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Choosing a university for postgraduate study

What's most important when deciding where to do your postgraduate degree? It could be course content, location, costs, or the help available with funding.
Dublin university campus

Choosing where to study is as vital a decision as selecting your course. To a certain extent, these decisions are interrelated. If you attend an institution where you are unhappy despite a great course – or if the institution is good fun but the course isn't what you want or need to do – you are unlikely to reach your full potential.

For your postgraduate studies to be successful, you need to choose a course that will help you achieve your goals at an institution where you feel comfortable and supported. Your choice of institution is likely to be driven by a combination of factors, such as the subject you wish to study, the institution's reputation, available funding or a desire to work with a particular academic.

Another factor is the institution's location: going abroad to complete postgraduate study may suit some students while others may have to stay in a particular location because of work or family commitments. Having said that, institutions are increasingly offering courses via distance learning and blended learning, opening up opportunities for students who wouldn't necessarily have been able to access them before.

Researching your options

Whether you choose to study in the Republic, Northern Ireland or elsewhere, it is important that you start your research as early as possible. As well as checking out the institutions and courses here on postgradireland.com, an institution's website and prospectus are good places to start.

It's also helpful to gain a personal feel for the place. If it isn't practical to visit the institution, make contact with current students and tutors via phone or email. Institutions may also be able to put you in touch with past students, who can tell you about their experiences and what they've done since.

If you're currently pursuing undergraduate studies, it's worth discussing your plans with your lecturers. They're often part of an international academic network and so will be able to give you valuable information. Careers advisers can point you in the direction of funding sources. Careers services provide advice even after you have graduated and they can also offer some help to students from other institutions. Some of the factors you should investigate when researching your options include:

  • course content, structure and timetable commitments
  • campus location (in or out of town) and facilities (library, IT resources, accommodation for postgraduates, car parking/local transport)
  • course and living costs
  • exact course start date and duration
  • potential sources of funding and any financial help in case of need
  • application processes (particularly important if considering applying abroad).

Some students have other considerations to take into account when researching institutions. For example, students with young families may want to ask about crèche/childcare facilities. If you have a disability, it is arguably even more important to visit the institution (if possible) to check out the type of accessibility and support it provides. It's also worth contacting the institution's disability officer. People with Disabilities in Ireland and SKILL, the National Bureau for Students with Disabilities, in the UK, have useful information.

Cross-border studying

If you choose to move from the Republic of Ireland to study in Northern Ireland or vice versa, you'll benefit from the courses being taught and structured in similar ways. However, there are some differences to be aware of. You may find that the cost of living differs. It's generally thought that it is more expensive in Northern Ireland than in the Republic, although accommodation may be cheaper. It's not unusual for students from the border regions to commute from home to their institution to economise.