Words by Russ Thorne

A postgraduate journey allows you to explore your subject in more detail, enhance your critical thinking skills and set yourself up for your future career. Plus, as you already have an understanding of the university environment there's no fresher fussing (and no blistering week long induction hangovers to endure while you pretend to love every single new person you meet).

To really make sure you set off on the right foot there are a few handy things to sort out in advance. We're assuming you already know what you want to study – if not, we can help with that too. Take care of these and you'll be in good shape for the rest of the adventure.

1 - The money situation

Future Finance
Inevitably, money is at the forefront of many postgrad's minds and it's important to finalise your funding well in advance, to save stress later. Many postgraduates work alongside their studies, and there are other avenues to explore as well.

For example, when you're researching courses find out what financial support – scholarships, bursaries and so on – the unis you're interested in can offer. It's also worth investigating charitable trusts and private companies, who may sponsor you. If you're employed and planning to study part time, your employer may even help.

From 2016 the government will be offering loans to postgrads. You can also take out career development loans from banks. Alternatively there are specialist student lenders like Future Finance, who can offer variable sums to cover the bulk of your costs or to make up any shortfall between your existing funds and the total costs of your studies. They tend to have a better understanding of students' circumstances, and may even help top up your kitty on top of any government loan.

With any finance provider it's important to check their reviews – and don't forget to ask around in our forums for other students' experiences or to get further funding tips.

2 - A relationship with your new department

As well as snuggling up to your piggy bank, getting cosy with the department you'll be studying in can be useful. It will help with your application (more on that below), and also give you a clear idea of what to expect once the course begins.

Whether you're staying at your current uni or moving on, an open day is a good chance to break the ice. Meet the academic staff you'll be working with, and don't be afraid to press a little flesh: talk about their research interests, their plans for the year ahead (maybe don't ask to go camping with them or anything) and their thoughts on the structure and content of the course.

3 - A solid application

Future Finance
Obviously you'll need to get this part right in order to get onto the course you're interested in. A strong application starts with your undergrad studies: not just the grades, but your commitment to the course and enthusiasm for related activities such as work experience, further study, membership of industry bodies and so on.

If you're staying with your current uni, making yourself known to the department (through things like volunteering at open days and going to socials) can raise your profile; if you're switching, go to open days (see above) and start building a network so that people know who you are when your application arrives.

4 - A pre-course plan

Having some clear goals for your course will help you get the most out of it. Are you looking for career advancement? Do you want to move on to a PhD? Formulate your plan, write it down, and consider including it in your application to show you're serious about your studies.

Give yourself a head start on any reading or pre-course work, too – again, this is where schmoozing your tutors can help – so that you're ready to roll when term starts.

5 - Patience and determination

Future Finance
The final one is more a state of mind than anything to put on a 'to do' list. You'll be familiar with the uni environment, but postgrad study itself is demanding and can take a little getting used to, particularly as you'll be expected to be much more independent. Give yourself a chance to adjust, focus on your goals (not the one about camping) and you'll soon settle in.

More? Check into our postgrad forums.