Explore career options
Postgraduate study is a popular option for graduates. The most recent data tells us 14% of Loughborough graduates went straight on to further study. In 2019/20 there were 384,000 postgraduate taught students and 34,000 postgraduate research students in the UK. Whether you’re thinking of studying in the UK or abroad you’ll need to plan well in advance, assessing the suitability of each course and researching application procedures and deadlines.
For further information, current Loughborough students can view Exploring Postgraduate Study on Learn module CA007.
What is a postgraduate degree?
Postgraduate degrees are those studied after an undergraduate degree. Master’s courses eg MA, MSc, MBA, are referred to as ‘taught’ programmes. This differentiates them from research programmes that are normally preparation for a PhD.
It might also be useful to explore qualifications needed for specific roles, and you can do this via Prospects job profiles.
In the UK, typically, a full time master’s course will take one full calendar year, often October to September, or 2 years part time. (Whereas a postgraduate diploma or certificate can take 6-12 months full time or 2 years part time.)
Why you might want to pursue a Master's degree
Further study will help you to do one or more of the following:
- Continue with your first degree subject in more depth or in a specialised area.
- ‘Convert' your first degree to something completely different.
- Achieve a professional qualification needed to pursue your chosen career (e.g. law, teaching, social work, librarianship or clinical psychology).
- Develop your research skills.
- Experience life at another university, either in the UK or abroad.
Finding and choosing a Master's course
You can use the following websites to find a postgraduate course in the UK:
Choosing the right course for you
It might be helpful to think about:
- the type of course you would like to study
- what you hope the course might lead to and how it fits in with your career plans – check out what others have done after the course
- entry requirements
- whether work experience is required
- the length of the course
- availability of funding and your own financial circumstances
- reputation of the institution or department
- course structure and teaching and assessment methods
- mode of study, e.g. in-person, online or remote
- academic facilities and support services available
- professional association membership or accreditation as part of the course
- location and travel considerations
- which courses other graduates from your course have chosen
- what career areas former students have entered. (Contact the admissions tutor or the careers service at the relevant university).
Funding your Master's study
How to fund your study will be a consideration and you will need to allow time to investigate scholarships, awards, loans and other sources of finance; many of which will have specific eligibility criteria and early deadlines. Studentships might be fully-funded, part-funded or you may need to self-fund your studies. Each university will have details on their website about funding for postgraduate study.
Course fees and the cost of living can be in excess of £10,000 a year for a full-time course.
The average and specific course costs of certain postgraduate qualifications can be found here. Remember to take into account your living expenses too.
Part-time study, where the fees are considerably reduced and you have the opportunity to fund yourself through part-time employment, may be a viable option for you.
Postgraduate loans for Master's degrees
UK Government Master’s Loans of up to £11,570 (for 2022/22) are available for students studying a masters at a UK university (if you're from Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland the systems are slightly different). The loan is not means-tested.
The main criteria for a Master’s Loan are:
- You’ll be taking a masters course at a UK university (including distance learning)
- You’ll be under 60 at the beginning of the course
- You are normally a resident of England (or an EU national).
Check here for eligibility and to find out more.
Applying for your Master's
The application process for postgraduate study is different from undergraduate applications. You can apply to as many programmes as you like and there is no centralised service such as UCAS.
But we don't advise making too many applications at once as your applications will need to be well-tailored to the programme that you are applying for and that can be quite time consuming.
Applications can usually be made throughout the academic year direct to the university.
When you apply will depend partly on how competitive the programme is. If it is a well sought-after programme, then it may be filled long before the beginning of the year.
Typically, you will need to provide the following as part of your application:
- a personal statement tailored to the programme of study (see more below)
- academic transcripts
- two or more references – make sure you keep your academic referees informed of your plans and ask their permission before you give their name on your application
- your CV
- a portfolio, if required (more likely for art or design students)
- a research proposal, if required
If you are asked to attend an interview, the main focus will be on your academic achievements and your ability to complete the course successfully.
Prospects provides useful advice about how to ensure your application is effective.
Writing a personal statement
Personal statements should be succinct and tailored to the programme of study. Your statement should evidence your:
- capability to complete master’s level study
- relevant skills and experiences
- interest in the subject area
- awareness of this specific programme and the institutions engagement with the subject area.
Prospects offers some useful tips and provides examples.
Applying for a Master's at Loughborough
Find your master’s degree – Look at the selection of master’s degrees available at Loughborough
Before you apply – Some things to consider and check before you take your application further
How to start your application – Information on the application process, deadlines and documents needed
References – Information about the references we require
After you've applied – What happens next
Types of research degrees
Firstly, consider your motivations carefully and research the different types of courses available. You might also wish to consider the institution’s postgraduate student experience and/or its location. It might also be wise to consider whether or not studying towards a PhD best meets your career plans.
MRes or Master of Research: The MRes is a master’s degree that emphasises independent study over taught instruction. You will still complete some taught units on an MRes but you will be focusing mainly on your own research project. Effectively, it’s a self-contained research training qualification that can prepare you for a PhD. It usually takes 1-2 years full-time, longer part-time.
An MPhil or Master of Philosophy is a pure research degree. Instead of completing taught units and assessments, an MPhil consists entirely of your own independent project. An MPhil can be part of a PhD or a step towards PhD registration, but you can also study it as a standalone qualification.
Doctorate: there are several ways to gain a doctorate:
- PhD (doctorate by thesis): 3-4 years full-time or 5-6 years part-time. Opportunities at Loughborough University can be found here.
- Integrated PhD, also known as the ‘new route PhD’ involves studying a one-year research master’s degree (MRes) before progressing onto a three-year PhD.
- Professional doctorate: geared primarily towards current professionals in vocational sectors such as healthcare, teaching and education (EdD), and engineering (EngD). This type of doctorate includes a significant taught component and, therefore, a smaller research project. It typically takes 2-8 years to complete. Note: Unlike many professional doctorates, the EngD is typically offered as a full-time course and is aimed at young engineering graduates with little or no professional experience.
- PhD by publication: often taken by mid-career academics who have not had the opportunity to undertake a standard doctorate degree. Usually between 5-8 book, book chapters or journal articles are required, but may vary between institutions.
- Distance learning PhD: If you have family or work commitments, or are an international student, this gives you the chance to undertake a PhD without having to live close to your chosen university. It is also a good option if the subject you're researching or access to archive materials require you to be based in a specific location.
- Working with industry: Many universities work collaboratively with each other and/or industry partners forming Doctoral Training Centres (DTCs) or Centres for Doctoral Training (CDTs) or Doctoral Training Partnerships (DTPs). Opportunities at Loughborough University can be found here. Other opportunities can be found here.
- By practice: A research degree submission with a practice element is designed to accommodate the idea that not all knowledge is best represented and communicated in written form. It will enable innovative practices of research and representation in doctoral work.
- In Creative Writing: is designed to address an overarching research question, answering this partly through academic research, and partly through a creative component. The creative element could be a cycle of poems, novel, section of a novel, novella, play script, or collection of short stories. For actions and tips to help make an informed decision, visit What is a PhD and why should I do one?
Reasons to study a research degree
Your reasons for studying a research degree may include one or more of the following:
Drive to explore and learn new things - Have a sense of excitement for working on a project of your own that focuses on a problem at the cutting-edge of research with a desire to contribute to the advancement of knowledge.
Become an expert in your area. By working exclusively on a project with a specific topic for an extensive period of time.
Enjoy the academic environment. Relish an environment that provides intellectual stimulation, flexible working hours and may include a mixture of lab and office work.
Develop important transferrable skills. Skillsuseful whatever career you pursue – for example complex problem solving, working independently and as a member of a team, written and verbal communication, meeting deadlines and time management.
Progress in your chosen career. A PhD will be an essential requirement to pursue some careers, e.g. an academic career and, in the main, to teach in higher education.
Intense interest in something. If you have undertaken countless little research projects as hobbies and have a natural thirst for knowledge or an insatiable appetite for reading books about a particular topic, you may wish to conduct more in-depth research.
Resources to help you decide whether studying towards a PhD is for you include:
What do Researchers do? (register to access free - Loughborough University have an account with Vitae)
Finding research programmes
You can search for PhD opportunities via the links below or on individual institutions’ websites. For example, Loughborough University postgraduate study web pages. If you can’t find a research project of interest, you can write and submit your own research proposal.
UK Research and Innovation – various subjects
www.jobs.ac.uk – sign up for alerts
Employer related routes:
Funding for research degrees
There are various funding opportunities for studying towards a PhD. Some institutions offer fully funded research projects, part funded by an employer, loan or grant (some relevant to a specific discipline) or totally self-funded.
Loans and grants – including teaching, social work and medical/healthcare; learned societies and charities and trusts
Applying for a research degree
Check individual institutions’ webpages for instructions and guidance for completing applications. Make sure you provide all the required information and documentation, and within the timeframes required.
These courses are are usually linked to a job or profession and can take your career in a new direction. Law, teaching, psychology, property and medicine are just some of the areas you can consider. Sometimes you will need relevant work experience before embarking on these courses. More information about conversion courses can be found on Prospects and for Law conversions. Popular course are listed here.
- Applications for all routes into teacher training (apart from the Teach First route www.teachfirst.org.uk/careers) are made through www.ucas.com/how-it-all-works/teacher-training.
- Primary teaching is very popular so apply as soon as you can.
- All potential applicants will have to be interviewed before being offered a place. Interviews can vary considerably from a straightforward interview to a group discussion, mock lesson or presentation.
- Tests in literacy and numeracy are usually required.
- More information about completing your form, preparing for interview and tests can be found on the https://getintoteaching.education.gov.uk/how-to-apply website.
- Work experience in a school or similar setting will strengthen your application and is often expected.
- Non-law graduates, whether considering the bar or legal practice, should apply for a 'conversion' course via www.lawcabs.ac.uk/. This might be either the Common Professional Examination (CPE) or the Solicitors Qualififying Exam (SQL) introduced in September 2021.
- There is no deadline for the SQL but early application is advised. Try and get some related work experience before applying.
Some postgraduate master’s courses are still available but the majority are now at undergraduate level with application through www.ucas.ac.uk/.
- For more information see our PDF on Careers in Social Care.
- www.hcpc-uk.org, www.dh.gov.uk and www.basw.co.uk all contain useful information.
- www.nhscareers.nhs.uk/ provides comprehensive information and advice about application methods with links to other relevant sites. Areas covered include audiology, dietetics, physiotherapy and chiropody, amongst others.
- The Scientist Training Programme (STP) is a three year (paid) training programme that includes work-based and academic learning. Whilst on the programme you will also complete a part-time master's degree at the university offering your chosen specialism.
- The Clearing House for Postgraduate Courses in Clinical Psychology website contains details of funding and application methods for clinical psychology postgraduate courses.
- For all other forms of further study in psychology consult the www.bps.org.uk/.
Other further qualifications
Other routes to further qualifications
Short and part-time professional and vocational qualifications
These are available at further education colleges, private colleges, online and by distance learning. For more information about courses across the UK visit The National Careers Service. To find out about opportunities to study in your local area visit the online prospectus for the relevant institution or centre. There are now many short qualifications that can be studied remotely, many of which are free, from providers such as Future Learn.
Undertake further qualifications whilst working
This can happen either as part of a graduate training programme (e.g. accountancy qualifications) or as part of an individual agreement where your employer releases you to undertake a job-related course (e.g. certificate or diploma in human resources accredited by the Chartered Institute for Personnel and Development.) Some graduates also enrol for part-time courses, at their own expense, to enhance their career prospects.
Knowledge Transfer Partnerships
The Knowledge Transfer Partnership Scheme involves graduates working in companies on strategic business and product development projects. These projects are jointly supervised by the business and university and you get the opportunity to register for further qualifications while working.
Finding a suitable postgraduate course abroad may be tricky and will therefore take more time. There are a number of websites which provide general information on study abroad and cover options in different countries. Others will enable you to search for a course in a particular country. If at first you don't find what you are looking for, don't give up. Persevere through the websites and ultimately contact with individual institutions should provide you with the information you need.
TARGETpostgrad, in partnership with AGCAS (Association of Graduate Careers Advisory Services) answer your questions about postgraduate study abroad and point you in the direction of useful sources of information on living and studying in specific countries. Find information on qualification names, language requirements, exchange programme options, fees and international scholarships, how to apply for postgraduate study abroad, and study visa basics.
Useful websites for study abroad
- Accredited Online Colleges - AccreditedOnlineColleges.org
- Association of Commonwealth Universities - www.acu.ac.uk.
- International Education Site - www.intostudy.com - guide to study abroad information, advice and opportunities for students worldwide who are considering studying overseas. Including university advice, college search facilities, student profiles, and articles from the leading journals on international education.
- Prospects - www.prospects.ac.uk - comprehensive coverage of over 50 countries.
- Studee - study.com - information on courses and institutions for study in the USA, UK, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Europe.
- Canadian Bureau for International Education - www.cbie.ca.
- Central and Eastern European Education Directory - www.ceebd.co.uk - details of undergraduate and postgraduate programmes offered in academic establishments in Central and Eastern Europe, Russia and the CIS.
- Fulbright Commission - www.fulbright.co.uk - advice and support for anyone wishing to study in the USA.
- German Academic Exchange Service - london.daad.de - Deutscher Akademischer Austauschdienst (DAAD) provides information on study and research in Germany, including a directory of courses.
- GMAT - www.mba.com/global - The Graduate Management Admissions Test (for study in the US).
- gradschools.com - www.gradschools.com- details of postgraduate schools in the USA and elsewhere.
- Gradsource - www.gradsource.com - searchable database of graduate courses in the US.
- Petersons Education Centre - www.petersons.com - information and advice on study in the USA.
- Princeton Review - www.princetonreview.com - helps target the best schools for you.
- Study in the USA - www.studyusa.com - details of postgraduate courses in the US.
- Study Options - provide expert advice to students on all forms of university study in Australia and New Zealand