How to Apply for an MA

Applying for a Master of Arts (MA) degree course is a new and unfamiliar process for most students. The MA 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 MA admissions process, or more detailed support on how to write your personal statement 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 of Arts students.

What is an MA?

An MA (Master of Arts) is a postgraduate Master’s course that is typically Arts or Humanities based. Subjects that typically fall into the MA classification include: History, English, Political Science, Languages, Art, and Law. Some universities also classify Business and Marketing courses as Masters of Arts, however others deem these to be Masters of Sciences (MScs).

MA courses usually last around 1 year and are designed to enhance students’ understanding of their chosen subject area. They tend to be taught Master’s courses, but these still require more independent research than taught undergraduate courses.

Note that the term ‘MA’ does not always refer to postgraduate Master of Arts courses. At Oxford and Cambridge, MA is an academic rank that actually refers to the seniority of members of the university, rather than a specific qualification. In Scotland, MA courses are typically undergraduate degrees, rather than postgraduate, lasting 3 or 4 years.

6-Step MA Application Process

Step 1. Research available courses

There is lots of variety in the types of MA 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. Entry requirements

Each MA course at each university sets its own entry requirements. The minimum entry requirement for most MA courses at UK universities is a second class (2:2) undergraduate degree from a UK institution, or an international equivalent (e.g. US GPA of 3.0/4.0). However, many MA courses at top universities (such as UCL, Warwick, Durham, and more) require at least a high 2:1 and may also specify specific subject requirements. For example, applicants to UCL’s MA History programme are required to have a high 2:1 UK honours degree, or an international equivalent.

Make sure that you check the specific entry requirements for your chosen course before applying, and reach out for any support necessary to meet the entry requirements.

2. 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 the specific modules you might be covering. Consider how your chosen MA course compares to similar Master’s courses of the same subject at other universities, and what makes your particular course appealing to your interests and goals. 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.

3. Deadlines

Master of Arts 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 MA, 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.

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 MA 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 MA 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 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 MA 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 minimum 7.5 overall score in the IELTS, as is required for Warwick’s Critical and Cultural Theory MA programme. 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 MA applications?

Most MA applications will need to be submitted directly to universities through their online portals or application forms. However, some universities use UCAS Postgraduate to process certain MA applications rather than asking to receive them directly. Always check on the specific university websites before applying and pay particular attention to MA Social Work and other related courses, as these are the most common MAs to require a UCAS application.

Step 3. Academic references

Most universities will ask for two academic references to support your MA 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 MA 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 MA 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.

Step 4. Write your personal statement

Your personal statement is an important part of your MA 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.

Joe’s tip: Unlike MBAs and more professionally tailored postgraduate degrees, MA courses can often lead to a wider range of careers and students often choose to go onto further study (i.e. PhDs). As a result, there may not be an obvious career plan and universities may not expect you to have a set path in mind. However, you must still use your personal statement to demonstrate your commitment to the subject and any particular passions and goals you have, either academically or professionally.

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 will instead ask you to provide written work without set questions, such as sample essays.

Step 5. Submit your application

In most cases, you will submit your MA application 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.

Step 6. Prepare for your interview

Some MA 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 MA 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.

How can we help?

The Profs’ postgraduate admissions consultants are true experts in helping students get into the best MA 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 MA courses in the UK at the likes of Warwick, Durham, UCL, and more.

Apply for MA study with the help of The Profs: get in touch with our experienced team today.

FAQs

Do all universities offer Master of Arts (MA) courses?

Some universities, such as Oxford, Cambridge and Imperial, do not offer MA (Master of Arts) degree courses, instead offering MSc (Master of Sciences), MPhil (Master of Philosophy), and MSt (Master of Studies) courses. This is either because the term MA has a different meaning (as is the case of Oxbridge) or because the university does not offer courses in the Arts and Humanities (as is the case of Imperial). Some universities may also refer to some Business and non-Science courses as MScs because they are particularly quantitative (such as LSE’s MSc Social Innovation and Entrepreneurship programme).

Do I need to go through UCAS to apply for an MA?

In most cases, you do not need to go through UCAS to apply for an MA 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 MA 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 an MA 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 MA courses vary greatly by university and by subject, with the most competitive courses 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 MA 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, many universities offer its alumni a 10%-20% fee reduction). 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 MA applications?

MA 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 MA, 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 MA applicants?

Not all universities and courses interview MA applicants, however many top universities do, especially for the most competitive courses. 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 does MA mean at Oxford and Cambridge?

Oxford and Cambridge do not offer MA (Master of Arts) courses. In fact, MA is an academic rank that actually refers to the seniority of members of the university, rather than a specific qualification. At Oxbridge, BA (Bachelor of Arts) are promoted to the degree of Master of Arts (MA) on application after 6-7 years’ seniority as members of the university. No further examination or study is required for this promotion and it is equivalent to undergraduate degrees awarded by other universities.

Instead of Master of Arts (MA) courses (as other universities refer to them), Oxford and Cambridge offer Master of Philosophy (MPhil), Master of Studies (MSt), and Master of Research (MRes) courses.

Can you apply for Masters before graduating UK?

In the UK, you can start applying for a Master’s course before graduating. For example, if you are in the third (and final) year of an undergraduate course, you can apply for a Master’s course that starts in the next academic year (from September). You will typically be made a conditional offer that requires you to achieve a certain grade in your undergraduate degree in order for your Master’s place to be confirmed.