Applying for a Masters degree

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Early decision-making and careful planning can make a postgraduate application easier than you'd think…

When should I apply?

Many Masters programmes accept applications continuously. However, some have official deadlines. Given Masters courses usually begin in September or October, aim to apply eight months in advance.

Applying early is vital, as universities and colleges may make offers on a first-come first-served basis. This approach will also help you avoid funding and accommodation issues, as you require a provisional offer before applying for either. Despite this, enrolling late is common. If you're applying last minute there still could be room for you.

International students, however, must apply very early. An unconditional offer is required before applying for scholarships and visas.

How do I apply for a Masters degree?

Apply directly to your chosen university or college. Each institution has its own process and official application form. Applications for a Masters are usually made online, but you can download an application pack or request one via telephone. Online applications are the easiest, as you can track its progress and usually revisit it. You must create an account on your chosen institution's website. You'll receive an acknowledgement once your application is received.

Generally, a Masters application form will ask you to outline your:

  • reasons for applying;
  • academic qualifications;
  • skills and experience;
  • research proposal.

There's no limit to the number of Masters applications you can make, but time restraints may restrict you to five at most. Start your journey by searching Masters courses.

Teacher training is different. You apply through a centralised system called UCAS Teacher Training.

What do I need to include in my postgraduate application?

You must include your:

  • Masters application form;
  • postgraduate personal statement;
  • proof of academic qualifications;
  • referees;
  • research proposal;
  • portfolio, if required.

If you're an international student, you must translate any documents into English and provide evidence of your English language ability. This could be achieved by proving that your first degree was taught in English, or presenting certificates in International English Language Testing System (IELTS), Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) or GCSE English. You must also provide a photocopy of your passport.

Who can I ask for a reference?

Approach undergraduate tutors or lecturers before you apply and confirm that they're happy to represent you. Institutions often require two academic referees and many use a set form. Send any referees your application form and CV, and inform them of your strengths and ambitions. This will help them to write a reference. When listing your referees, give their name, contact details and relationship to you.

You may not find two academic referees if you've taken a break from study. Admissions tutors will then require a professional reference from an employer. Select the most appropriate individual based on your chosen programme. Finally, don't hold back your application if you're waiting for references. You can change your referees in the future so don't worry if they're late.

How do I put a portfolio together?

Courses in the arts may require you to submit a portfolio. This demonstrates your work, showing your commitment, abilities, creativity and personality. It should contain a range of your best and most recent work, explaining how it's been crafted through investigation and reference materials. Sketchbooks and notebooks should be included, as these highlight your independent research skills and creative process.

Organise your portfolio chronologically or in topic groups. There's usually no limit to what you can include, but keep numbers sensible as you'll often have to transport your portfolio to the interview. Each individual programme will have specific requirements. Some may ask you to submit your portfolio digitally - this could be in the form of a slideshow, CD-ROM or DVD.

How do I prepare for a postgraduate interview?

Interviewers interrogate your application, so ensure that you have strong knowledge of what you've written. Make sure that you do your research and arrange a practice interview with your family, friends or careers service. Remember to show enthusiasm and initiative when the day comes.

Questioning usually covers the following topics:

  • Reasons for choosing the course - show that you've researched the institution and course, explaining how it has impressed you. Explain why you feel it is your best option and how the course will help you achieve your career goals.
  • Funding - tell the interviewer what funding measures you have in place.
  • Academic knowledge - this is something you'll have to prepare for. You may be asked about a particular issue in your field, so do your homework.
  • Strengths and weaknesses - list your best skills and provide evidence. If asked about your weakness, mention one attribute that you're looking to develop.
  • Career goals - explain how you plan to become successful and be as specific as possible. Set yourself goals for the next five or ten years.