Students next o the Queen's Lawn

Approximately 30% of Imperial students enter further study after their undergraduate degree and many masters students go onto PhDs. The Careers Service can help you work out if further study is right for you and make strong applications for the courses you target.

There are many reasons why you may pursue postgraduate study however you need to consider if it is the right step for you and how it may develop your future career.

Further Study

Why do it?

Why choose further study?

  • Deepen knowledge of a subject you enjoy or have a passion for
  • Pursue a career in research
  • Access a certain career which requires specific entry e.g. Teaching
  • Improve career prospects
  • Change career direction and retrain in a different field
  • It is worth noting that further study is not a guarantee of securing a better job or a higher salary, however, it can give you a specialism and enhance your wider skills. It is also likely to be a considerable investment in both time, money and effort. If you are clear on your reasons for pursing the qualification then you are more likely to remain motivated and therefore be satisfied.

Ask yourself the following questions before you apply:

  • Why do you want to do postgraduate study?
  • Is a postgraduate degree essential for your career?
  • Which is the most appropriate type of postgraduate degree for you and your career path – taught or research-based?
  • Can you apply to the postgraduate course directly after your first degree, or does the course require you to gain business experience first?
  • Where will you study? In the UK, or abroad?
  • How will you fund your studies?

Types of study

Master's degrees

In the UK these courses usually last 12 months but in other countries often two years. They can be used to:

  • Deepen your knowledge of a subject, building on your first degree
  • Change direction into a new areas e.g. going from a physics degree to a masters in data science

They vary between taught courses, mostly research courses or a mixture of both.

The Master of Business Administration (MBA) also fits this category but many institutions require applicants to have had several years relevant work experience at graduate level before being offered a place on the course.

Postgraduate Certificates (PGCert) and Diplomas (PGDip)

These are normally vocational qualifications that allow you to work toward a specific learning or employment goal. Courses include a mix of theoretical and practical learning, and often include a work placement. They take around a year to complete full-time, or two years part-time, and can sometimes be topped up to a masters qualification with additional study.

Examples include:
  • Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL) which is a conversion course providing a pathway into law for non-law graduates
  • Postgraduate Certificate in Education (PGCE) which can be done as part of teacher training

PhDs (Doctorates)

A PhD (or Doctorate) is a research degree. In the UK they last three to four years and in other countries they can be even longer. The experience of doing a PhD is very different to undergraduate or master's degrees. Although there may be a requirement to complete some taught courses at the start, the main focus is on producing a substantial piece of research which will contribute new knowledge to your field. Although a PhD student has a supervisor, it is the responsibility of the student to drive the project forward. Therefore completion of a PhD requires strong motivation and self-management (being able to set goals, be resilient, be self-driven and work independently) in addition to intellectual skills and technical knowledge. In the UK some PhDs are done as part of a themed CDT (centre for doctoral training) or DTP (doctoral training partnership), where the student is part of a cohort of other students. In other cases the student joins a research group directly to work on a specific project within that group.

Professional qualifications

Some professional qualifications can be gained while working. You may be supported by your employer giving study days and paying the costs of exams. Professions where this is common include patent attorney, accountancy and HR. The advantage of these types of further study is that you are earning a salary while you study and you gain practical real world experience as well as a qualification. The route to these types of study are to research the profession and apply for graduate jobs.

Finding opportunities

There are several ways to find opportunities for further study:

  • Research individual courses and opportunities through websites such as: 
    findamasterspostgradProspectsmastersavenuemastersportalfindaphd,  jobs.ac.uk and findaprofessionaldoctorate
  • Use your networks to find recommendations of courses (or research groups for PhDs)
  • Identify universities you would like to study at and review their graduate prospectuses
  • Identify an area of research you would like to specialise in and use the primary literature (journal articles in the library) to find out who is doing interesting work in that field right now. Then look at the webpages for those research groups and see if there are opportunities available.

When researching opportunities here are some good questions to ask:

  • What topics are covered on this course?
  • Will I have study options to choose from and what are they?
  • How will I be examined?
  • What is the typical background of students on this course?
  • What are the entry requirements/eligibility?
  • What are the deadlines for applications?
  • Is there funding support available?
  • What do graduates of this course go on to do afterwards?
  • Will there be opportunities for work experience or engagement with industry?

It is really worth exploring widely at this stage rather than going for the first option you find. There are very many great opportunities for further study out there and the best postgraduate courses for a particular subject area are not always found at the most famous universities. All your research into courses will help you write a stronger applications later. It is better to take some time to discover what you really want to do rather than rush into something.

For PhDs, some students in the UK informally contact potential supervisors to meet with them before applying. This can enable both the supervisor and student to get to know each other and see if they want to work together. It is not mandatory but can be helpful. It is best to do some reading and thinking about what you are looking for before having a conversation with a potential supervisor so you make a good impression. Ideally 18 months and 1 year before you would start the PhD is a good timeframe for these informal conversations to happen. You will still need to apply through the formal channels.

Funding

When considering further study it is important to consider how you will fund it. In general there is limited funding available for study at masters level but more funding available for PhD study.

Master's funding

Students often self-fund masters study through savings or loans. The findamasters guide to funding is a comprehensive guide to funding options for masters in the UK and there is government funding advice.

PhD funding

In the UK PhDs are usually funded through what are known as ‘studentships’. These are some combination of living costs and fees, dependent on a student’s nationality. A general rule of thumb is to apply early in the academic year (around autumn) to raise your chances of receiving funding. You may receive an offer of funding included with your PhD offer or you may need to look for funding separately. The findaphd website has guidance on funding options for PhDs.

Here are the main sources of PhD funding in the UK:

The majority of PhD students studying in the UK are funded through UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) studentships. For a home student this will cover around £15000 per year for living costs each year of the PhD and around £4000 per year for fees.

The UK government has announced that starting in the 2021-22 academic year, international PHD students will be eligible for this funding. EU, EEA and Swiss nationals will also be able to apply for UKRI funding on the same terms as international students. Note that for these students the £4000 per year may not be sufficient to cover all the fees and students may therefore need to supplement with other sources of funding.

It’s important to note that you do not apply directly to the UKRI for this PhD funding as a student. In STEM subjects the funding is distributed to universities who then allocate the funding to individual students. The UKRI funding is divided into 7 subject groupings EPSRC, BBSRC, MRC, NERC, ESRC, STFC and AHRC so if you see any of these acronyms attached to a PhD opportunity you will know that it is UKRI funding. They all share the same eligibility criteria.

Institutional scholarships

Another potential funding source are scholarships provided by the university, for example the Imperial President’s PhD Scholarships or the Gates Scholarships at Cambridge. Other universities in the UK also offer similar scholarships and you should be able to find out about them and how to apply from the university’s own webpages on student funding. They are usually highly prestigious and competitive.

Other sources of funding

Other students gain funding from sources such as a scholarship from their home country or funding from a charity such as the Wellcome Trust. The eligibility requirements will be specific to the funder.

The Alternative Guide to Postgraduate Funding is an interesting collection of grants from charities, trust and foundations for current and prospective postgraduate students. It also includes advice on making funding applications. Use your Imperial logon to access.

Applications

In general you will be submitting applications up to 12 months prior to the course start date so planning ahead is crucial to your application success. Additionally it is worth noting that application procedures vary greatly between institutions and in various countries, however, in general you will likely submit the following:

  • Application form
  • Personal statement/Statement of purpose (generally one/two pages)
  • References (generally two - three)
  • Research proposal (sometimes requested for PhD applications)
  • Official transcripts of university exam results
  • Standardised test results such as the GMAT or GRE (for postgraduate study in some countries such as US, Canada)

Application form

An online form that collects personal details and may request submission of answers to specific questions relevant to the course and your future career plans.

Personal statements

A personal statement (sometimes called a statement of purpose) describes your motivation, background, interests and abilities. It is necessary to thoroughly research the course you are applying to to write a strong personal statement. 

References

You will generally need to submit references who can vouch for your approach to study and who can recommend you as a strong candidate for your chosen course. Usually this would include your a personal tutor, project supervisor or other departmental academic. 

Research proposals

If you are applying for a PhD you may be requested to submit a research proposal in addition to the above mentioned documents. Essentially this is an outline of your proposed project and should include a clear research question and an approach to answering it. You should try to highlight the significance of the research (impact) and how it adds to, develops, or challenges existing work. These documents vary in length.

Useful information to support with this can be found through:

Studying abroad

Studying in another country can be a great opportunity to experience another culture but there are a lot of elements to consider when deciding if study abroad is right for you and which country would suit you. There’s a lot more to think about than simply finding a course.

Consider the following as part of your planning:

  • Look at the cost of living and studying and research ways to fund this
  • Consider culture and student lifestyle
  • Plan enough time to apply for study visas
  • Look into travel insurance, and check if you need pre-travel vaccinations
  • Consider if you will need to learn a foreign language
  • Be sure to check if your chosen postgraduate course qualifies you to work outside of that country of study - in many cases, vocational courses in one country does not qualify you to work elsewhere.

There are countless resources available online to help you plan your overseas studies and we suggest undertaking thorough research to make a well informed decision. Amongst the plethora of information you may want to explore:

  • FindAMasters Study Abroad answers to important questions you might have about studying a Masters abroad: from university types and postgraduate course fees to application requirements, student visas, course fees, and funding opportunities.
  • FindAPhD Study Abroad - clear and up-to-date information on universities, fees, funding options, application requirements and student visas for PhD studies overseas.
  • DAAD – the gateway to information on study, research and internships in Germany and the largest German support organisation in the field of international academic co-operation
  • EduCanada– information and resources about study in Canada
  • France Diplomatie - study in France
  • Fulbright Commission - focused on opportunities and exchanges between the UK and the USA
  • Jobs.ac.uk - a source of opportunities in UK and other countries
  • Postgraduate Studies in Hong Kong - study in Hong Kong
  • Study Options - study in Australia and New Zealand
  • StudyInHolland – search for study programmes taught in English in the Netherlands
  • Study in China - study in China
  • StudyPortalsMasters – Browse Master’s degrees around the world
  • Studee for advice on studying in different countries