Choosing a Postgraduate Programme
Not only do UK universities offer an extensive range of diverse subjects, which are relevant to career development, but also those courses run from September to September, IN CONTRAST TO THE TWO-YEAR masters degree offered by other education systems. The time factor is so important to fresh graduates and to those who are in the early stages of their career. The UK system offers clear advantages to those who have a few years’ work experience behind them, but need to improve their qualifications without sacrificing too much time.
At research level, the UK PhD can be completed in three years if a student is committed to that time scale. A further advantage is that it is possible to be accepted on to a PhD programme directly after graduating at Bachelors level, if the student has achieved an excellent result in their final undergraduate examinations.
UK Masters courses are very often structured so that students study intensively in the first and second semesters, attending lecturers and seminars, before continuing to carry out an independent applied piece of research giving an opportunity for students to be the author of an original piece of work. In a Masters course such as Information Systems, for instance, students may well carry out research for a ‘client’ from industry, thereby giving students the opportunity to excel in the industry of their choice. They would also receive a valuable reference from the client, which would undoubtedly support the students when starting out on the next stage of their career path.
Make an informed decision It is important to make informed decisions when drawing up your shortlist of perhaps six or eight UK universities. Having gathered information from an Education Fair, or from the British Council, or perhaps having spoken directly to a university representative who may have visited your country, you should try to identify any gaps in the information you have gathered. You may need more specific information about course content, which is not available in prospectuses. At this stage it is important to put time aside to use the university’s website. UK universities are aware that the web is likely to be the primary source of information for applicants from other countries. Department websites should give comprehensive information on course content as well as details of the research priorities of the department. The best sites will give profiles of professors and lecturers, and may also give details of the work of current international students and perhaps their career destination after graduation.
Do not hesitate to write to the academic department directly, either by mail or e-mail, with further specific questions, after you have carried out your initial research. It is quite acceptable for students to approach academic members of staff directly for advice or clarification, if the departmental website has not answered all your queries. Most universities produce departmental brochures, which will be sent to you on request. Another source of information is the British Council library in your city. UK universities are closely linked with education counsellors in overseas British Council offices and they ensure that counsellors are given the latest information about study opportunities and entry requirements.
The application procedure Applying to UK universities is not a complicated procedure, but you do need to plan ahead. It is crucial that if you are intending to apply for a Masters course, which is in high demand, you apply early, as it is likely that places on certain courses will fill very quickly. Departments have a quota of places available and therefore it is wise to apply as early as October or November of the previous year, and ideally before April, for a September start. Making an early application will increase your chances of selection. Please note, however, that UK universities accept applications as late as August, in some cases. Research students may begin their studies at any point in the year, in agreement with the academic supervisor.
You should consider the time it takes to gather information, the time referees need to supply references in support of your application, and the fact that it may take a number of weeks for a university to make a decision due to the sheer number of international applications. Ideally, you should begin the process eight to twelve months before the start date. It is also important to take into account the deadlines of scholarship awarding bodies. In most cases, you need to hold an offer of a place at a university before you are eligible to apply. If this is the case, you should apply as early as possible and clearly state the deadline by which you need your offer letter, on the application form.
There is no centralised postgraduate application procedure in the UK. Application forms for individual universities will either be given to you at the Education Fair or sent upon request. There is no limit to the number of universities you can apply to but it is probably wise to focus on around six institutions.
By fat the simplest and swiftest method of application is online. Many universities now make it possible to either download the postgraduate application form from the web, or in many cases, to actually apply online. Prospectuses outline the application procedure and the British Council can help you with this process. Since there is no national postgraduate entrance examination in Britain, your application will be considered on academic achievements in your own country and on references. Referees should be university tutors who are able to comment on your academic strengths, underlining where a candidate has excelled and why a candidate is suited for the course or research area to which he or she is applying. You need to supply your referee with details of the course or research area and you should also impress upon them the importance of providing references quickly, in order not to delay application. To save time, many universities will accept sealed references, which you can send with your application form.
It is common practice in the UK to apply to university before you have your final Bachelor / Masters degree results. A conditional Offer may be made in advance of your results. If you meet the conditions, such as achieving a certain class or percentage in your degree, your offer with then be converted to an Unconditional Offer.
Remember that a neat, comprehensive form is much more appealing to an academic selector than an untidy application. It is wise to use black ink, as the form is likely to be photocopied.
Meeting expectations Applying to a UK university is a two-way process. You can expect universities to provide you with detailed information on postgraduate opportunities, while selectors need to have a clear picture of your academic calibre and to be assured that you are applying for the right programme for the right reasons. It is important that you present a convincing case and make the most of the section on the application form which asks you why you want to follow a particular degree. If you are a prospective Masters student, you should show you understand the aims and content of the course and explain your motivation. Any information which may help the selector decide if the course meets your needs, and that you are able to cope with the course, should be included.
As it is not possible for international research applicants to be interviewed before being offered a place at university, you must convince a potential supervisor that you have the foundation of knowledge to pursue the research in question. If communication is poor at the start of the application procedure, you should encounter problems in the future, even after you have been offered a place.
You need to communicate your expectations to your potential supervisor from the outset. It is advisable to make personal contact with a potential supervisor in a specific department, by e-mail if possible, at the same time as submitting a formal application. You should be prepared to submit an initial research proposal with your application form and supply further information as requested by the university, in order to establish a basis for negotiating the direction of your research degree.
Selection is not a mechanical administrative procedure. Your application will be considered carefully by an academic member of staff in the department to which you have applied. Time is taken to assess you as an individual worthy of serious consideration, not an application number. A well-planned application will result in the offer of a number of places at institutions, all of which suit your needs.
Studying at University in the United Kingdom We recommend that students from the UK who want to study within their own country visit: College search & university advice at Courses & Careers UK
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For advice on all aspects of postgraduate study please visit: Postgraduate Programs & Courses Worldwide