Postgraduate Entry Requirements
Although entry requirements for postgraduate courses vary between universities, they typically include:
1. An undergraduate degree in a relevant subject
Depending on the programme and university, you are likely to need at least a 2.1 in your Bachelors degree, and Masters courses are intended for students who've already completed a Bachelors degree or other undergraduate course.
These existing qualifications show prospective universities that you have the knowledge and academic ability to succeed at Masters level. As such, your previous degree results may be one of the most important entry requirements for postgraduate courses.
Most UK universities require applicants to have a Bachelors degree in a relevant subject. International applicants should hold an overseas qualification of a similar standard, from a recognised higher education institution.
You'll normally need an upper second class degree (a '2.1') or its equivalent for entry to a Masters degree. Some universities and courses also accept students with lower second class degrees (2.2s).
In extenuating circumstances, it might even be possible for a student with a third class degree to continue to postgraduate study. For more information, read our advice on applying for a Masters with a lower class degree.
Note that some Masters courses do not specify the exact grade required, and instead request applicants with a 'good honours degree'. This leaves slightly more room for interpretation, but generally means either a first or a 2.1.
Some universities offer Pre-Masters courses, which provide students with the chance to improve their skills in order to meet the academic requirements for postgraduate study.
Pre-Masters courses may be offered to international students, to help improve their research skills and academic proficiency in the English language.
They may also be offered to UK students who require an academic boost before beginning postgraduate study. An example of this kind of Pre-Masters course is the Subject Knowledge Enhancement (SKE) course. The SKE is offered to students who wish to train as teachers, but do not feel confident with the subject they wish to teach.
The Postgraduate Certificate or Diploma
In some cases, a university may ask a student to complete a Postgraduate Certificate (PGCert) or Postgraduate Diploma (PGDip) before registering on the corresponding Masters. This might be the case if a student doesn't have the necessary academic qualifications to enrol on a Masters course straightaway.
The Diploma is itself a postgraduate qualification, and is usually shorter than a full Masters course. Boosting the Diploma to a full Masters is often just a case of carrying out a postgraduate dissertation, but this varies course by course.
2. Language proficiency
If English isn’t your first language, you’ll need to display a certain ability level, usually through a language test.
If you're studying a Masters abroad, or studying a course that isn't delivered in your first language, you may need to demonstrate language proficiency as part of your admissions process.
This is usually done through a postgraduate language test. These assess your ability to speak, read and write in a specific language at a level sufficient for postgraduate study.
Note that simply having some proficiency in a language may not be enough. In order to gain admission to a foreign-language Masters you'll need to be able to comprehend and communicate complex concepts in this language.
Some existing language proficiencies may be accepted as evidence - such as professional experience or previous periods of study.
Language requirements (and tests) differ slightly in different countries.
If you're studying a Masters in English as a second language, you may be expected to take an English test as part of the admissions process for a Masters programme. (This is likely in countries like the UK, USA, Australia, New Zealand and parts of Canada).
Tests prove that you have an appropriate level of written and spoken English, and ensure you would not struggle to understand a Masters course taught in English.
There are several different types of English exam. The most common of these are:
- IELTS (International English Language Testing System)
- TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language)
- Cambridge Assessment English's C1 Advanced and C2 Proficiency
- PTE Academic (Pearson Test of English)
Our guides offer more detailed information about different types of English language test.
3. Professional experience
Some postgraduate programmes may require you to have some professional experience (though usually only for PGCEs and Masters in Social Work).
If you do not have the undergraduate degree required by a Masters course, this isn't necessarily the end of the world.
Nor should you panic if you are a mature student, or returning to postgraduate study after a hiatus.
Some universities are willing to consider applicants who do not have the standard requirement of a good undergraduate degree, as long as they have other relevant qualifications or experience.
If a candidate has, for example, already spent a period of time working in the industry, or has had work published, this may prove that they have both pre-existing experience, and a real passion for their course.
Ideally, candidates should show both academic qualifications and practical experience in their chosen field.
4. Entrance exams
These are only required in certain subject areas and qualifications, including some MBAs.
A small number of courses require applicants to take subject-related tests as part of the admissions process.
Examples of these are the Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT) which is required by some MBAs and other management programmes, and Graduate Record Examinations (GRE) which are sometimes required if an applicant hasn't studied in the UK before.
5. Other requirements
Some postgraduate courses may have other requirements attached to their application process, including:
You may be required to show evidence that you are aware of the cost of your Masters, and of how you plan to fund the course. For example, your funding might come from personal savings, a postgraduate loan, a scholarship, a charity, or even crowdfunding.
This information might be covered in your application, or in the contract you sign when you register for your course.
Some courses require applicants to attend an interview as part of the postgraduate admissions process. This is an excellent opportunity for applicants to prove that they're passionate about their subject, and that they have what it takes to flourish on a rigorous postgraduate course.
Before attending a Masters interview, you can read about what to expect and how to prepare for this stage of your application.
Most universities don't have time to interview every Masters candidate. This means that they rely on academic references to back up applications, and to prove that candidates have what it takes to succeed at postgraduate level.
Admissions tutors are likely to rely on references just as much as other aspects of a Masters application, such as a personal statement.
Strong references from previous tutors will boost your postgraduate application, so it's important to choose your referees well. Include only those who will be able to make a personal, positive statement about your abilities.
Passion is absolutely invaluable when it comes to applying for postgraduate study.
Showing plenty of enthusiasm for your course may just help to bridge any gaps in your qualifications, and help you to secure a place on a Masters course.
Do I want to apply for a postgraduate course?
If you think you meet the minimum entry requirements for a postgraduate course, it's still important to think about whether a postgraduate course is the right step for you.
Before you start researching courses, you should be clear about your reasons for continuing study after your undergraduate degree.
If you have specific goals and a particular career in mind that you would like to follow, this will make choosing a course and a university to study at a lot easier.
Don't use it as a way of deferring your decision on what career to go for, as this just wastes time and only makes you put off deciding until later on.
You will find that applying for a Taught Masters course will give you an experience very similar to studying your undergraduate degree, as they involve taking a series of 'taught' modules that will then be assessed.
Postgraduate courses may also contain a research project, practical project, dissertation or a work placement.
If studied full-time, they can usually last from a third of a year to a whole year, but may last two or three years if studied part-time.
For all postgraduate courses, you will find that class sizes are smaller, people are more interested in the subject (as there is more of a filtering process) and assessment is less exam-based.
A good personal statement, references and research proposal are also needed for a successful postgraduate application.
If you're applying for postgraduate study in the U.S, find out more about the entry requirements in our Grad School Application Guide.
For more tips and advice on applying for a postgraduate course, please see: