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Posted on 4 Apr '19

How Much Will Your Masters Really Cost and How Will You Actually Pay For It?

When we talk about Masters funding, we tend to spend a lot of time introducing or FAQ-ing different types of funding and less time explaining how to actually use them. We do a lot of the 'what' but not enough of the 'how' - or, indeed, the 'how much'.

For this blog, I'm going about things differently. First, I'm going to help you work out what you'll need to pay (which isn't always obvious at postgrad). Then I'm going to go through what I think is a pretty solid priority order for getting together the funding you'll need.

To make this as useful as possible, I'm going to use an imaginary time machine that takes me back to my own Masters but assumes I'd have access to the same funding you do now (I didn't). This should give us a concrete example to work with as we go. Just bear in mind that the cost of my paralell-universe-alternate-timeline Masters won't be the same as yours.

Anyway, let's go.

Part A - working out the cost

The cost of a Masters is made up of the same things as the cost of a Bachelors: the tuition fees the university charges for your course and the living costs you need to cover whilst you study it.

However, both of these things work a little differently now. And you're going to need to work them out, at least approximately, before you can have any idea what funding you'll need and how far it will stretch.

Step 1 - check your fees

The first thing you'll notice about postgraduate fees is that they're different from undergraduate fees. The second thing you'll notice is that they're also different from each other.

There's no real cap for postgraduate tuition fees in the UK, which means universities can (more or less) charge what they like. The actual amount will depend on your subject area (how much a course costs to deliver, basically) as well as the 'going rate' for similar courses at other universities.

So, the first thing to do is to work this out. You can find the fees for a lot of courses here on FindAMasters; alternatively, you should be able to find them on the university website. Just be aware that fees may sometimes be listed for the current academic session (rather than the next intake) and that they tend to go up a little each year (there's no cap, remember).

Don't worry if you haven't picked a course yet: you can get a general idea of the cost of a Masters in different subjects and use that for now.

My example - So, I'm going to study English Literature (again) and I'm going to use the average amount for a taught MA in the guide I've linked to above (I know it's about right for my subject). That gives me a rough figure of £8,740. I'll assume that's the fee I need to pay for my Masters.

Step 2 - check your living costs

Postgraduate living costs are a funny thing.

On the one hand, your course is almost certainly going to be shorter (probably one year, rather than three). That means you'll have lower living costs to cover overall and you probably only need to sort your accommodation once.

On the one hand, you may not be able to rely on university halls. Some universities do provide these for postgrads (mine did) but you may need to think about a broader range of options.

I'd suggest getting a rough idea of accommodation costs in the city you expect to study in, based on what's charged by your university or the landlords it recommends. Then combine this with what you know about your other living costs - food, travel, leisure, etc. You might have a little less time to go out but, overall, these aren't going to change dramatically just because you're a postgrad.

My example - I'm going to assume I'll be studying in Sheffield (home of FindAMasters). I'm pretty familiar with what it costs to live here but not so familiar with what it costs to live here as a Masters student (it's been a while). So I'm going to use crowdsourced data to get a rough idea, just like we do in our guide. This gives me a figure of about £10,260 for one year, which is probably somewhere in the right ballpark if I budget sensibly.

Step 3 - maths!

Once you know your fees and your living costs, you know how much your Masters is probably going to cost you. And once you know that, you can work out how much funding you actually need to find.

My example - We've already established that I'm an English graduate (and apparently I'm going to be one again) but adding up £8,740 and £10,260 isn't beyond me. Because I have a calculator on my desk.

The answer is. . . £19,000. That's the nominal cost of my parallel-universe English Literature MA in South Yorkshire.

Part B - covering the cost

This is where you'd start if you began by looking at funding but, as I'm at pains to demonstrate here, that isn't always the best approach.

Knowing I can get a postgraduate loan for my Masters is nice, but that doesn't mean a whole lot unless I know how far that loan has to go. Having figured this out, I can start working towards that figure - starting with those loans.

Step 1 - postgraduate loans

Postgraduate loans should be your first call if you're looking for funding as a UK student (or an EU student) but they work a bit differently to undergraduate loans.

Instead of being linked directly to your course fees, your loan will be capped at a specific amount set by student finance. And (with the exception of Scotland) there isn't any separate maintenance loan.

It's really easy for students to miss this and assume that the loan is a one-stop-shop. It isn't. This is why it's so important to work out your likely costs beforehand.

My example - Alternative timeline Mark would be eligible for an English postgraduate loan of up to £12,167 (real Mark wouldn't be eligible now because he already has a Masters and a PhD, but nevermind). I've worked out the actual cost of my Masters as roughly £19,000 so, if I take the full loan, I still need to find an additional £6,833.

Step 2 - alumni perks

One way to make a Masters easier to fund is to make it cheaper.

These days it's very common for universities to offer 'alumni discounts' to graduates who stay (or come back) for a Masters. The amount varies and there are sometimes a few other strings attached (such as getting a certain grade for your Bachelors) but 10% is fairly typical.

Obviously this isn't much help if your dream Masters is at another university, but it's worth considering if you can find a suitable course at your institution, or there isn't much in it.

My example - So, we'll assume my undergraduate university offers a 10% discount and a Masters I like. Turning to my trusty calculator I can work out that my fees are now about £7,866 (a pretty solid reduction). This means my overall cost is down to £18,126. So, after my postgraduate loan is used up I now need £5,959.

Step 3 - other grants and scholarships

The funding I've covered so far is as close to universal as you can get for a Masters (most UK students can access some form of postgraduate loan and lots of universities offer alumni discounts).

From here on though, things get a bit more specific and its harder to say what will (or won't) be available to you.

There's probably going to be something out there though and it's probably going to come from one of the following sources:

  • University awards - There's a pretty good chance your university will have some of its own postgraduate funding available (universities are used to Masters students needing more help with their course costs). It's probably going to be competitively awarded, but that's no reason not to apply.
  • Charitable grants - This is a catch-all category for a range of other organisations that fund postgraduate study. The amount they offer and the things they're looking to fund will vary, but there are a lot of them out there.

Spend a bit of time exploring these options and you could make up some (or perhaps even all) of your funding shortfall.

My example - I'm going to imagine I'm lucky enough to find £1,000 in extra funding. That's far from guaranteed, but it isn't an unrealistic target if I'm organised enough. It leaves me with £4,959 to find for a year of postgraduate study.

Step 4 - working out the last bit

We've now exhausted student finance, university discounts and other scholarships. You can try other options such as crowdfunding or asking for help from an employer, but these only work in some cases and they require a lot of very specific preparation.

Instead I'm going to assume you do what most students do when they need some extra money: work alongside your degree.

Now, working alongside a Masters is possible and the kind of work you can get may well be better than the jobs you did as an undergrad. Just bear in mind that a Masters is more demanding.

If you aren't sure how much part-time work you can fit around your course, there's no harm in asking a prospective tutor. They'll know how much study they expect of you; they may also have some idea of the sort of work other students have done.

My example - I've decided my hypothetical parallel-universe twin can manage to work 10 hours a week (a couple of shifts somewhere)provided he gets some studying done during evenings and weekends. Based on the minimum wage, that's going to net him at least £5,293 (thank you again dear calculator) which leaves him up about £330.

You may also decide to take on additional work during the holidays to help take the financial pressure off during your semesters.


The aim with this post has been to go through a sensible priority order for postgraduate funding. That doesn't necessarily mean you'll be able to use all of them or that the amount/s you arrive at will look like my very hypothetical example (let's be honest: they probably won't).

You might be studying a more expensive course than me and need to find more funding. But you might also have found more funding at steps 2 and 3, or been able to earn more with a part-time job (remember that you're a graduate now and I based my calculation on minimum wage).

The important thing, in my opinion, is that you approach postgraduate funding in this way, as the yin to the yang of postgraduate costs. That way you know how far you have to go and when you've arrived.

Good luck getting there!

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Last updated: 25 May 2023