Where to Start When Thinking About a Master’s…


Deciding what to study at postgraduate level can be just as daunting as when you were choosing your undergraduate degree. There are almost 40,000 postgraduate taught courses in the UK alone – that leaves you with a lot of whittling down to do!

A good place to start when you’re thinking, “What would I like to study”, is what you’re interested in and whether you’re doing the degree with a specific career in mind. Is there something you particularly enjoyed researching or learning about during your undergraduate degree or outside of academia? Do you know what career you want to go into (perhaps as a Barrister) and know that a postgraduate course is part of the route into that career? With the answer to these questions in mind, it would be worthwhile talking to friends, lecturers and colleagues for recommendations – I discovered my Master’s programme by talking to my undergraduate dissertation supervisor and haven’t looked back since! The UCAS website https://www.ucas.com/ is a great port of call to browse all the courses on offer – and discover ones you didn’t know existed!

The other thing to think about when you’re thinking about “what”, is what type of degree you’d like and need to do: MA, MSc, PGDip, PGCert? Courses will vary in duration, the amount of credits you can take (and whether or not you complete a dissertation) and prices for each will differ too. All these factors will help navigate you to the course you want and might help decide where you want to do it too.


The “Where” can be as important as the “What”. Once you’ve decided what course you’re doing, have a look at the different institutions that are offering your course of choice. Do you want – and can you afford to – go to a campus university or a city university? In London or outside of it? Where do the universities sit on the league tables? What is important to you – the research ranking? The module choices? Which department runs the Master’s? Is it more research based or taught? Perhaps a real example would help explain why I found the “where” to be so important when I was making my decision.

The course I wanted to study – Medical Humanities – is offered at a few universities in the UK (though the popularity of the course seems to be increasing and as such the institutions offering it). I knew that ideally I would need to stay in London to keep living costs down or be able to commute from home, which narrowed my choices down to four universities. 3 in London and 1 in Kent, where I did my undergraduate degree. 1 of the universities in London required a science/health-related degree and work experience which I did not have and was part-time. 1 was brand new and would be the first cohort of students – this didn’t necessarily appeal to me. It was down to two very different versions of the course and universities. King’s vs. Kent. City vs. Campus. MSc vs. MA (I could go on). The modules on offer were different, as were the departments offering the course but also, could I really face returning to Kent and not living there as I had at undergrad? For me, the Master’s was an opportunity to take a step out of my comfort zone and in order to do that I had to say “no” to the familiar. Though the course was more expensive at King’s, I would be joining a programme that was well-established and taught by researchers at the forefront of the field. I had also been considering a PhD and was keen to study at and within an academic environment renowned for their research. After some umm-ing and ah-ing, I had decided. My final answer on ‘Who wants to be a Master’s student’ was King’s.

Of course that’s not to say you can’t apply to more than one to institution – you certainly can! And unlike undergraduate courses, you’re not limited to the number of applications. However, one thing to keep in mind is that when applying for postgraduate degrees, you usually pay a non-refundable fee per application (between £50-75), and if you’re doing multiple applications this can add up!*

*This will differ depending on course and when you’re applying.


Some courses run to very strict deadlines, others provide more of a rough guideline but still accept applications very late – some even up to a few weeks before the course is due to start. My advice: check and then double check! If the course is very popular there may be a limited number of spaces available. There may also be funding opportunities available for your specific programme, many of which require you to have already been offered and accepted a place on your course earlier in the academic year. Check if you’re eligible for any funding and when the deadline for those applications is and how that will impact on when you need to submit your application. Also, if in doubt, talk to the admissions team for your course or faculty. They’ll be able to answer specific questions about the timeline of the admissions process.


For most applications at postgraduate level you’ll need to apply directly to an institution (with a fee for each as mentioned above). These will differ for some courses – like Teacher Training, which you’ll need to do through UCAS. You might need to complete additional tests and also have an interview. But again, entry requirements and the admissions process for each will differ so be sure to check this.

The “how” also relates to funding (as in – how will I pay for the course?). The new Postgraduate Loan  is an option and there may be bursaries and scholarships that you are eligible to apply for (university and course specific). There is also the Alternative Guide to Postgraduate Funding which is packed full of ideas and suggestions.


There are so many reasons why! Perhaps you want to pursue a career in academia? Or maybe you’re undergraduate degree was broad and you’re looking to specialise in a particular field before applying for jobs? It might even be a requirement for some of the roles you have been considering. Of course there is also the very valid reason of simply wanting to delve deeper into a topic you love and enjoy (or are interested in)!

For me, it was always something I had planned on doing. After trying my hand in two different careers I knew it was time for a change and to revisit my plans of completing a master’s and here I am today and it’s been equal parts exciting, enriching and challenging!

We hope this run down has inspired you to consider studying at postgraduate level and demystified any confusion around the what, where, when, how and whys around it. 🙂