How to Apply for a Master’s Degree

Applying for a Master’s degree course is a new and unfamiliar process for most students. The postgraduate application process is very different from the undergraduate process and it’s important to do your research so you know exactly what is expected of you in advance.

Whether you’re looking for a clear overview of the key stages to the Master’s admissions process, or more detailed support on how to write your personal statement, which additional tests you’ll need to take, and how to prepare for a postgraduate interview, this guide covers everything you’ll need to maximise your chances of receiving an offer from your dream university. Our Head of Consulting, Joseph Robbins, also shares his top tips based on his insider knowledge, garnered over five years of advising Master’s students.

7-Step Master’s Application Process

Step 1. Research available courses

There is lots of variety in the types of Master’s courses you can apply for and the application process associated with each, so it’s important to do your research ahead of time. Here are three things you should always research before beginning an application:

1. Course content

Not all courses are created equal, so researching exactly what a course will entail before you apply is vital. Make sure you don’t just look at the title of the course, but also explore what type of Master’s it is (i.e. a taught Master’s, which is most similar to undergraduate study, or a research-based Master’s, which can help prepare you for studying a PhD) and the specific modules you might be covering. The better you know the ins and outs of your chosen course, the easier it will be to write a stand-out personal statement and perform well in any potential interviews.

Joe’s tip: Some courses – even incredibly prestigious courses – can be missed due to their title. Oxford, for example, does not offer an LLM (Master of Laws) course; if you’re searching for LLMs in Google, you might think Oxford does not offer a postgraduate Law course at all.
However, Oxford actually offers a highly rated and competitive graduate Law course known as BCL (Bachelor of Civil Law) which is considered by some to be even more prestigious than an LLM. Always do your research or speak to an expert with knowledge in your subject area to make sure you’re applying to the best possible course for you.

2. Deadlines

Master’s courses do not run during set dates in the same way that undergraduate courses do. Each university can set its own postgraduate deadlines and these may differ between universities and between courses at the same university. It’s therefore important to check on the university website – or with them directly – what the stages of the application process are and the deadlines that you need to meet.

If you’re relying on funding to study your Master’s, there may also be a separate deadline you need to meet in order to apply for this. In some cases, you will be required to apply for any funding you require before submitting your course application, so always check this in advance.

Joe’s tip: Some postgraduate courses are so competitive that we advise students to apply as soon as applications open, rather than waiting until closer to the deadline. Universities may not wait until the deadline to offer places and if there are lots of strong applicants (which there almost always is) you could miss out if you don’t apply quickly.
Some courses also have set application calendars which involve multiple stages or multiple rounds of application which start more than a year in advance of the course start date. For example, London Business School has three rounds of applications, each involving an interview stage, which start from September and end in March for August-entry.
If you’re looking to get ahead of the crowd and be among the first to apply for your dream course, get in touch with our experienced postgraduate admissions team who can provide the expert support you need.

3. Admissions tests

A few competitive Master’s courses require admissions tests – the most common tests are the GMAT and GRE (for Business, Finance and Economics courses) and GAMSAT (for graduate-entry Medicine). Different universities courses will take different scores as an entry benchmark, and researching these can help inform your university choices. You can also retake the GMAT and the GRE up to five times in a one-year period, so if you don’t do as well as you need for your chosen university, you can retake it in 16-21 days.

Unlike undergraduate admissions tests, these tests are not organised by the university and a school or university will not register you for a test on your behalf. Instead, you are expected to research which admissions tests are recommended or required before registering and taking these tests by the relevant deadline. Usually, you are required to have completed the test and have your score ready before submitting your application.

Joe’s tip: For some postgraduate courses such as Economics, the GRE (Graduate Record Examination) and GMAT (Graduate Management Admissions Test) are often encouraged – but not required – by top universities to help your application stand out.
For example, Oxford encourages all Master’s-level Economics applicants to sit the GRE, while Imperial encourages Economics applicants to sit the GMAT. While this is not an entry requirement per se, these courses are incredibly competitive and in most cases, we recommend you take the admissions test stated. Our expert GMAT and GRE tutors can help you prepare, so get in touch if you require advice or support.

Step 2. Choose your course(s) and begin the application process

Once you’ve done your research, you can decide which courses you’d most like to apply for and begin the application process. Unlike undergraduate applications, you will not be required to apply via UCAS or be limited to the number of courses you can apply for. Instead, you will apply directly to the universities via their own postgraduate application portals. For most universities, you will need to register for an account on the online portal before you can begin an application for your chosen course.

Each university’s postgraduate application process differs slightly depending on a range of factors, such as the competitiveness of the course and whether you’re applying for full-time or part-time study. Most universities will ask applicants to:

  • Provide a CV or overview of your academic achievements (and/or a grade transcript) and work experience
  • Write a personal statement (see step 4)
  • Provide academic references (see step 3)

Some universities, usually for the most competitive courses, will also ask for applicants to complete additional stages such as:

  • Providing the results of any required (or recommended) admissions tests
  • Answering additional questions relating to specific areas of interest, such as your career plans or subject knowledge
  • Written work, usually academic with references, ideally related to your chosen Master’s topic

After you have submitted your application, many universities will also ask you to attend a postgraduate interview (see step 6) before making an offer. Make sure you always find out which stages you’ll have to go through as part of the application process so that you can prepare and successfully complete each one. Mapping out an application calendar, such as those already provided by London Business School and Oxford, can help you stay on track and reach out for help when you need it. The Profs’ consultancy team can help with this process as part of our admissions packages – get in touch to find out more.

Joe’s tip: If you are an international student applying to a UK university, you may also be required to take an advanced English language test such as the IELTS (International English Language Testing System) or TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language). Due to Master’s courses being more advanced and usually more research-based than undergraduate courses, universities will be keen to make sure that your language skills are adequate for higher level study. They may therefore have their own minimum scores you must achieve in specific tests in order to qualify for entry, for example a 7.5 overall score in the IELTS (required for Oxford’s Economics and Social History Master’s). Always check on the university website or with an expert such as a Profs international admissions tutor to ensure you meet the entry requirements.

When do you need to use UCAS for postgraduate applications?

Most postgraduate applications will need to be submitted directly to universities through their online portals or application forms. However, some universities use UCAS Postgraduate to process Master’s applications rather than asking to receive them directly. Always check on the specific university websites before applying and pay particular attention to the following courses:

  • Teacher training – if you’re looking to study a PGDE or other teaching qualification in the UK, you will most likely not be required to apply directly to universities. You can research which teacher training courses are available and apply for them via the UK government website.
  • Courses at conservatoires – applications for postgraduate performing arts courses at conservatoires should be made via UCAS Conservatoires.
  • Social Work, Nursing and Medicine – some selected MAs (Master of Arts) and MScs (Master of Sciences) in these subjects require applications to be submitted through UCAS. Always check directly with the university you’re applying to if you’re unsure how to submit an application to ensure that you are considered.

Step 3. Academic references

Most universities will ask for two academic references to support your Master’s application. Usually, you will be required to submit referee details via the applicant portal or admissions form. Your referees will then receive a reference request from that university.

It’s best to start thinking about your academic references early in order to give yourself enough time to consider who would be the best person to corroborate your academic abilities and suitability for a Master’s course. It also gives you enough time to send them an email to check that they would be available, that they understand what their reference needs to include for your chosen course (e.g. your academic achievements, intellectual ability, motivations, etc.) and that they consent to you providing their details.

In most cases, the best person to provide a reference for your Master’s application would be an academic advisor or tutor who has taught or worked with you during your undergraduate-level studies. This is because academic staff are the best placed to be able to comment on your subject-specific abilities and potential to succeed at postgraduate level. If you’re applying to a course which values professional experience highly, such as an MBA, then an appropriate referee could also be a previous employer or manager.

Step 4. Write your personal statement

Your personal statement is an important part of your Master’s application because it is your first chance to show that you are the best candidate for a place on your chosen course.

Unlike during the undergraduate application process, where you are only allowed to submit one personal statement that is then sent to every university via UCAS, postgraduate personal statements can be personalised to each university. This means that universities will expect to see more research into your chosen course along with your motivations for studying there (as opposed to any other university) and how the course aligns with your future goals.

Our guide to writing a Master’s personal statement gives detailed stages and top tips on how to stand out to even the most competitive universities. Click the button below to read it for free:

How to write a Master’s personal statement

You can also access more personalised, one-to-one support with your postgraduate personal statement by reaching out to our admissions team today. Our network of tutors have a more than 90% success rate of helping students receive offers from their first and second choice universities so are best placed to give you the expert guidance you need.

Additional written work

Some universities require applicants to submit additional written work as well as – or instead of – a personal statement. Usually, universities will provide specific questions relating to your prior experience and/or career goals for you to answer within a set word count. Some universities, such as Oxbridge, will instead ask you to provide written work without set questions, such as sample essays.

Additional stages like these are common for the most competitive postgraduate courses, such as MBAs (Master of Business Administration) and finance and business-related degree courses. London Business School, for example, asks applicants to its MBA course to answer the following two questions:

  • 1. (500 words) What are your post-MBA goals and how will your prior experience and the London Business School programme contribute towards these?
  • 2. (500 words) (This question is optional) Is there any other information you believe the Admissions Committee should know about you and your application to London Business School?

Joe’s tip: Make sure you check which questions (if any) your chosen university will ask separately from your personal statement. This will allow you to focus less on these areas in your statement, freeing up more characters for your other attributes and experience.
For example, if you know you will be asked separate questions (and thus given additional characters for) career-related questions, you can focus less on your career plans in your personal statement and instead go into detail about your motivations, work experience, and skills that would make you an excellent candidate.

The Profs’ tutors have helped students get into top universities including London Business School, LSE, Imperial, Oxbridge and more. Many tutors in our network are also ex-admissions staff who have in-depth knowledge of the admissions process and a bank of commonly asked questions that you can prepare for. Get in touch today for support from the UK’s top experts.

Step 5. Submit your application

In most cases, you will submit your Master’s applications directly to your chosen university via the online applicant portal you are registered with. Before you submit your application, it’s important to have a friend, family member, or ideally an admissions expert review it. This not only helps to ensure your application is free of grammatical or spelling errors – which can detract from your amazing skills and experience if left unchecked – but also allows you to make any changes that will maximise your chances of success.

Choosing a college

Before submitting your application, some collegiate universities (including Oxford, Cambridge and Durham) will allow you to specify a college you would like to apply for. For some universities, you may even be given multiple choices, such as the University of Cambridge, which allows applicants to indicate two college preferences if they wish.

In most cases, you don’t have to specify a college but are instead given the option to. At Oxford, around 40% of postgraduate applicants don’t give a college preference and instead ask the university to find them a college place. If possible, though, it’s helpful to attend the open days and have a look around multiple colleges so that you can make an informed decision about whether to specify a college and, if so, which one is right for you.

Joe’s tip: At the majority of collegiate universities, most courses are offered by most colleges, however there are some exceptions. For example, Oxford’s six permanent private halls (PPHs) offer a lesser range of courses than its 39 other colleges, so it’s important to check with the university before submitting your choice.
Some universities also have colleges made up of exclusively postgraduate students (such as Graduate College at Lancaster and Wentworth College at York). These colleges often provide benefits such as a sense of community with other postgraduate students – who may be closer to one another in age and experience than with undergraduate students – and even dedicated postgraduate student accommodation. Always do your research to make sure that you’re selecting the best college for your Master’s studies.

Step 6. Prepare for your interview

Many Master’s courses interview applicants as part of the admissions process. Whether you have previous interview experience or not, the structure of a postgraduate interview is unique and will probably be unfamiliar to you. It’s therefore important to know which type of interview you will be facing and how you can best prepare for it.

There are three main types of postgraduate interviews: online video interviews (such as Kira Prep), interviews with admissions staff, and interviews with university alumni. Our helpful guide to preparing for a postgraduate interview gives more information on each as well as offering top tips on how to prepare. You can read the guide via the button below:

How to prepare for a postgraduate interview

When will you find out if you have received an offer?

Each university’s Master’s admissions process includes slightly different deadlines and stages, so there’s no one date by which you will find out the result of your application. As such, you will need to check with each university directly. On Cambridge’s website, for example, it says most Master’s applications submitted by the December or January deadlines should receive a formal decision in February or March.

How can we help?

The Profs’ postgraduate admissions consultants are true experts in helping students get into the best Master’s courses in the UK and internationally. Not only do we have subject-specific admissions tutors, but we also have many ex-admissions staff in our network who have read countless applications and conducted hundreds of interviews at top universities, and can advise you on how to excel throughout the admissions process.

In fact, our tutors help more than 90% of students secure places at their first or second choice universities, which include the most demanding and competitive Master’s courses in the UK at the likes of Oxbridge, Imperial, London Business School, and LSE.
Apply for postgraduate study with the help of The Profs: get in touch with our experienced team today.

FAQs

Do I need to go through UCAS to apply for a Master’s?

In most cases, you do not need to go through UCAS to apply for a Master’s course. Universities usually have their own applicant portals which allow you to apply to your chosen course directly through them.
There are a handful of taught postgraduate courses that you can apply for through the UCAS Postgraduate service. Always check directly with your chosen university how they would like you to submit your application beforehand to ensure you will be considered.

How much does it cost to do a Master’s in the UK?

Unlike fees for undergraduate courses, postgraduate fees are not regulated by the UK government and so universities set them themselves. Fees for Master’s courses vary greatly by university and by subject, with the most competitive courses (such as MBAs) usually costing the most. Fees will also depend on if you are a home or international student and if you are applying for a taught or research Master’s.
It’s important to research your options when it comes to funding your Master’s as application deadlines for funding are often different to specific course application deadlines. You may be eligible for additional funding from universities via bursaries and scholarships and, if you are a UK student, you can apply for a student loan. Some universities also offer discounted postgraduate courses for their own alumni (for example, Lancaster University offers its alumni a 10% Master’s fee reduction if you achieved a 2:1 in your undergraduate degree and a 20% fee reduction if you achieved a first). Some universities will also conduct a fee assessment to ensure that you can fund the course as part of the admissions process.

What is the deadline for Master’s applications?

Master’s courses do not run during set dates in the same way that undergraduate courses do. Each university can set its own postgraduate deadlines and these may differ between universities and between courses at the same university. It’s therefore important to check on the university website – or with them directly – what the stages of the application process are and the deadlines that you need to meet.
If you’re relying on funding to study your Master’s, there may also be a separate deadline you need to meet in order to apply for this. In some cases, you will be required to apply for any funding you require before submitting your course application, so always check this in advance.

Do all universities interview postgraduate applicants?

Not all universities and courses interview postgraduate applicants. Some courses are more likely than others to interview, for example for MBAs (Master of Business Administration), where nearly all universities interview candidates before offering them a place. It’s best to check directly with the universities you apply for if an interview will be part of the application process, so that you can prepare beforehand.

What is an MBA?

An MBA (Master’s in Business Administration) is a popular postgraduate qualification that provides students with knowledge of key business practices. It usually covers areas of multiple disciplines, including Economics, Marketing, Accounting, and Management.
MBAs can usually only be studied if you have at least a couple of years’ professional experience in an industry before applying. Typically, MBAs are also some of the most expensive postgraduate qualifications you can undertake, however the price is worth it for many professionals as they are valued highly by many employers and can lead to a better salary and an expanded network of business contacts.

What is the difference between an MBA and other postgraduate degrees?

There are several differences between MBA (Master of Business Administration) programmes and other postgraduate degrees, such as MiMs (Masters in Management).
Firstly, MBAs usually require students to have 3-5 years’ work experience as a minimum. MiMs and other business-related Master’s degrees, in contrast, usually require students to have a maximum of 2 years’ experience. In addition, MBAs almost always require applicants to take a test (GMAT or GRE) while this is less common among other types of Master’s.
Typically, MBAs are also more competitive than other management-focused postgraduate courses. MBAs are also more focused towards international candidates in the UK.
MBA courses are almost always more expensive than MiMs and in the US can regularly move into 6 figure fees. MIT Sloan is currently the most expensive MBA ($241,984).