Applying for postgraduate courses
For almost all postgraduate courses (except teacher training), applications are handled centrally. Most applications involve an application form, a transcript of results, and an interview.
The application process
- Application form: Almost all courses are now applied for online via the course website or for selected institutions via the Postgraduate Applications Centre. This will require all of the typical biographical data such as academic history and employment history, extra-curricular activities. In this way it is very like a CV. Within the form, applicants may be asked to write a 'supporting statement', detailing why they want to study the particular course and why they are suitable.
- Transcript of results: candidates must provide an official transcript from their undergraduate college.
- Interview: some postgraduate courses will interview potential candidates as part of the selection process.
Does the application process differ for different kinds of courses?
Courses that have a very large intake will most likely base their decision on exam results and not interviews. Smaller, more specialist courses often interview all applicants.
How much competition is there?
Basically the answer is 'a lot' for good courses. Many postgraduate courses are oversubscribed – they receive far more applications than the amount of places they have. These courses tend to be very well established with a history of the graduates doing well afterwards – hence the interest in them. Conversely, colleges can struggle to fill all places and this might result in the entry requirements being lowered.
How can you make your application successful?
- First and foremost, do well academically throughout your undergraduate degree – nothing speaks louder than high academic results.
- Research your postgrad options early so that you make decisions regarding projects, subject choices etc in your final year, which may help in your postgrad application.
- Keep a file with all your transcripts from throughout your college years – sometimes requesting a transcript from an institution can take weeks.
- Gain any relevant work experience you can. This really strengthens your application and helps you to make a decision about your choice of specialism.
Application do’s and don’ts
Don’t leave it to the last minute! This sounds obvious but giving yourself plenty of time to draft your application form and think carefully about your answers and their phrasing will be well worth the effort. Hastily written applications can be spotted a mile off, not least because they are more likely to fall victim to typos. Submit your application well in advance of the closing date if you can – institutions often find themselves swamped at deadline time, so being the early bird gives you a head start.
Demonstrate that you have researched your desired course and institution on your application – generic, unsupported statements and
regurgitated prospectus material do not impress. Focus on specific achievements and interests that support your application and if you can demonstrate knowledge of and interest in the institution you’re applying to then so much the better. Show that you’re ready for postgraduate study by highlighting your analytical and research skills; demonstrate that you can meet deadlines and respond well to pressure.
If you are invited to an interview, a good rule of thumb is to treat it like a job interview – dress smartly and prepare thoroughly beforehand. Having a demonstrable passion for your subject cannot be overestimated – buckets of enthusiasm and drive are usually more important in this context than being able to give the ‘right’ answer. If you can talk articulately and passionately about your subject then you are half-way there.
Consider what you are going to do after the postgraduate course. Don't let the decision to do postgraduate study be an end in itself – it's really only the beginning.
Research the skills required in your target career after the course, eg interpersonal skills, attention to detail, project management, working under pressure. Try to assess whether you possess or can develop the skills required – it makes both the course and your subsequent career a whole lot easier and increases your chances of success.