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A Simple Introduction to Masters Funding

Written by Mark Bennett

After deciding to take up the challenges and opportunities of a postgraduate degree, the next step for most students is working out how to pay for it!

The actual cost of a Masters may be lower than you think, but funding is a bit more complex than it is for undergraduate degrees.

This guide is here to help. We've put together a checklist of the different funding types that could be available to you, with links to our in-depth resources and FAQs, as well as a handy Masters funding action plan.

Not thinking of a Masters in the UK? Check out our guides to postgraduate funding in other popular countries.

How to fund a Masters

If you’re a UK student, there are several ways you can go about funding a Masters at a UK university. The most obvious of these is through a Masters loan, with each UK nation offering its own postgraduate student finance scheme:

Generally speaking, you should apply for a postgraduate loan in the nation where you’re normally resident – not where you plan on moving to study. Unfortunately, international students aren’t usually eligible for these loans, although EU nationals with settled status in the UK may qualify.

Other sources of Masters funding options include:

There’s also the possibility of working during a Masters. Balancing employment and your studies is undeniably challenging, but it can be done – particularly if you’re studying a Masters on a part-time basis.

Read more: postgraduate loans

Each UK country offers a slightly different postgraduate loan scheme. Check out our guides to support in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland for 2022.

Research Council funding

The seven UK Research Councils represent one of the most important sources of postgraduate funding in the UK. It’s their job to provide support for research projects and for the training of potential new researchers – like you!

Though most of their resources are now directed towards PhD programmes, you can sometimes receive Research Council funding for Masters degrees – particularly 1+3 or New Route PhD programmes. These begin with a taught Masters degree in the first year, followed by a 3-year PhD programme. Funding usually covers course fees and a tax-free maintenance grant.

Masters degrees which have the opportunity for research council funding will be advertised as such. You can find a number of these programmes listed at FindAPhD.com. They’ll usually be referred to as ‘4-Year’, ‘1+3’ or ‘New Route PhD Programmes’ and some will include the name of the Research Council in the project title.

Charities and alternative funding sources

You may be surprised to learn that a lot of funding for postgraduate study is actually available from charitable trusts and learned societies.

All sorts of organisations are interested in helping promote new research and training in particular fields and, as a talented postgraduate, you could be just the sort of person they’re looking for. Grants from charities and similar organisations tend to be relatively small – between £100 and £1,000 on average – but there’s no reason why you can’t combine lots of them to cover your costs. In fact, this approach to financing postgraduate study has become so popular it’s even got its own name: ‘portfolio funding’.

You can learn all about this approach in our guide to Masters funding from charities and trusts.

University scholarships

Universities are keen to encourage and support good applicants to their postgraduate programmes and some will have significant financial resources available to help them do this.

Our guide to Masters funding from universities explains what sort of support might be available and includes a handy index of university funding resources.

Crowdfunding

Crowdfunding involves asking for lots of small donations towards the cost of your Masters. This kind of approach requires plenty of organisation. You'll also need to set out a compelling reason for people to support you.

But, if you can come up with a strong campaign, you might find that postgraduate crowdfunding can help offset some (or maybe even all) of your Masters fees.

Sponsorship from your employer

This won’t be applicable to all students, but it can be worth asking an employer about the possibility of support to gain new qualifications.

Of course, this strategy is more likely to be successful if your Masters is going to help develop skills that are relevant to your job. Asking for money to study Victorian poetry when you’re actually working in an IT consultancy firm might not be a great idea unless your boss is remarkably generous (or a big fan of Alfred Tennyson).

Disabled Students' Allowance (DSA)

Completing a Masters whilst managing a disability, illness or learning difficulty can be challenging, but it's not impossible.

It's also possible that additional funding may be available to help support you during your studies. Find out more with our guide to Disabled Students' Allowance for Masters students.

Masters funding for international students

Unfortunately, UK postgraduate loans are generally only available to UK citizens (with some exceptions for certain EU students. But that doesn't mean funding isn't available for students from elsewhere.

In fact, a number of schemes exist specifically to support international Masters students, including prestigious programmes such as

Read more: international funding

Our guide introduces the main sources of international postgraduate funding. We've also put together information on international fees and UK living costs as well as a guide to student visas.

A Masters funding action plan

So, now that you’ve got an idea of the main sources of Masters funding that are out there, it’s time to think about how to put together a funding package that works for you.

#1 Work out what your budget is

First of all, you should calculate what your budget is for the duration of your Masters course, including tuition fees and living costs. If your funding plans involve one of the UK’s postgraduate loans, they may well cover your tuition fees, but not your rent, food and other important costs. Knowing how much this funding gap is will help you target your search towards suitable potential sources of income.

It’s worth reading one of our blogs on this subject, which covered how to calculate the real cost of your Masters – and how to pay for it.

#2 Start as soon as you can

Applications for postgraduate loans typically open in June for courses beginning in autumn. The process is reasonably quick and simple (and can be completed online), as the loans aren’t means-tested. Plus you don’t need to have received a university offer before applying – you can simply nominate an eligible programme.

#3 There isn’t a separate maintenance element to the postgraduate loan (apart from Scotland)

As we’ve already covered, each UK nation has its own postgraduate student finance system. Unlike the undergraduate system you’re probably already familiar with, there isn’t a separate maintenance element if you’re applying for a Masters loan in England, Wales or Northern Ireland.

In the case of Scotland, you’ll receive a £4,500 loan if you satisfy the eligibility requirements.

Welsh postgraduate funding works a little differently to the other UK nations in that it’s means-tested, with a maximum grant of £6,885 available to those on low incomes (alongside a loan of £11,480). If you have a household income of £59,200 or more, you’ll receive a £1,000 grant and a £17,025 loan.

#4 You can’t pick and choose which nation’s student finance system you use

Unfortunately, you can’t simply pick which loan system is most attractive to you – you are only eligible for the nation in which you’re ordinarily resident. So, if you went to university in England but want to study in Wales, you’d need to use the English Masters loan to do so (and not the Welsh postgraduate finance system).

#5 Don’t forget alumni discounts

Many universities offer discounts of 5% or 10% to graduates who are returning for a postgraduate degree, so it’s well worth bearing this mind if your alma mater offer a course that suits you and your aims.

#6 Keep an open mind

It’s always worth keeping an open mind when it comes to postgraduate funding – if you look hard enough, you’re bound to come across some unlikely sources of financial support. Charities, trusts and other organisations often offer help to needy postgraduates. Turn2us and the Grants Register are both good ways of tracking this support down.

Further information



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