Funding for postgraduate degrees

Unsure how to fund your postgraduate studies? Let's take a look at what your options are, from scholarships to employer funding.

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If only all things in life were free. Unfortunately, just like your undergraduate degree, a postgraduate degree comes at a price in the form of tuition fees and living costs.

There's no doubt that the financial aspects of further study are likely to be weighing heavy on your mind.

Thankfully though, there are plenty of options out there to help you along the way, whether it's a Postgraduate Loan, help from your university or even sponsorship from a company. But where do you even start when looking for them, and how much can you get? We explore your options here.

Still not sure if a master's or PhD is right for you? Our guide on the pros and cons of postgraduate study will help.

How to fund a master's or PhD

These are the best ways to get funding for a postgraduate degree:

  1. Postgraduate Student Loans

    money in a purse

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    The first port of call for your postgraduate funding will likely be governmental Student Loans.

    While there are Master's Loans for students in each part of the UK, PhD loans are only available in England and Wales. But, if you're not eligible for a Student Loan, don't worry – we have plenty more funding options below.

    Loans for master's students

    Here are the maximum loans available for master's students in England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales in 2020/21:

    • England – £11,222 (for tuition fees and living costs)
    • Northern Ireland – £5,500 (for tuition fees only)
    • Scotland – £10,000 (£5,500 for tuition fees and £4,500 for living costs)
    • Wales – £17,489 (for tuition fees and living costs).

    Click the links above to find out more about Master's Loans in your part of the UK.

    Loans for PhD students

    If you're doing a PhD and you're from England or Wales, it's worth applying for a Postgraduate Doctoral Loan.

    These are the maximum amounts you could receive as a Doctoral Loan, depending on when your course started:

    • If your course started on or after 1st August 2020 – £26,445
    • If your course started between 1st August 2019 and 31st July 2020 – £25,700
    • If your course started between 1st August 2018 and 31st July 2019 – £25,000.
  2. Research grants (studentships)

    Research Councils are the main public investors in research in the UK, and provide funding in several different subject areas.

    To be eligible for a studentship, you'll usually need to have a 2:1 at undergraduate level but relevant work experience can sometimes make you the exception. For courses starting in autumn, we recommend searching and applying for research grants around spring.

    So, how much can you get? Students who are successful in getting a studentship will have their fees paid for them, and may also be given a living cost grant.

    Check out the UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) website for more info, as well as jobs.ac.uk which lists studentship opportunities for master's and PhD students.

  3. University funding

    university with bags of money

    When it comes to university funding for postgrad courses, the options vary hugely from one institution to the next. There is a wide choice of studentships, scholarships & bursaries (see below) or possibly fee discounts for alumni.

    Some universities even offer finances for specific courses in the form of field trip funding or help with research.

    Here are some of the most common forms of university funding for master's and doctoral students:

    Bursaries and scholarships

    Bursaries and scholarships are usually given out to high-potential students in their respective fields either via the university, learning funds or through Teaching Assistantships (which we'll explain in more detail shortly).

    Some areas, such as scientific research, have more opportunities than others, so it's important to do your own research based on the area that you want to go into. Please note that competition is high!

    Graduate Teaching Assistantships

    students at university

    Some universities offer the opportunity for graduates to teach at the same time as completing their postgraduate course to help with their costs – this is known as a Teaching Assistantship.

    The required hours for studentships differ a lot between universities – check the job description of your chosen uni for more info. The role would likely be pretty varied, possibly requiring you to teach seminars and tutorials, as well as mark essays and assignments.

    In return for the work, most students with Teaching Assistantships will receive the same type of funding as a Studentship in the form of a fee waiver and additional payments to cover living costs.

    Teaching vacancies are usually advertised on universities' websites.

    Scholarships and awards

    If you excel in your field of research, you may be offered a scholarship or award from your university or a funding body.

    The funding amount will vary, largely depending on your chosen university and field of study.

    Hardship fund

    10 pound notes

    If you're really struggling for money during your course, get in touch with the financial advisors at your uni – they'll have some money set aside to help students in financial hardship, so they may be able to help you out.

    Universities offer students money from their hardship fund on a case-by-case basis, so the funding isn't guaranteed, but it's definitely worth at least talking to them about it if you're in need of emergency cash.

  4. Charities, foundations and trusts

    There is a growing number of charities, foundations and trusts that help out students who are studying in their field of interest.

    A few examples include Funds for Women Graduates, The Royal Society and the Wellcome Trust.

    To find out about more organisations you could approach for funding, have a look online and chat with people at uni like student support services and your tutor.

  5. Employer sponsorship

    Man at work using post it notes

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    Some graduate schemes and jobs require you to do some postgraduate study, and a lot of the time, this could be funded for you with an employer sponsorship.

    This would be the perfect opportunity to further your studies and increase your employability, while receiving the funding you need to cover the costs.

    If your employer doesn't have a further-study scheme in place, you may have to put together a strong business case explaining how it would help you to do your job and add further value to the business.

    Always make sure that you fully understand the terms of any agreement, as you'll sometimes be required to pay the money back if you leave the employer within a certain period of time.

  6. Part-time jobs

    As well as applying for the other funding options in this list, you could also consider working part-time to help with living costs.

    But, bear in mind that some courses will involve more hours of study each week than others so a part-time job might not always be feasible. If you do think you could manage it, though, it would be worth it – and our tips for balancing work and study should help.

    Having a manager that's flexible and understanding also makes a very big difference.

  7. Family and savings

    Hands holding piggy bank

    Credit: Watchara Ritjan – Shutterstock

    If your family's willing and able to help fund your education, then it can really help to receive financial support from them.

    As well as this, we also recommend trying to save up a bit of cash before starting your postgraduate degree.

    One option is to take a year out, get a full-time job, and perhaps live at home for no or little rent. We know it's not ideal if you're keen to get straight into your studies, but you could save a fair amount of money by doing this, making it easier to get by when you do start your postgrad.

  8. Crowdfund your postgraduate degree

    Crowdfunding your degree is by no means easy – but it is possible.

    We've heard of plenty of students who have run successful crowdfunding campaigns, and managed to secure the funding they need to cover their postgraduate degrees.

    If all else fails, and you're really willing to devote time and energy into your campaign, crowdfunding could be a great option for you. Our guide to crowdfunding a degree has all the info you need to get started.

You might also have come across adverts for private loans aimed at students from companies such as Future Finance. However, while these loans can appear tempting, we would strongly advise that they should be treated as a last resort, after trying the other lower-risk alternatives first – like the ones in this list.

Looking to make a bit of extra money alongside your studies? Working as a private tutor could be ideal.

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