Want to study in the UK? Questions and answers for overseas students

Am I eligible to apply for postgraduate study?

The eligibility criteria you need to satisfy in order to apply will vary across postgraduate courses. You should look up the course description and the admissions website of the university offering the course - these will give you the exact requirements. However, the general requirements tend to be as follows:

If you're applying to a masters course, you'll need to have earned a degree recognised as the equivalent of a British undergraduate degree, usually with a result of 2.1 (Upper Second Class Honours) or higher. Most taught masters programme will not restrict applicants based on their undergraduate degree discipline, but they may require you to demonstrate some interest and aptitude in your chosen area of postgraduate study.

The requirements may well be more exacting if you're applying to a research masters or a doctoral programme. The latter might require you to have earned a masters degree, often in the same area as your proposed doctoral research. Again, you should look up the university's website.

For some masters courses, you may be eligible to apply even if you don't have an undergraduate degree, provided you have a certain amount of relevant work experience. This is more the exception than the norm, though.

If you are unsure whether the qualifications you have earned in your home country will be accepted, you should contact the course administrator of the postgraduate course you are interested in and ask for advice.

What's the usual application procedure for postgraduate courses?

For postgraduate courses, you make a separate application to each university you are applying to. The main elements of applications tend to be as follows:

  • The application form - you will be asked to enter your personal details, addresses, previous qualifications, which course you are applying for, etc.
  • References - these are letters from people who know you well in an academic or professional situation, eg a former tutor or employer. You should decide which type of reference to seek (academic or professional) based on the requirements of the course you are applying to. You will normally be asked for two references, but some courses require three.
  • Transcripts - you will normally be asked to provide official transcripts from your previous university (from your undergraduate degree, or your undergraduate and masters degrees if you are applying for a PhD).
  • A personal statement - most universities will require you to write an essay describing your reasons for undertaking postgraduate study, and how you think you will benefit from it.
  • Application fee - there is no application fee for the majority of postgraduate courses in the UK, but there are some exceptions.
  • English language requirement - see below.
  • Standardised test scores - For some courses you may need to take standardised tests - for example, most MBA applications will need to include a GMAT (Graduate Management Admission Test) score.

Other points:

If you are applying for a PhD, you will usually also need to submit a research proposal describing your proposed research project.

Some universities have an online application system. If you have easy access to the internet, this is usually convenient - the system will often allow you to save your work at different stages before you finally submit your application.

What are the English language requirements?

As your course will almost certainly be taught in English, it is vital that you have an adequate command over the language before you begin your course. For this reason, the application requirements usually specify that if you are not a native speaker of English, you need to supply proof of competence in the language. This can usually be satisfied by taking a standardised English language test such as the TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language; see www.ets.org/toefl/) or the IELTS (International English Language Testing System; see www.ielts.org). The minimum score required will vary depending on your area of study. Some courses will mention that this requirement may be waived if the medium of instruction for your undergraduate degree was English; however in most cases you will require one of these tests, and you should ask the course administrator if you are not sure.

Can I apply to more than one university or course?

Yes, you can certainly apply to more than one university. Once you have made your choice of study area, it is in fact a good idea to apply to a number of different universities offering similar programmes, to increase your chances of receiving an offer. If, on the other hand, you feel that there is more than one postgraduate course that would meet your requirements, some universities will allow you to specify more than one choice of course on your application form. Usually, however, you will be considered first for the first course you list, and for the second if you do not receive an offer on the first. Having said that, if you are not sure which course you would like to apply for, it is probably a good idea to spend some more time researching your options and understanding what you want out of your postgraduate course before you begin the application process.

What are the application deadlines?

Again, these will vary by course and university. As a general guide, however, application deadlines for courses starting in the autumn term (September/October) will be some time in the summer (around July/August). However, if you are an overseas student, you should ideally not wait this long to make your application, as you will have several formalities to complete before you can begin your study (funding/finance, visa, etc).

How far in advance should I apply?

The turnaround time for a decision on your application can be anything from a few weeks to two or three months. If you are an overseas student who needs to get a visa, you will need to budget another two or three weeks for this. Taking all this into account, it is advisable to apply for admission at least five or six months before the start date of your course. In some cases, you may need to apply as early as ten or eleven months in advance if you are to be eligible for certain scholarships in your home country.

How do I assess the teaching/research facilities at various universities/departments?

Many research departments will publish on their websites their latest scores on the RAE (Research Assessment Exercise, carried out by Funding Councils for England, Scotland and Wales and the Northern Ireland Department for Employment and Learning). In addition, you can look up reports on the website of the QAA (Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education), an independent body: http://www.qaa.ac.uk/. League tables in newspapers and on websites often rank universities by subject area - these may be useful as a general indication, but it is advisable not to use them as the sole basis of your choice of university.

What will it cost?

Tuition fees (for overseas students) can range from around £8,000 at the lower end to over £30,000 for some courses. Living expenses are likely to range from £7,000-10,000 a year. For more on fees and funding, see Fees and funding FAQs for overseas students.