be sure to follow any guidelines stated in the application form. Pay particular attention to word limits for personal statements. Ignoring instructions will send negative messages about you to the people reading your form. Also, check carefully for spelling and grammar so your statement conveys a professional approach.

Find out more about writing personal statements.

Some institutions require you to submit a CV as well as, or instead of, a postgraduate application form. If this is the case, it should be clearly stated on the application form or the advertisement for the particular course or research area to which you are applying.

Target your CV

Your CV should be targeted to the particular course or the area that you wish to research. It should include information on relevant modules you have studied at undergraduate level, as well as information on your dissertation or final year project.

If you already have a postgraduate qualification at certificate, diploma or master's level you should include information about this, too.

Highlight any key strengths that will be essential to postgraduate study, such as self-motivation, time management and persistence. Also include skills you gained, knowledge you developed and research techniques you employed for your dissertation and emphasise your ability to work independently.

Although they are not usually essential for entry to postgraduate study, highlight any experience of research or teaching, or any publications you have. This information is especially useful when applying for PhD programmes.

include any work experience that is either directly relevant or can highlight skills which you will use in your postgraduate course, eg the ability to work under pressure.

You may find it helpful to speak to an academic tutor about targeting your CV for postgraduate courses. You can also speak to us for feedback and advice.

Find out more about writing a CV.

When completing your application, follow the instructions carefully and ensure that you are addressing any entry requirements listed eg academic achievement, subject knowledge and particularly for vocational courses, any skills or experience required.

If you're asked to interview

As part of the application process, you may be asked to attend an interview. Find out more about preparing for these and learn some of the questions you could be asked.

Contact us

Get in touch for advice and feedback on any aspect of your application for postgraduate study. We can also review draft personal statements and CVs.

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