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Choosing A Postgraduate University

When deciding which university to attend for your postgraduate course, there are many factors you may want to consider. These include:

1. Location

One option here is to stay at the university where you studied as an undergraduate where you already have a network of academics and friends. This may be a more comfortable choice for some, but others may prefer a change of scenery.

If this is the case, think about whether you want to attend your local university or move way from home. If you choose to leave home, how far away do you want to be?

Where is the university located? Do you want to go to a university in a big city or somewhere quieter? Remember that the cost of living will be higher in large cities, which may affect your budget significantly.

2. Facilities and resources

Does the university have all the facilities you require, such as a gym, outdoor sports grounds, car parking, etc? 

What are the university's resources like? Do they have a good library with plenty of online journals, and copies of the necessary specialised textbooks?

3. Size

How big is the university itself, and how many students attend? Would you prefer to go to a larger or smaller institution?

Again, you must consider the living costs in the local area. You’ll find that the south of England and London are more expensive places to live, so it's worth keeping this in mind if your budget is tight. 

If you're looking for a university in the U.S for your postgraduate studies, check out our Choosing A Grad School guide over at studential.com/us.

4. Research Assessment Exercise results

Unlike undergraduate courses, there are no league tables that allow you to compare postgraduate courses.

However, you may find the 2014 Research Excellence Framework results for universities in the UK useful in seeing which institutions are ranked highest for research excellence, as research quality plays a more significant role at postgraduate level than undergraduate degree level.

5. Student support and services

Check whether the university offers all the necessary support to postgraduate students to maintain their well-being – this includes careers advice, a personal tutor system, counselling, a safety bus, and a union society.

Some universities have dedicated resources, societies, etc. for postgraduates, so take a look at what each institution has to offer.

Be wary of universities that are dominated by undergraduates, as this may mean the university places less emphasis on the well-being of their postgraduate population, so research carefully exactly what amount of support you can expect to receive.

6. Social activities

The social side of university is a very important part of student life, so it's important to make sure the range of social, sports and cultural activities and clubs offered by the university match your requirements.

Taking a Masters isn’t all about studying – you need to balance your life as a student with some fun! It may take you a little while to find the right balance between working and socialising, but you will find your feet eventually.

7. University rankings

Although university rankings can be useful for getting an idea of the most prestigious universities both overall and for your subject, it’s best to not place too much importance on rankings when choosing a degree.

Ideally, you want to be as sure as possible that the course, student ethos, location and lifestyle are all a great match for you.

8. Funding

Another factor to consider is how you’re going to pay for your postgraduate degree.

These courses can cost a lot of money, so you need to be absolutely sure your course is right for you before you make the investment.

While choosing a degree, you should try to consider how you’re going to fund your prospective course.

A good place to start is your prospective university’s official website, as it may offer its own scholarships, grants, fellowships, bursaries, awards, or assistantships.

It’s also worth checking home-and-host-country government websites, charities, trusts and other external scholarship sources, student loans and employer sponsorships.

You should also research the typical living costs in your host country, so you can get an idea of how much you should budget (there may also be a minimum amount you need to meet the country’s student visa requirements).

9. Open days

These are also helpful in choosing a postgraduate degree.

Here you can meet staff from the universities you’re interested in and get answers to any questions you may have, allowing you to find out more about the course, including information on the entry requirements and how you can increase your chances of being accepted.

An open day can also give you a feel of what being on campus is like, including what facilities the university offers (see above).

Try to talk to current or past students, as this will give you an honest view of how students have found the course, what they’re doing now, and how they funded it.

If you can't do this, try and research the career outcomes of past students to give you an idea of how their careers have progressed since graduating.

Making a final decision

Having already decided the course you want to do will make narrowing down a university to attend easier.

If you are still uncertain what course you will be taking, it is worthwhile checking out the teaching quality, facilities and social aspects of universities and compare them to try and pinpoint some specific areas where you would be interested in attending university.

You can also visit the universities you are thinking of applying to by going to one of their open days.

These will be advertised on their website, and will allow you to get the feel of a place by going on a tour with one of the attending students, as well as offering you the opportunity to ask questions about the social environment, facilities, and any other aspects you wish to know more details on.

Don’t forget to contact the university for a postgraduate prospectus, or grab a copy on the open day, as this will have information on all the courses available and the institution in general.

Looking at the factors above, it’s important to realise that you should consider many things when deciding on your university – there’s no point making a decision based on one or two characteristics, as you are likely to find it doesn’t meet all your needs.

Each university is unique, although won’t appeal to every prospective postgraduate student – it may take a bit of research, but hopefully you will find a university that attracts you more than others, and you will know this is the right one for you.

Further information

For more tips and advice on applying for a postgraduate course, please see: