Applying for a Masters Degree
Written by Ben Taylor
Masters applications aren't quite the same as undergraduate ones. Although there are some similarities – you’ll probably need to write a personal statement, for example – the application process very much reflects the post-graduate nature of a Masters.
You’ll be expected to show what you learned during your Bachelors and how you plan on using this experience to make a success of an advanced qualification.
This page covers what you need to know before beginning your Masters application. From how you apply for a Masters and the documents you’ll need to provide, to important deadlines, we're here to help.
Masters applications – step-by-step
If you’re applying directly to a university, your Masters application will usually follow these steps:
- 1. Find your perfect Masters – With thousands of postgraduate programmes listed on our website, we’re the ideal place to start!
- 2. Contact referees in advance – Start thinking about previous lecturers or tutors who could provide a reference for you. It’s a good idea to send them an email asking for permission to put their name down as a reference.
- 3. Write your personal statement – Start work on your personal statement as early as possible. The earlier you start, the more time you'll have to proof-read and, if necessary, redraft.
- 4. Apply online through the university website – Most universities have their own online applications systems (there are exceptions), so make sure you’ve familiarised yourself with your prospective university’s website and know how to begin the application proper.
- 5. Attach supporting documents – After you’ve filled in your personal details on the university’s postgraduate admissions portal, you’ll probably need to attach a series of documents supporting your application. These could include your personal statement, references and copies of your academic qualifications.
- 6. Check your email regularly – When you’ve finished the application, you’ll want to keep a close eye on your inbox for (hopefully positive!) news from the admissions department. Keep an eye on your Junk / Spam email folder too, just in case an email ends up in there!
How many Masters can you apply for?
You can apply for as many courses and universities as you like if you're applying to a UK university. However, we'd recommend limiting yourself to three or four applications as the application process can be time-consuming and you should be careful not to overstretch yourself.
Make sure that you tailor each application to the programme in question rather than using a template format for each one. You should talk specifically about the course, mentioning why it appeals to you and how it’ll help you achieve your goals.
There might be some instances where you can only apply to a certain number of programmes.
If you’re applying for a postgraduate teacher training course in England or Wales, you can make up to three applications. For Scottish teacher training courses, meanwhile, you can apply for up to five programmes.
When should I apply for a Masters?
Unlike undergraduate programmes, applications for most Masters courses are open all year round (some vocational programmes may have a set deadline). However, this doesn’t mean that you should be asking yourself how late you can leave your Masters application!
It’s always a good idea to apply early in the admissions cycle – at least six months before the course begins. This will be around March or April for programmes beginning in September or October. Masters offers are given out as applications come in, so don't leave it too late or your perfect programme might already be full.
Another reason to apply early is so that you have more time to look for any additional funding and also to finalise your accommodation.
When are the deadlines for Masters applications?
Deadlines for Masters applications can vary quite widely between postgraduate programmes and universities. Generally speaking, you can apply up to a month or so before the Masters is due to begin (if there are still places on the course). So, the deadline for a Masters starting in September will be August.
If you’re an international student who needs a visa, you’ll need to take this into account and your Masters application deadline will be earlier.
It’s also worth bearing in mind that most universities in the UK are closed over the Christmas holidays, which means they won’t be able to process applications during this time. You should factor this into your timeline if you’re planning on a January or February start date.
If you’re applying for course that uses the UCAS Postgraduate application service, you can use their search tool to check the deadline for a particular UCAS Masters programme.
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How do I apply for a Masters degree?
In most cases, you’ll apply directly to your prospective university. This will be through an online applications portal or by printing off an application form and posting it with the relevant documents.
There are a few exceptions, however. UCAS Postgraduate is a centralised application service run by UCAS, the organisation responsible for undergraduate admissions in the UK. 11 institutions use UCAS Postgraduate for their Masters applications.
Similarly, different rules apply if you’re applying for one of the following postgraduate qualifications:
- Performing arts courses at conservatoires – Applications for these programmes are managed through UCAS Conservatoires
- Postgraduate teacher training in England and Wales – If you’re applying for a teacher training course in England or Wales, apply through UCAS Teacher Training
- Postgraduate teacher training in Scotland – If you’re applying for a Professional Graduate Diploma in Education (PGDE), make your application through UCAS Undergraduate
- Postgraduate teacher training in Northern Ireland – For teacher training courses in Northern Ireland, applications go through the universities themselves.
- MA / MSc programmes in Social Work, Nursing and Medicine – Apply through UCAS Undergraduate.
- Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL) / Legal Practice Course (LPC) – Applications for these postgraduate legal qualifications are dealt with by the Law Central Applications Board.
You’ll need to supply the following documents for a Masters application:
- Application form
- Personal statement
- Academic / professional references
- Copies of your degree certificate and academic transcripts
- A CV (for some courses)
- Research proposal (if you’re applying for a research Masters like an MPhil or MRes)
- Proof of English language proficiency (if applicable)
Are there any application fees?
Most universities in the UK don’t charge fees for postgraduate applications. Several of the most competitive institutions do charge an application fee, however. If you’re applying for a course at a prestigious business school, you’re more likely to be charged a Masters admission fee.
For those universities with application fees, the amount can range between £25 and £75 per programme.
If you’re applying for a Masters outside of the UK, you’ll often have to pay an application fee in the local currency. Take a look at our study abroad guides to find out the costs.
How do I write a Masters personal statement?
The personal statement is an important part of any Masters application. This statement is a chance to highlight your skills, knowledge and any relevant experience, making sure that the admissions tutor knows why you’re perfect for this particular programme.
For more information, read our guide to writing a personal statement for a Masters application.
Do I include a CV in my Masters application?
You may be required to submit a Masters CV for some courses. This should summarise your academic, professional and personal achievements.
You can find more information in our full guide to writing a Masters CV.
Who should I ask for references?
You’ll usually need to supply your prospective university with the contact details of at least two ‘referees’ who can provide a reference and vouch for your academic skills and motivation.
Your personal circumstances have an effect on who these referees are. If you’re applying for a Masters straight after your undergraduate degree, you typically choose two university tutors who know you well.
If you’re applying after taking some time out of higher education, it’s normal to pick a referee from your current employment and one of your previous university tutors. The precise requirements will differ from institution to institution.
Here are some tips to bear in mind when deciding your referees:
- Make sure they know you well – Don’t pick a professor you’ve had hardly any contact with. Choose someone who knows you and your academic abilities well, perhaps a personal tutor or your undergraduate dissertation supervisor.
- Ask for permission first – It’s very unlikely that your potential referee will refuse (it’s normal for them to write references), but a polite request goes a long way.
- Give plenty of notice – Because writing references is part of most academics’ job (the same goes for employers), your referee might have a lot of requests to deal with. As such, it’d be wise to give them ample time. Don’t contact them a week before the application deadline!
- Send your personal statement and CV – This is a good way of showing your referee what your aspirations are.
Universities will have different protocols for academic references. As a rule of thumb, though, they’ll ask referees to email a copy of your reference from an official email address (or use an electronic submission system). Alternatively, your referee can post the reference, as long as it’s personally signed, printed on official letter-headed paper and in a sealed envelope.
Do I need proof of my academic qualifications?
University admissions departments will require proof of your academic qualifications. This normally comes in the form of a degree certificate and academic transcripts.
If you haven’t finished your degree yet, don’t worry – just provide transcripts showing your academic performance to date, giving a predicted outcome for your undergraduate course.
Most universities have an online application system that you can use to upload scans of these documents. They might ask to see the original paper copies before you register for your course.
If you’re an international student whose previous education wasn’t in English, you should submit copies of your original academic qualifications along with official translations of these documents, done by a certified translation service.
Will I have to take a language test?
If you’re applying for a Masters taught in a language that isn’t your first language, you’ll normally have to provide proof that you’re proficient in the language of instruction.
In the case of English-taught Masters, you will probably have to achieve a certain grade in an English language test if it isn’t your first language. However, if you’ve already finished (or are studying on) an English-taught Bachelors, this requirement might not apply to you.
These are four of the most popular English language tests, widely accepted by universities across the world:
The exact procedures differ from test to test, but generally the exam provider will send your results to the institutions you’re applying to.
Our guide to Masters language tests features pages on the major international study languages, from English and French to German and Mandarin.
Need help with English language tests?
We’ve written guides to the four main English language tests, covering minimum scores, exam structure, fees and more.
Will I have to attend an interview?
Most Masters applications won’t require you to attend an interview, but they are common for certain kinds of postgraduate qualification, such as MBAs, Masters of Social Work and teacher training courses.
There are several types of postgraduate interview:
- Formal interview
- Skype interview
- Informal chat
- Practical test
Use our guide to postgraduate interviews to help you prepare for whichever one you're invited to.
How long until I hear back about my Masters application?
Once you’ve submitted your application, you’ll generally hear back from the university after about a month. If positive, this response could take two forms:
- Conditional offer – Subject to satisfying academic conditions (achieving a certain degree classification, for example) you’ll be able to take up a place on the Masters programme
- Unconditional offer – As you’ve already met the academic requirements, you’ll have earned a place on the course
You may also be asked to attend a postgraduate interview.
When you’ve got your offer, you can start preparing for Masters study! You’ll also need to work out you’re going to pay for your postgraduate tuition fees.
In the meantime, if you have any questions about applying for a Masters, don’t hesitate to get in touch with your prospective university’s admissions department, who will be more than happy to help.
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English Language Tests for Masters Study
Masters programmes are delivered in English at universities around the world, but you may need to submit a test score if this isn't your first language. Common tests include the IELTS, TOEFL, PTE and Cambridge English.Read more