Exploring Further Study

Jim RealiAdvice, Final Year, Further Study, Graduates, Jim Reali, Postgraduate

In my previous blog post, I provided some thoughts/answers to the question, “Why should I consider further study?”

In this post, I’m making an assumption (sometimes a dangerous thing to do, I grant you, but let’s go with it), that you’re still interested in undertaking further study and that you are now thinking about some of the more practical elements, to determine how feasible it might really be.

I’ll try not to rehash what I wrote previously. Instead, I would like to focus on the main things you may wish to investigate before deciding upon a specific course or location. So, let’s dive in…

What type of course is right for me?
  • There are a lot of different postgraduate options available, including:
    • PG Cert (a postgraduate Certificate of Education – e.g. PGCE)
    • PG Diploma
    • MA
    • MBA
    • MPhil
    • MRes
    • MSc
    • PhD

If you want to understand the differences between these qualifications, you might find it helpful to read the following articles:

The type of degree you choose will depend on what you want to get from it and the opportunities you might hope it to generate. Some careers require specific qualifications (for example, there are several routes to becoming a qualified teacher in the UK, including taking a PGCE) and other qualifications can be stepping stones to gain experience to help you with more qualifications (for example, you might elect to undertake a Master’s degree before embarking on a PhD).

Some of you might also have considerations such as conversion courses (e.g. to pursue a course of further study where you don’t have the necessary undergraduate qualification) – these might include BPS (British Psychological Society) conversion courses, or even Graduate Entry to Medicine and Graduate Entry to Dentistry.

To help you decide on which course might be most appropriate, consider:

  • What is my end goal? (e.g. if I have a specific career in mind, are there certain courses which are recognised as being a necessity?)
  • What experience do I hope to gain from the course? (e.g. if I want to perfect my research skills, might an MPhil or an MRes be most suitable?)
  • You might also find it helpful to speak to academics, to find out their thoughts. For example, you could ask your personal tutor for a candid chat, to ascertain how well they think you might cope with the content of a particular course or level of study.
Where should I study/which institution is the best for me?
  • You could stay at the same university where you undertook your undergraduate degree. Alternatively, you could go to a different university in the same country or a university in another country completely!
  • Some students see further study as an opportunity to travel and the academic element as being secondary to this. Wherever you decide to go, we would encourage you to consider the bigger, longer-term picture and think about how an employer might view your choice / what it might mean to them. If you stay at Aston, will you be demonstrating your flexibility and adaptability to the same extent that you would be if you went elsewhere? If you decide to go to another country and then just do whatever postgraduate degree you can find, will they be convinced that it was a choice you made because you want to work in a particular sector?
  • You might find it most helpful to take a look at the www.findamasters.com (or www.findaphd.com) website, which enables you to compare similar courses from around the world. Try to determine what the similarities are – and, more importantly, what the differences may be. You might find it helpful to use the C+P decision making worksheet to weight these and thereby identify which option appears best for you.
  • Try not to go with your heart, but instead use your head to consider everything that different institutions have to offer. For example:
    • What is their TEF / REF rating? (Teaching Excellence Framework / Research Excellence Framework)
    • What careers do graduates from the courses undertake?
    • Who are the academics involved in the courses? (For example, is there anyone who is world-renowned?)
    • What unique resources may you have access to, which you may not be able to use on a similar course elsewhere?
    • Which employers and other organisations may contribute to the courses at different institutions?
  • Remember as well to consider entry requirements – what grades are required and is there any particular experience you should be able to demonstrate?
What are the financial considerations?
  • How much will a Master’s or PhD cost you to undertake? Check out the fees and then consider how you aim to pay these. Also, remember that it isn’t just the teaching for which you will need to pay. You will also need to consider accommodation and / or travel, subsistence and other related costs.
  • If you are a UK student, you may well be eligible to take out a loan to help fund a Masters or a PhD. You can find details of these online at https://www.findamasters.com/funding/guides/masters-loans.aspx and https://www.findaphd.com/funding/
  • Aside from taking out a loan, you could apply for a scholarship or bursary (many institutions have them for particular schools/courses); you might consider creating a portfolio of different funding options (or crowdsourcing), or you could also look at applying to learned societies and charities for funding; in some instances (particularly for STEM-related PhDs), sponsorship may be available from different organisations. There are a lot of options out there – again, the FindAMasters website comes up trumps with some great ideas: https://www.findamasters.com/funding/. However, you might also find it helpful to refer to guidance on other websites, such as https://www.prospects.ac.uk/postgraduate-study/funding-postgraduate-study
  • If you are going to seek funding for postgraduate study, please remember that it is likely to be competitive, and so you will need to be able to show why you should be considered as a worthy recipient. You will probably need to draft an application for the funding and might even have to attend an interview. The Careers+Placements team can help you with these applications.
  • If you stay at the same institution at which you took your undergraduate degree, you may also find that there are alumni discounts available to students who remain there.
What about visas?
When and how should I apply?
  • In many instances, institutions hosting Master’s courses are prepared to receive applications until the September in which the courses begin. However, there are some caveats: some courses are niche and hosted at a very small number of universities, so can be very popular. In these instances, the institutions may decide to foreclose applications once they have sufficient numbers. To avoid missing out, we would encourage you to contact the Admissions Office for the institution, to determine when they may close applications.
  • An increasing number of institutions are beginning to offer January starts for some Master’s courses – it might be helpful if you check if this applies to courses in which you are interested.
  • Whilst most Master’s courses require you to apply directly to the host university, some qualifications such as PGCEs require you to apply via UCAS. In these instances, you should ensure that you appraise yourself of the application deadlines as early as possible. For example, for teaching, take a look at the guidance on https://getintoteaching.education.gov.uk/how-to-apply-for-teacher-training/applying-through-ucas-teacher-training
  • PhDs are often hosted by individual institutions and adverts will identify whether they accept year-round applications, or if there is a specific application deadline.
  • In most instances, you will need to draft a personal statement when applying for further study. Whilst you will need to check the specific requirements of the individual institution, typically this will be around 5,000 characters in length and should demonstrate your motivation, your career goals (and how the further study will help you in achieving these), your experience, the research you have undertaken into the study and the host organisation. You can find out more at:
What support is available to help me with my application?

I appreciate that further study is a huge topic and that one blog post can’t do justice to everything. However, I hope that the initial insights herein are of some help. If you would like more information, please do not hesitate to contact the Careers+Placements service.