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Researching courses

Once you've decided that postgraduate study is the right option for you, you then need to identify which courses you want to apply to.

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Researching your options well in advance will give you more time to gather information and reflect on your options.

Some courses are very popular, and planning ahead will enable you to submit an early application.

Have a clear understanding of what you hope to gain from postgraduate study and then think about what the course is offering you, look at the prospectus and contact relevant staff as necessary. This will help you to make an informed decision about which course is best for you.

Look closely at the prospectus and website of the institution you are considering. Find out about course modules and assessment, contact hours and facilities. Does this course cover all the areas you want to study?

Consider the practical issues, too – is the course affordable in terms of its cost and the length of time it will take to complete? Also think about the career prospects of the course – what employment have previous graduates gone into?

If you need help getting started, we recommend you visit:

There is no official ranking of UK postgraduate taught courses – the UK higher education sector is very diverse, so rankings difficult and subjective. However, these may help you in your decision-making:

You are also welcome to pick up a copy of the Prospects Postgraduate Study Guide at the Careers and Employability Centre. Copies of The Guardian Postgraduate Guide and The Postgraduates’ Companion are also available to borrow.

Many institutions have postgraduate open days where departmental representatives are available to talk to you about their courses.

Visiting institutions is an excellent opportunity to meet staff and to ask questions about the course content and structure, the application process and the facilities available to support your study. You may be able to speak with current students, find out about their experience of postgraduate study there, and get a feel for the culture, ethos and atmosphere.

If you can’t make it to an open day, or have further questions to ask, emailing academic staff and course convenors and arranging meetings can be helpful.

How well established is the department? Asking other academics in the field can help you to gauge the department’s status. We also advise that you check the research profiles and academic publications of staff listed on universities’ departmental website.

You can also check the results of the latest Research Excellence Framework (REF), which assesses the qualify of research in UK universities. Vitae, the portal for researchers, supervisors, research managers and employers, might also be helpful when you're coming to a decision about a course.

If you're considering a PhD

Your choice of supervisor is crucial. You need to find someone who is extremely supportive of your research and is active in that field. You also need to genuinely get on with them. Consider the atmosphere and environment of the department because a wider network of supportive academic colleagues would be a big bonus.

Contact potential supervisors and try to start a dialogue by email. Don’t just look at the most well-known academics in the field. You need someone who is going to be accessible and interested in your progress, as well as having the experience and knowledge to guide you.

Although the course quality, structure and detail are arguably the most important factors for you to consider when making your choice, you should also think about what else the institution can offer you.

Look at the student support services. What are the library and IT facilities like? Is there study support available to postgraduates? If you are interested in sport, you might want to find out about sports facilities, clubs and societies.

Opportunities to undertake postgraduate study abroad are growing year by year and for many students it can be an incredible personal and academic experience.

Issues to consider

But there are also additional factors to consider about studying abroad, including

  • the geographical aspect and how you will adapt to living and studying in a new culture
  • language requirements and how you will meet these
  • climate and living conditions
  • visa requirements and red tape for studying in that country.

Be aware that the application timescales may be different. The whole process can take considerably longer and there may be extra effort required from you in terms of finding information, making the application and finding any sources of funding.

Typically, you want to start actively investigating at least 18 months in advance of when you want to commence study. Closing dates will vary and many countries do not operate on the UK academic year cycle.

Be aware that you may need to sit (and pass) pre-entry examinations. Depending on the course, competition for places may also be higher than studying in the UK. Target Postgrad, Universities Worldwide and Association of Commonwealth Universities (ACU) have information about studying abroad in the Commonwealth and beyond.

Start your research

If you need advice on pursuing postgraduate study abroad, you can contact us and we'll be happy to help.

Alternatively, you can start researching courses and institutions abroad:

Europe

If you're looking to study in Europe, these websites offer useful advice on courses and funding:

Australia

If you'd like to study in Australia, these websites provide guidance on programmes and funding opportunities:

USA

If you're like to go across the pond to America, these websites can help with your research:

Find out more about some of the admissions tests you may need to take at GRE (Graduate Record Examination) or GMAT (Graduate Management Admission Test).

Contact us

For advice on choosing a postgraduate course, here or abroad, please contact us.

Careers and Employability