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How do postgraduates pay for it?

Alas, along with Father Christmas, the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy, the (admittedly lesser known) Postgraduate Pixie doesn't exist and has no stores of cash hidden in the woodlands for knowledge-thirsty postgrads. There are a number of more conventional sources of funding available, but it isn’t as, er, straightforward as the undergraduate system and competition is fierce.

By definition, postgraduates are a pretty clever bunch and the myriad methods of getting funding keep wannabe boffins on their toes:

The course you want to study and your academic brilliance also make a big difference to your chances:

The course

The best odds are in courses that have a clear benefit to the country or to a company. Postgrad courses fall into two categories: taught courses and research degrees.

Some funding sources only apply to one type or the other, but taught courses often have a specific use and so whomever it’s useful to may be willing to pay.

As a ludicrously broad generalisation, research degrees only get funding if they have a practical application, but if that application makes money for someone other than the student, they may well get support.

So science, technology and business courses attract much bigger bucks than, say, research projects looking at Shakespeare's influence on grafitti in Shoreditch.

Your academic brilliance

If you’re outstanding in your subject area, you’re also more likely to get some kind of support, even if in the arts it's little more than a pat on the back and a few luncheon vouchers. The idea's that it works as a kind of ad hoc filtering system, searching out the real gems from the tin foil fraudsters. You should only be doing postgrad study if you’re up to the considerable academic challenge. So, the better you are, the more likely you are to get a place on a course (or find a supervisor for your research) and to get funding to do it.

Like Katie Price's make up mantra, apply early and apply often as it's the best way to boost your chances. The postgraduate admissions cycle is more flexible than that of undergraduate courses, with many studentships advertised several months after the UCAS forms had to be in, but it doesn’t hurt to start looking a full year before you want to start studying – or even earlier.

Increasingly, postgrads combine their studies (often part-time themselves) with part-time or full-time work, though beware of trying to do too much. A full-time course, for example, does just what it says on the tin and will probably seem like a job itself – it’ll be harder to squeeze extra work around the geeking than it was at undergraduate level.

As for your living expenses, you're by now showing enough wrinkles and white hairs to sort out your own accomodation. Unless you’re taking a Postgraduate Certificate in Education (PGCE), you can’t apply for a student loan.

Postgrads who got some kind of hardship money when they first came into higher education might qualify for some emergency funding (through the Access to Learning Fund), but only as a last resort.

Nevertheless, there are funds out there to help pay both fees and the costs of living. The most important are laid out below and your university will also be able to give you advice.

  • University careers offices often produce leaflets about postgraduate funding and where to get it and most universities publish special postgrad prospectuses.
  • Talk directly to a tutor in the relevant department where you want to study. They’ll tell you more about their work and may be able to give you pointers about raising the readies.
  • Check out the postgraduate section of www.prospects.ac.uk for heaps of handy funding advice and information.
  • It’s also worth taking a look at the ‘Gradfund’ page on Newcastle University’s website and there's no need to be a lover of brown ale or even studying in geordie land: (http://www.ncl.ac.uk/postgraduate/funding/) and www.studentmoney.org. You can search for the right source of funding by using pull-down menus to pick the relevant subject, your nationality (some awards are available to all nationalities, but some are specific) and what exactly you intend to do (research, etc.).

Last updated on: 13 August 2008

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