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The University of Southampton

Your guide to postgraduate study

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There are many reasons why people choose to study postgraduate degrees. It could be a requirement for your job, it may help you to broaden your options or you might want to explore a particular subject that you are passionate about in detail.

We’ve put together some guidance to shed light on the world of postgraduate study, and demonstrate that there’s plenty of help available to guide you on your journey.

What is postgraduate study?

Masters degrees

A taught postgraduate course is typically a masters degree, which could be an MA or a MSc. It usually lasts for 12 months, and you’ll attend classes throughout the first two terms and finish the year with a dissertation or research project. It allows you to study a subject in depth and develop expertise in a certain area. Some roles will require a masters degree as it demonstrates strong expertise in your field.

You could also study a PG Cert or a PG Dip. A PG Cert is a shorter programme of study, which lasts typically three to six months full time. These courses usually give you a professional qualification such as the PG DIP in nursing and the PG Dip in Actuarial Science. There’s also the PGCE in teaching, which lasts for twelve months.

Research masters degrees, such as the MRes, are usually 12-month programmes, similar to an MA or an MSc, but you spend less time in classes and more time working on independent research. It’s a great way to dip a toe in the research pool if you think you might want to go onto a career in academic or industry research.

Postgraduate research

Postgraduate research degrees include PhDs and MPhils, as well as specialist courses such as the DM (Doctor of Medicine) and DBA (Doctor of Business Administration).

These degrees consist of an in-depth, independent research project supervised by academics and providing the opportunity for you to explore a specialist area, in detail. You produce a thesis which will make a significant and original contribution to your field of research; this might be a new interpretation, a new process or a new way to apply a particular methodology. You’ll become a real expert in your area, and have earned the title of doctor when you graduate.

Top tip: Thinking about your motivations for study should help you decide which postgraduate degree is right for you. If you’re looking to advance in your career consider a specialist masters.

How do I choose what course and institution?

Most people start with desk-based research. Websites such as UCAS, Find a Masters and aggregate postgraduate courses, enabling you to search for the course you’re interested in and see which institutions offer that programme.

Look out for postgraduate study fairs which are held across the UK where you can talk to representatives from lots of universities. Examples would be the Russell Group roadshow and university careers fairs.

It’s also a good idea to look at university prospectuses to read more detail about the university, the course, modules and facilities.

And once you have a shortlist, look out for Postgraduate Open Days at the universities you are interested in. Open Days are the best opportunity to talk to current students, meet the academics who will be teaching you and see the university campus and facilities. Don’t be afraid to ask lots of questions; current students will give you an honest and unfiltered view!

For PhD it’s slightly different as you’ll need to look at where positions are available; websites like are a good place to start. Or, develop your own research proposal and find academics whose specialisms overlap with your interests.

If you’re an international student looking to study in the UK, education agents and counsellors in your country can offer advice and guidance on the options available at different universities. University representatives also travel internationally to meet students, and will post details of events they are attending – look out for those! Here are our upcoming visits.

Top tip: Ask lots of questions! Talk to admissions teams, academic staff and current students – these people are all here to offer help and support, and guide you in the right direction.

How do I pay for postgraduate study?

Inevitably, you’ll have to think about how to fund your study. Financial support is available through loans, discounts, and scholarships and bursaries. Do your research and work out how much you can get towards your course.

Many people are not aware that government postgraduate loans have been available since 2016. Have a look at the website for more information about masters loans and doctoral loans.

And if you’re applying for a PhD, some have funding attached which is like being paid a salary. Your fees will be paid, and you’ll get an annual stipend.

Some universities may offer an alumni discount scheme for postgraduate students who return to the university where they completed their undergraduate degree – we offer a 10% discount on fees for our returning students.

Also, look at the scholarships and bursaries that are available for your course. These can vary greatly from £1,000 to very substantial scholarships, depending on the course and the institution.

Something you might have not considered is that there are a huge range of charities and trusts that fund education. These funds often provide relatively small amounts (£1,000-£1,500) but you can hold lots at once. To research what’s available, you’ll need to have access to a directory such as the Alternative Guide to Postgraduate Funding or the Directory of Social Change. Contact the university you’re applying to and they should be able to provide you with log in details for the databases.

The government also provides Disabled Students’ Allowances, to cover extra costs incurred due to disability, long-term illness or mental health problems.

Top tip: There are lots of sources of funding available for postgraduate study, you just have to know where to look! Take your time to do your research and see what’s available, and it might pay off. 

How do I apply?

Now you know what you want to study and where you want to do it, how do you apply?

First things first… check the entry requirements and make sure you have the qualifications required to be accepted onto the course. 

For the majority of masters degrees you’ll apply directly to the institution itself. Think of it in a similar way to applying for a job. You’ll need to write a statement which explains why this is the right course for you, and what skills and background you have that mean you’re right for this course. It’s also a chance to demonstrate your enthusiasm for the subject to the admissions tutors. Sometimes you’ll also need to provide work samples, and creative courses will usually look for a portfolio.

If you’re applying for a research programme you may also need a research proposal, which goes into detail of what you’re planning to research, why it’s important and how you’ll go about it.

Top tip: Check application deadlines! People are often surprised by how late applications are. In June and July, some courses will still be accepting applications. PhD deadlines tend to be earlier, but some programmes do accept students on a rolling basis.

Download a prospectus

Our postgraduate prospectuses provide key information on courses and student life in Southampton.

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