Money. It's one of the biggest issues someone considering postgraduate study needs to think about. How are you going to pay your tuition fees and support yourself? Unlike undergraduate degrees, there are no public funding sources like student loans to help pay the costs of postgraduate education (the exception being PGCEs).
But all is not lost. There are still a huge number of opportunities to get funding for your study, or even to support yourself through the course. The sooner you start thinking about funding, the more chance you'll have something in place and be able to begin your course.
So let's have a look at the different options open to you.
University Bursaries and Studentships
Many universities will have a number of studentships or bursaries available for it's postgraduate students. These awards can vary in amount and most universities will have a range awards available. Some maybe set amounts, like £1000. Others could cover the cost of your tuition fees while a few will be large enough to cover both your tuition fees and most of your living costs.
However, these university awards are often very limited in number (many being funded through donations to universities or from special schemes the university has set up). Many studentships, especially for research degrees, may also be funded by the research councils - read below for more details on these.
If applying for a bursary or studentship, please read any criteria carefully. Many have limitations on who can apply. You have need a first class degree, come from a specific area or country or belong to a minority group. Though others will be open to all applicants.
In some cases, especially for people on research courses, the awards may involve a requirement for you to carry out an amount of teaching and marking of undergraduate work alongside your studies.
Research councils fund a large number of students in the UK. Each research council offers funding, often covering tuition fees; though sometimes including living costs, for students studying for degrees in specific subject area. The research councils include:
- Arts & Humanities Research Council (AHRC)
- Biotechnology & Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC)
- Engineering & Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC)
- Economic & Social Research Council (ESRC)
- Medical Research Council (MRC)
- Natural Environment Research Council (NERC)
- Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC)
In most cases you will not have to apply to these research councils for help as the councils make the funding available to individual universities and departments. Instead you either apply through your university or your university will hand out the awards to the eligible applicants.
General research council funding is only available to people doing research degrees such a research Masters or PhDs. Taught Masters coruse students usually aren't eligible.
Professional Organisations and Charities
Another area of funding comes from professional organisations, charities and other bodies who may have an interest in seeing people studying for certain courses or carrying out research in certain areas.
The format of the funding varies like that from universities and may cover part or all of tuition fees and/or living costs.
In most cases you need to apply directly to the organisations involved. The process will vary a lot, so I cannot tell you how to go about it here. Though depending on organisation and course you could just have a simple application form but the process may involve submitting written work, writing personal statements, interviews and other assessment tasks.
It is advisable to apply for this type of funding as soon as possible to avoid missing deadlines and to allow time to seek other sources of funding should you be unsuccessful.
Career Development Loans
Career development loans (CDLs) are a popular way for people to fund postgraduate study. You can take out a loan from between £300 to £10,000 with one of three High Street banks to cover tuition fees and living costs of your course.
These loans are not like like student loans, in that you will pay significant interest on them and will have to pay them back irrespective of how much you earn after your course. There are, however, special circumstances which help you - you do not start paying them back until a month after you complete the course, you have an agreed repayment period and get a fixed rate of interest.
You should apply for a CDL as soon as you can to allow you time to make a second application with a different bank should your first application be unsuccessful. You also are able to apply for more loan should the initial amount you take out not be enough to support you. You are still limited to a maximum of £10,000 however.
For more details and to check out which courses are not eligible for CDLs, check out the Direct.gov site.
On most taught Masters courses a large number of students may be self funded - that is they do not get financial help from the university, work place or other organisation and instead fund their own studies.
You may get funding in a number of ways:
- by saving up prior to starting the course,
- by being given or lent money by family,
- by working for a small number of hours during the course,
- by studying part time and working either part- or full- time hours while studying.
If you are to self fund your course you need to think carefully about your options. You are likely to need at least £10,000 a year to cover your tuition fees and basic living costs. Depending on your family, living arrangements and location you might need much more.
If you plan to work during your studies you need to consider any restrictions to working hours which your university might have. You also need to think about how the work could affect your studies - will you have the time and stamina to do both? It's not worth letting your studies suffer due to the work - otherwise you are defeating the whole point of being there.
It may be a better option to study part-time which will allow you more time to work to earn money. Many postgraduate courses are available on a part-time basis (over 2-3 years for Masters and normally 4-6 years for PhDs). It is worth noting, however, that the total cost of tuition fees for part-time courses is often more than for the full-time course.
Funding from Work
If you are currently working and wish to undertake study in an area connected to your work which will benefit your professional development, then your employer may be able to help fund your studies. To find out more you should talk to the relevant people at your work place to see if they can help you and if so, how to go about applying for the assistance.
Help for Specific Courses
Some postgraduate courses have different ways of funding and you should really look in to seeing if your course has special runs or additional financial help. For example, people starting teacher training courses like the PGCE are eligible for traditional student loans and tuition fee help.
Subject Specific Resources
- ESRC and other social science funding information: Postgraduate Funding in the Social Sciences
The bottom line is that postgraduate study can be expensive. While there are lots of sources of funding available, many people will have to either full or part fund their course themselves. You really need to be sure your course is for you before you take it up. Otherwise you risk getting in to serious debt or needing to work to such an extent that you cannot concentrate on your studies.
Plan ahead. It might be worth trying to save money while working to help support yourself. Or make sure you apply to universities or funding organisations well in advance so you have a second chances to apply for funding else where.
Finally, good luck for finding funding. Your hard work in seeking it will pay off and will be worth it once you're on your course!
Got postgrad questions which aren't covered above? Then visit the Postgraduate Forum to get your answers.
- Postgraduate Education
- Postgraduate Student Profiles:
- Types of Postgraduate Course
- Application tips and advice for:
- Funding Postgraduate Study
- Getting into Oxbridge for Postgraduate Study
- Pros and cons of pursuing Postgraduate study
- Routes into Teaching
- Writing a Teaching Personal Statement
- Postgraduate and Teaching Personal Statements
- GTTR Application Guide