Further study

Further study is a popular option among students and there are many reasons for choosing postgraduate study or research, but it’s not for everyone. This section of our website describes some of the issues to consider, including the main types of higher degrees and information on funding.

Getting started

There are different types of further study. These include:

  • Master’s degrees, which exist in the full range of academic subjects
  • ‘Vocational' or professional diplomas/master's degrees, for example in teaching, law and nursing
  • Research degrees such as PhDs

If you really enjoy studying your subject, postgraduate study or research will allow you to deepen your knowledge and specialise in certain aspects of it. Meanwhile, gaining a postgraduate qualification may help you get into the career you have in mind although this is not automatically the case.

For example, in some careers having a master’s or PhD may be required or desirable, while some employers may relax their entry requirements for master’s students. However, in many cases, a postgraduate qualification does not automatically give you an advantage over an undergraduate degree in the job market, or necessarily lead to a higher starting salary.

Before applying for further study, make sure to research the possible routes into the careers that interest you, so that you understand how postgraduate study might fit in with your career plans as well as how you can fund your studies.

Higher degrees by research

The degree of Doctor of Philosophy, usually shortened to PhD (or DPhil at some universities) is awarded primarily on the basis of a thesis, which is the product of an original research project.

To help find and apply for a PhD:

  • Search databases which list PhD opportunities
  • Contact your prospective supervisor(s) before applying to find out as much as you can about their project outline or, if you are submitting a research proposal, their specific areas of expertise. This discussion will also allow you to explore practical issues with them, such as whether they can offer you the time and support you will require a research student

Careers after a PhD

A PhD is often viewed as an ‘apprenticeship’ for aspiring academics, but can also be a basis for employment in research, either in industry, government or the voluntary sector.
If you choose to do a PhD as the basis for an academic career, be realistic - each year, roughly half of those who obtain a PhD in the UK move into a research or teaching post in a higher education institution but this is often on a fixed-term basis of one to three years.
Some estimates suggest that only about ten percent will eventually obtain a permanent academic position, although the actual number varies across different disciplines.

Postgraduate taught courses

A typical master’s degree includes a mixture of teaching through lectures and seminars, a research project, a thesis or dissertation plus examinations.

In some cases, you can study a subject as a 'conversion course' which can open up a wide range of careers not related to your undergraduate degree. Additionally, some master’s courses offer a ‘fast-track’ into a profession for those with a relevant undergraduate degree, for example, a bioscience graduate could undertake a two-year master’s course in physiotherapy or dietetics rather than completing another 3 year bachelor’s degree.

To help find and apply for a course:

  • Do your research. Find out as much as you can about the course, the institution and its staff. Make sure to confirm the entry requirements, as these vary between courses and universities.
  • Contact the admissions tutors if you have questions but avoid asking anything that is clearly covered in the course literature, or on the departmental website.
  • Check the closing date and application method with the institutions. Courses in law, teaching, medicine and dentistry have central clearing houses but for most courses, you can apply directly to the institution concerned. Popular courses can fill up quickly and some subjects may have early closing dates. Generally speaking, it is advisable to apply nine to twelve months before the intended starting date, especially as this may improve your chances to obtain funding.

Studying outside your home country

Choose your course carefully if you plan to study a professional or vocational qualification in one country but want to work in a different one. Do not assume qualifications awarded in some countries will automatically be recognised in others.

How to get funding

Funding for PhDs

The funding system for postgraduate study can be very complex so seek advice from the Careers Service if you need it.

The majority of ‘home’ postgraduate researchers in the UK have their fees paid and receive a maintenance allowance via a studentship from one of the seven government funded Research Councils.

Each Research Council has responsibility for funding researchers in a specific group of subjects, and you will find details of these on their websites.

Research Councils do not accept applications directly from individuals. Instead, they allocate funding to universities and research centres and invite them to nominate suitable candidates. To find out how studentships are provided for researchers in your discipline check with your chosen institution and look at the relevant Research Council’s website.

To be eligible for a Research Council studentship you will need to have been resident in the UK for purposes other than study for at least three years prior to taking up the award and be free of any restrictions on your right to live in the country.

Other possible sources of funding are:

  • Employment by a University and being funded to do a PhD as part of the role, e.g. research technician
  • Individual universities’ scholarship schemes
  • Research charities (especially for medical research)
  • Sponsorship from a private company, either directly or through a ‘Knowledge Transfer Partnership’ between the company and a research council
  • Your own savings or those of your family

Funding for Master’s, Diplomas and Certificates

There are a range of funding sources available for courses:

  • Master’s loans for tuition fees and living costs are available to most UK students who are normally resident in England. Additional support and funding may be available to help cover disability-related course costs, for example via Disabled Students Allowances.
  • Scholarships and bursaries may also be available from universities, charities, private companies, and the Government.
  • Some trusts and charities make awards available to students meeting their eligibility criteria, to contribute to costs such as maintenance, fees, books, equipment, travel, childcare, etc. Specialised funding schemes exist for some vocational courses but you need to investigate the websites of professional bodies in the relevant sector. Ask at the Careers Service if you need help with this.
  • For international students wishing to study in the UK, the British Council provides information on scholarships and financial support.

Key tasks

1. Find courses via databases such as:

2. Contact the institutions you are interested in to find out more about the course

You may also want to ask about the careers that graduates from the course go on to do.
If you are a disabled or dyslexic student, it’s a good idea to discuss your needs with the university you plan to apply to prior to making an application.

3. Explore funding

  • The UK Research councils
  • Prospects Funding postgraduate study includes information on different sources of funding and loans for PhDs and master’s courses.
  • The Alternative guide to postgraduate funding contains advice on finding funding opportunities, completing formal applications and making speculative approaches.
  • Further information is available on the UCAS and on the UK Government websites. In addition to this, awards of £10,000 are made available to ‘underrepresented’ students via eligible universities.
    Funding for international students
  • The British Council - scholarships and financial support, provides information to help you obtain scholarships if you are an international student.
  • UKISA The UK Council for International Student Affairs

4. Prepare your applications

For links to further information and advice, see the Thinking about further study section of our Information Resources.