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Everything you need to know about applying for a master's degree

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Applying for a master’s degree requires a lot of preparation and research, but there are some similarities with the undergraduate application process. Find out everything you need to know about your master’s application here, including when to apply, what to include in your personal statement, and more.

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When to apply for a master's degree

Most courses are open for applications all year round – although this varies between universities and courses – but we’d highly recommend applying for a master’s degree at least six months before the start date. If you leave it too late, the course you want to apply for could already be full as offers are given out as applications come in. Most universities will accept applications for September starts until at least July, but some courses will be popular and fill up quickly, so it’s best to apply sooner rather than later to avoid any disappointment.

Applying for your master’s degree promptly will also make it easier when it comes to registering for things like accommodation or financial support. If you’re an international student, remember to take your visa into consideration as well as you’ll have an earlier application deadline.

How to apply for a master's degree

Unlike undergraduate courses where you usually apply through UCAS, you can apply for most master’s degrees directly through your chosen university. Applications for certain courses may differ slightly, for example, teacher training courses have their own processes and deadlines. If you’re applying to study for a master’s at Sunderland, simply search for your chosen course using the search box or explore our subject areas. You’ll find a link to apply online at the top of each course page.

The process for master’s applications is even easier for current undergraduate students, as we already have most of your details in our system, so you won’t need to fill out a full application form. All you need to do is follow the link for current students from any of our postgraduate course pages and you can complete your application in less than a minute. Our graduates may even be awarded a discount of up to 20% off tuition fees!

What to include in your master's application

The following should always be included in a master’s application:

  • A personal statement
  • Two or more academic/professional references
  • Copies of your degree certificate and academic transcripts
  • Your CV.

Additional documents may be required depending on the master’s you’re applying for or if you’re an international student. For example, international applicants will need proof of English language proficiency – we usually ask for an overall score of 6.0 in the International English Language Testing System (IELTS) with at least 5.5 in reading, writing, listening, and speaking.

How to write a personal statement for a master’s application

Just like undergraduate degrees, you’ll need to provide a personal statement, which is an essential part of your master’s application as it’s your chance to sell yourself and prove why you’re right for the course. Some of our top tips for writing your master’s personal statement are:

  • Make sure it’s unique and tailored to the course you’re applying for – if you’re applying for more than one master’s degree, don’t be tempted to use the same personal statement for all of them
  • Highlight your experience and skills, the reasons you want to study the course and how it’ll help you achieve your long-term career goals, as well as how your undergraduate degree has prepared you for master’s level study
  • Keep your personal statement to around 500 words on one page of A4 – although some universities require more, so always check the application guidelines
  • Ensure it’s in a logical reading order with clear, concise paragraphs. Remember, admissions tutors will be reading a lot of personal statements, so it’s important to include a strong introduction to get their attention. Try to summarise your academic and employment background in the first section, followed by evidence of your skills and knowledge, then a conclusion to sum up the most important parts.
  • Double check the accuracy of your spelling and grammar. It’s a great idea to get someone else to proofread it too!

What references are needed for applying for a master's degree?

You’ll usually need to provide a minimum of two references. These can either be academic, or if you’ve had a longer break from studying, professional references from your most recent employer. Make sure they’re from people who know you well, such as your personal tutor or dissertation supervisor, or if from an employer, your line manager. Always contact your referees beforehand so that they’re aware and give them plenty of notice in case they aren’t available. References must be sent directly to the university, signed, dated, and sealed in an envelope, or from an official university or company email address.

After you've applied for your master's degree

Once you’ve submitted your master’s application, you’ll usually be informed if you’ve been successful within eight weeks, but this will vary by university and the volume of applicants. There are four possible outcomes following your application:

1. You’ll receive an unconditional offer, which means you’ve met all entry requirements and your place on the course is confirmed
2. You’ll receive a conditional offer, which means your place will be guaranteed if you meet certain entry requirements
3. You’ll be shortlisted for an interview, after which you’ll find out if you’ve secured a place
4. You’ve been unsuccessful.

If you’ve been unsuccessful, don’t be disheartened. Many master’s courses receive far more applications than the number of places available. Don’t be afraid to ask for feedback to see how you can improve in future applications.

Preparing for an interview

Some master’s courses will require you to attend an interview as part of the application process. If this is the case, make sure you carry out plenty of research about the university and course beforehand, and refamiliarise yourself with what you included in your original application.

During the interview, you can expect to answer questions around things like your academic interests and knowledge, your reasons for choosing the course, your experience, and your future goals.


If you have any further questions around applying for a master’s degree at Sunderland, please get in touch and we’ll be happy to help.

Published: 20 October 2023