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Applying for a Masters with a Lower Class Degree

You might think having a third or a 2.2 means you can't do a Masters, but this isn't always the case.

Admissions requirements for postgraduate courses vary by university, and your undergraduate degree won't be the only factor in gaining a place for further study.

A lower class undergraduate degree might seem like an obstacle between you and a postgraduate course, but there are several ways to overcome this. Many universities do accept third class and 2.2 degrees for Masters applications.

If you are certain that postgraduate study is right for you but aren't sure you fulfil the academic entry requirements for a Masters, this page can help you increase your chances of being accepted onto a course.

Why do you want to do a Masters?

First, it is important to ask yourself what you hope to gain from postgraduate study.

It may be that your main reason for considering a Masters is to 'mask' an undergraduate result you are unhappy with.

You must also consider whether you will be able to work harder, or do better, at Masters level than you did at undergraduate level.

At the end of the day, your prospective institution will decide whether they think you have what it takes to flourish at postgraduate level. This works in your favour too, as it means you are less likely to be left struggling.

It might be that you're applying to do a Masters in a subject that is unrelated to your Bachelors. In this case, it could be easier to persuade admissions tutors that you are prepared for further study.

However, if you're applying to do a Masters after getting a third in a directly related Bachelors, it may be harder to convince them that you have the skills and grasp of the subject needed to continue to a higher level.

Is postgraduate study right for you?

Before continuing to postgraduate study, it is important undergo some self-reflection. If you got a grade below a 2.1, ask yourself why.

There are many reasons why people don't do as well as they hoped at undergraduate level. These could include the following:

I struggled academically

If you tried hard, but still struggled to achieve high results, it may be that you are either unsuited to academia or to your specific subject.

In this case, it is possible that you may also struggle at Masters level, where courses are likely to be more challenging.

However, postgraduate study can be a lot more varied than undergraduate study.

It's possible that your Bachelors included material you found challenging, unengaging, or both. A Masters might not – particularly if you've found the opportunity to specialise in an area you are good at, or especially enthusiastic about.

I didn't apply myself

It may be that you simply didn't put in enough effort as an undergraduate. In this situation, it can be easy to feel a sense of injustice. It might be that you feel your grade does not reflect your true ability, and that you could have done much better.

If you are confident that you will truly apply yourself as a Masters student, you must show admissions tutors that you are passionate and determined to be an asset to their university.

I experienced extenuating circumstances

If you received a lower class degree due to extreme mitigating circumstances, for example due to illness or bereavement, your prospective institution may be more likely to consider your application.

In this case, you may need a letter from your undergraduate university or tutor, explaining your situation and potential. Universities will still need to be sure that you have what it takes to excel as a postgraduate.

How can you boost your chances?

In most countries, there are no official entry requirements for a Masters degree. This means that it is technically possible to study for a Masters with a lower class degree.

However, most universities probably won't be overly impressed by a third class degree (in particular). Unless you have extenuating circumstances, it's possible this grade will be viewed as a reflection of your effort and dedication.

But if you are determined that postgraduate study is for you, and that you want to do it for the right reasons, there are several things you can do to give yourself the best possible chance of getting onto a postgraduate course:

Get work experience

If your grades aren't fantastic, you need to do everything you can do show this isn't a reflection of your true ability.

Prove your dedication in any extracurricular way you can, such as by carrying out work experience or an internship in an industry related to your field of study.

You can do this over your summer holiday. Alternatively, you might consider taking a year out to get a job and gain some professional experience, before applying to do a Masters the next year.

Consider different institutions

Applying for a Masters with a third might mean broadening your horizons slightly.

You may not have considered applying to a non-Russell Group university, but these are the ones that are most likely to consider accepting you.

Widen your mind, and consider all options when applying. No matter where they place in the league tables, every university is an institution of learning with plenty of excellent features to boast about. In fact, there are plenty of universities that accept third class degrees for Masters applications.

The more flexible and open-minded you are in your applications, the more likely you are to make it onto a Masters course.

It may be the case that by applying to the university you studied at as an undergraduate, you give yourself the best possible chance of being accepted. If there are spaces left to fill on courses, universities may be more likely to consider their own students.

Consider different courses

Instead of applying straight for a Masters, consider applying to do a Postgraduate Certificate (PGCert) or Postgraduate Diploma (PGDip). It may be that admissions tutors are more likely to consider applicants with lower class degrees for these courses, as they are usually shorter.

It may be that after successfully completing one of these courses, you could extend it in order to get a full Masters degree.

Before you apply, take a careful look at PGCert and PGDip options in your field, and whether there is potential for these courses to lead to a Masters.

Take time with your application

It is important to put time and effort into any Masters application. You are likely to be competing for a place against many other people with the same qualification, as well as those with first class and upper second class degrees.

This means you may need to work harder to convince admissions tutors that you deserve a place on their course. So make sure you sell yourself well.

Have a back-up plan

Unfortunately, getting onto a postgraduate course is much more difficult with a third than it is with first or second class degrees.

If you are keen to apply to a Masters course with a third, prepare yourself for the fact that you may well not be accepted.

In case it turns out postgraduate study isn't possible for you, make sure you have a strong back-up option ready.

This might mean applying for some jobs as well as applying for Masters courses, or perhaps looking into work experience.

International requirements

Of course, degree classifications vary by country. To find out more about applying to Masters courses with an undergraduate qualification from another country, see our study abroad guides.

What about funding?

You might be worried that a 2.2 or third will affect your chance of getting postgraduate funding. In fact, this is not necessarily the case.

The following guidelines should help you determine which Masters funding options to consider if you're concerned about your undergraduate results:

Merit-based funding

Unfortunately, it's likely that you will be out of the running for any university scholarship or bursary based on academic merit.

Usually, this type of funding is awarded to students with exceptional academic records, including First Class Honours.

Needs-based funding

Lower grades do not make you exempt from funding which is based upon the applicant's household income or financial situation.

Many universities offer this type of funding, which aims at widening participation.

Postgraduate loans

The good news is that UK postgraduate loans aren't based upon academic merit.

Any eligible student enrolled on a UK postgraduate course is eligible to apply for one of these loans. Our Masters loan guides explain the options that may be available to you.

Other options

You can also visit our funding page for more information on the different types of financial help that are available.

Last updated - 02/10/2020

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