I want to keep studying

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Over one in ten of our students enter further study on completion of their undergraduate degree. If you are thining about pursuing this path it is important that you make sure that it is the right option for you personally and professionally. Consider what you aim to gain and how this will help you to achieve longer-term career goals.

There is a huge range of material available to help you plan and prepare for further study and we are here to support your decision making and application. Our services include:

  • Workshops on considering and preparing for further study
  • Support materials on writing applications
  • Appointments with your Career Adviser to discuss options

The following information may help you to decide if further study is the right path for you and assist in taking the necessary steps to research your options and successfully apply.

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Why do it?

There are many reasons why you may pursue postgraduate study however you need to consider if it is the right step for you and how it may develop your future career.

Some good reasons may be to:

  • deepen knowledge of a subject you enjoy or have a passion for
  • pursue a career in research
  • accesses a certain career which requires specific entry e.g. Teaching
  • improve career prospects
  • change career direction and retrain in a different field

It is worth noting that further study is not a guarantee of securing a better job or a higher salary, however, it can give you a specialism and enhance your wider skills. It is also likely to be a considerable investment in both time, money and effort. If you are clear on your reasons for pursing the qualification then you are more likely to remain motivated and therefore be satisfied. It's worth asking yourself the following questions before you apply:

  • Why do you want to do postgraduate study?
  • Is a postgraduate degree essential for your career?
  • Which is the most appropriate type of postgraduate degree for you and your career path – taught or research-based?
  • Can you apply to the postgraduate course directly after your first degree, or does the course require you to gain business experience first?
  • Where will you study? In the UK, or abroad?
  • How will you fund your studies?
What types of study are available?

There's a huge variety of further study courses available which fall in to the following categories:

Postgraduate Certificates (PGCert) and Diplomas (PGDip):

These are normally vocational qualifications that allow you to work toward a specific learning or employment goal. Courses normally include a mix of theoretical and practical learning, and often include a work placement. They take around a year to complete full-time, or two years part-time, and can sometimes be topped up to a masters qualification with additional study.

Amongst others these degrees include specific postgraduate qualifications related to law (Graduate Diploma in Law - GDL), teaching (Professional Graduate Diploma in Education - PGDE in Scotland, Postgraduate Certificate in Education - PGCE in the rest of the UK) and medicine (various Postgraduate Medical qualifications).

Masters degrees (Postgraduate Taught Programmes – PGT):

Typically these courses last 12 months full-time and allow you to expand your knowledge and expertise in a particular subject area. Typically they consist of taught modules, practical work and an independent research project.

Degrees include:

  • Master of Arts (MA)
  • Master of Science (MSc)
  • Master of Engineering (MEng)
  • Master of Education (MEd)

The Master of Research (MRes) falls under the Masters category but there is a much greater emphasis on developing research skills and the independent research project contributes significantly more of the degree programme.

The Master of Business Administration (MBA) also fits this category but many institutions require applicants to have had several years relevant work experience at graduate level before being offered a place on the course.

Doctorates (Postgraduate Research Programmes - PGR):

These courses typically last 3 to 4 years full-time and are research focused involving the creation of original work in a specific academic field. Assessment usually involves the submission of a thesis, publication of research papers and an oral exam (viva). The qualification is often referred to as a PhD, however examples of professional doctorates exist e.g. EngD (Doctor of Engineering), (Doctor of Criminal Justice (DCrimJ) and DClinPsych (Doctor of Clinical Psychology).

Most candidates apply to projects decided by an academic department and which are advertised, (these are often funded). You can however approach academics to request that they supervise your individual research proposal however it is often challenging to secure funding.

What about funding?

Unfortunately it can sometimes be easier to secure a postgraduate opportunity than it is to secure funding to support your studies. It can be very expensive to pursue a further study programme with tuition fees ranging from around £3,000 to in excess of £45,000 per year. In addition you will need to factor in living expenses such as housing, food, travel etc.

You can apply for grants from the UK Research Councils (RCUK) however the process is highly competitive. Details of the process is available online or you can explore the following research councils:

Many universities offer funding with their postgraduate programmes through bursaries (see current scholarships and bursaries list for Heriot-Watt). These bursaries may fully or partially contribute towards fees and living expenses however they are generally more frequently available for doctoral programmes than taught programmes. It's worth enquiring with the institutions of interest to you to research what sources may be available to you.

Other alternatives may be to consider career development loans, mixing further study with part-time employment or to approach charitable trusts to support you through studies.

How do I apply?

In general you will be submitting applications up to 12 months prior to the course start date so planning ahead is crucial to your application success. Additionally it is worth noting that application procedures vary greatly between institutions and in various countries, however, in general you will likely submit the following:

  • Application form
  • Personal statement (generally 1-2 pages)
  • References (generally 2-3)
  • Research Proposal (sometimes requested for PhD applications)

Application Form:

Usually an online form that collects personal details and may request submission of answers to specific questions relevant to the course and your future career plans. Essentially this is assessing both your suitability and motivation to join the programme.

  • Official transcripts of university exam results
  • A separate research statement where relevant.
  • Standardised test results (See below for more information)

Personal Statements:

A postgraduate personal statement‌ is a document used in the application process for a Taught Masters (e.g. MSc/MA), Research Masters (e.g. MRes) or Doctoral Programme (e.g. PhD). It should highlight your personal experience, skills, grades and other supporting factors that will assist you to successfully complete a postgraduate qualification.

Follow any specific instructions given by the institution however it is generally a one page summary demonstrating your:

  • Suitability to a programme
  • Passion for the subject
  • Research Interests
  • Academic credentials
  • Capabilities for independent research
  • Steppingstone to your career/life goals

The statement will usually be read by either an admissions tutor(s) for a taught postgraduate course or the project supervisor(s) for a postgraduate research/doctoral programme. There will probably be a large number of applications so the admissions tutor will often have several decisions to make and will use the personal statement (and possibly an interview) to decide who is eligible to be accepted on to the course. If there are too many eligible applicants they may decide who has priority and where there are studentships available for fees and living expenses etc. an admissions tutor (or a panel of academics) will decide which applicants will be given the awards.

Given the above information you should ensure your statement answers the following questions:

  • Why do you want to pursue postgraduate study?
  • Why is this particular course of most interest to you?
  • What aspects of the course are of particular interest to you? e.g. specialist modules, work placement opportunity.

Take a look at our handy guide to Writing personal statements [pdf].


You will generally need to submit academic references who can vouch for your approach to study and who can recommend you as a strong candidate for your chosen course. Usually this would be a personal tutor, project supervisor or other departmental academic.

Research Proposals:

If you are applying for a PhD you may be requested to submit a research proposal in addition to the above mentioned documents. Essentially this is an outline of your proposed project and should include a clear research question and an approach to answering it. You should try to highlight the significance of the research (impact) and how it adds to, develops, or challenges existing work. These documents vary in length but are normally around 2000 to 3000 words.

Useful information to support with this can be found through:

Opportunities to study abroad

Studying in another country can be a great opportunity to experience another culture but there are a lot of elements to consider when deciding if study abroad is right for you and which country would suit you. There's a lot more to think about than simply finding a course.

Consider the following as part of your planning:

  • Look at the cost of living and studying and research ways to fund this
  • Consider culture and student lifestyle
  • Plan enough time to apply for study visas
  • Look into travel insurance, and check if you need pre-travel vaccinations
  • Consider if you will need to learn a foreign language
  • Be sure to check if your chosen postgraduate course qualifies you to work outside of that country of study - in many cases, vocational courses in one country does not qualify you to work elsewhere.

There are countless resources available online to help you plan your overseas studies and we suggest undertaking thorough research to make a well informed decision. Amongst the plethora of information you may want to explore:

Further Information