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How to apply for a masters degree

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Published: 7 August 2019

It requires a lot of preparation and research to apply for a masters degree. There are some similarities with the application process for an undergraduate course, but applying for a masters requires a lot of patience. Here, we cover everything you need to know before beginning your application, from personal statements and references to interviews and language tests.

When to apply?

Applications for most masters courses are open all year round, but we highly recommend that you apply for your course at least six months before it starts. If you leave it too late, your preferred course might be full since masters offers are given out as applications come in. If you want to book your accommodation and sort out your finances on time, applying early is the right thing to do.

How to apply?

It is as simple as finding the postgraduate course you're interested in, and on the course page, you will see a link to apply online. There is no need to do register with UCAS, which is the case for undergraduate courses.

What to include in my application?

There is a range of subjects to study, but your masters application should always include:

  • a personal statement
  • two or more academic/professional references
  • copies of your degree certificate and academic transcripts
  • your CV

Additional documents might be required, depending on the course you are applying for and if you are an international student.

Female student taking notes

Personal statement

It is likely that you are familiar with personal statements as one is usually needed for an undergraduate degree application, so the concept of writing one for a masters degree application is almost the same. A masters personal statement should be around 500 words long, which equates to one page of A4 and should highlight your skills, experience, and an explanation of why you are right for the particular course.

You should provide evidence of your skillset and address how work experience and/or undergraduate study prepared you for a masters degree course. It is also important to explain how the course you are applying for will help you achieve your long term goals. If you are applying for a range of masters courses, don’t use the same personal statement for every application as you could come out as someone who has a little understanding of the course.

An admissions tutor will read so many personal statements so it's crucial that yours begins with an introduction that will grab his/her attention. Introductions usually sum up your academic and employment background while in the middle section you should provide evidence of your strengths and skills. The conclusion should sum up the most important parts of your application and leave an impression. 

Finally, it is important that spelling and grammar are perfect as your written communication skills will be assessed by an academic, so it doesn’t hurt to ask someone you can trust to proof read it.  

References

For a masters application, you will usually need to supply a minimum of two references. If you are looking to do a masters straight after your undergraduate course, you will be expected to choose two academics who know you well such as your dissertation supervisor or personal tutor. If you’ve spent the last few years in employment after graduating, you may be asked to provide a reference from your current employer, but you'd still need an academic one as well. 

Professor working with students

It is recommended that you start asking for references as early as possible since a referee may be busy, on holiday or unavailable for some other reason. Therefore you might be forced to ask someone else. It would be beneficial to send them your CV or personal statement so they can have a full image of who you are and what your aspirations might be.

References must be directly sent to the University and be signed, dated and sealed in an envelope. They can also be sent from an official university or company email address.

Language tests

If English is not your first language, then you will have to provide a proof that you're proficient in it. We accept a wide range of English language qualifications, but usually, we ask for an overall score of 6.0 in International English Language Testing System (IELTS) test, with at least 5.5 or higher in each component: reading, writing, listening and speaking.

The standard of English language required varies between courses so please check each course page carefully.

After you’ve applied

You will typically be informed of a decision within eight weeks, but this timeframe can vary depending on the volume of applicants applying for the course. There are four possible outcomes:

  • unconditional offer – your place on the course is confirmed as you’ve met all of the entry requirements
  • conditional offer – your place on the course will be guaranteed if you meet certain requirements
  • interview – you’ve been invited to an interview, after which you will find out whether you will be offered a place or not
  • unsuccessful – you didn’t get a place on the course

Career advice interview

Interview

Some masters courses require their applicants to attend an interview before issuing offers. In order to be well prepared, it is important to do research on the university you are applying to and clearly understand what the course involves. It's not a bad idea to familiarise yourself with what you wrote in your personal statement and CV. Also, it makes a good impression if you have questions for the university.  

Structure your answers by using the STAR technique:

  • Situation: describe the situation you were in
  • Task: explain the task you had to complete
  • Action: describe the specific actions you took to complete the task
  • Result: close with the results of your efforts

If you have more questions about applying for a master degree, don’t hesitate to get in touch with the University of Sunderland.