Postgraduate study

Postgraduate study includes postgraduate certificates, Masters degrees and PhD programmes. It's a popular choice among University of St Andrews students, allowing you to study a subject you enjoy in more depth, gain further skills, and enhance your career prospects.

You can find out more about postgraduate study options at St Andrews.

This page focuses on postgraduate study within the UK. Though you may be able to apply much of this advice outside the UK, there can be differences between countries. For advice on postgraduate study outside the UK, see Prospects’ postgraduate study abroad pages.



There are many benefits of postgraduate study. It can help you to:

  • stand out from other applicants when applying for jobs
  • increase your ability to make connections with others
  • learn skills and gain experiences that you did not get from undergraduate study
  • continue to explore a subject you enjoy in greater depth.

It’s important to consider whether postgraduate study is right for you. It takes a lot of time and effort, and it is likely to be much more academically challenging than undergraduate study.

If you are considering postgraduate study, you should think about whether you:

  • are passionate about the subject you intend to study
  • can use a postgraduate degree to help achieve your career goals
  • can realistically afford to complete the degree
  • enjoy an academic, university environment enough to study further
  • could do better things with the time you would need to invest in the degree.

Masters degrees

Masters degrees can let you further explore themes raised during your undergraduate degree, or let you research topics you haven't studied before. They often involve more independent research, a level of specialisation, and a greater emphasis on developing research skills. For more information, see the differences between undergraduate and postgraduate study (FindAMasters).

There are three types of Masters degree: taught, research, and professional (or vocational).

  • Taught Masters degrees include qualifications like the MA and MSc. These usually last one year and involve a large element of teaching. In addition, you will usually need to complete a dissertation of between 15,000 and 20,000 words. A small number of older universities, including St Andrews, award Masters degrees, such as the MA, at the end of undergraduate study. These are not postgraduate degrees, and are equivalent to undergraduate degrees from other universities.
  • Research Masters degrees include qualifications like the MPhil. These usually last two years and involve producing a large, supervised dissertation, usually of between 40,000 and 50,000 words. They may sometimes be awarded while you work on a PhD, or occasionally instead of a PhD.

Some Masters degrees are professional (or vocational) qualifications. For further information, see the professional qualifications page.

PhD programmes

PhD programmes involve even deeper study than Masters degrees. Unlike Masters degrees, they must add to the body of knowledge within your field. They tend to be the highest qualification you can study for.

PhDs are always research degrees and usually involve producing a large, supervised thesis, usually of about 80,000 to 100,000 words.

PhDs usually last three to four years and end with an oral examination, called a ‘viva’ (short for ‘viva voce’, Latin for ‘with living voice’). The viva usually lasts about two hours and involves an external and internal examiner discussing your thesis with you.

For more information on the way PhDs work, see what it's like to do a PhD (FindAPhD).

In addition to PhDs, there are professional doctorates. These are equivalent to PhDs, but involve more teaching and training, and might certify somebody as fit to practise in a specific field. For more information, see not just a PhD: the other types of doctorate (FindAPhD).

Entry requirements

Entry requirements for postgraduate study vary by type of degree, institution to which you apply, and your subject. You should always understand the specific entry requirements for your preferred course.

  • For Masters study, in general, you will be expected to hold at least a 2.1 undergraduate degree in a related subject.
  • For PhD study, within the Arts and Humanities, you will usually be expected to hold at least a merit in a Masters degree in a related subject. In the Sciences, it is often acceptable to begin PhD study without first studying for a Masters, providing you performed well (usually holding at least a 2.1) in your undergraduate degree.

In some cases, these requirements won't apply, like when you have relevant professional experience. If you are unsure, contact the admissions department of the institution to which you are applying.


There is no central admissions system for most postgraduate courses: you usually apply directly to the institution. Many courses do not have official closing dates, but popular courses can fill quickly, so submit your application as early as possible.

As part of your application, you will usually be asked to include the following:

  • CV (and sometimes an application form)
  • personal statement explaining your reasons for applying
  • essay on a specific topic or a sample of previous written work (not generally required in the Sciences)
  • academic transcript from your current course of study
  • two or three academic references.

Applying for a research degree

When applying for a research degree, there are some additional things you should consider:

  • Within the Arts and Humanities, you will probably need to write a research proposal, usually of between 500 and 1,000 words. For advice, see writing a research proposal (Vitae).
  • Consider potential supervisors carefully, and contact them before you apply. They will be pleased to hear from students who show a genuine interest in their research and may be able to help you find and apply for funding.
  • Speak to academics in your academic School. They may be able to suggest related areas of study and institutions specialising in your chosen field.

For further advice on applying for a research degree, see applying for a PhD (FindAPhD).


There are many ways of funding postgraduate study. There are scholarships, grants and bursaries, which usually don't need to be repaid, and loans, which usually do need to be repaid. The process of applying for funding can vary.

Sources of funding include:

  • government loans
  • research council scholarships (sometimes called ‘studentships’)
  • charities and businesses
  • university and department-specific scholarships.

Because some funding sources are unique to the institution or department to which you are applying, check with them to understand what's available.

Not every funding source will cover all the costs of your course (for example, they may only cover your tuition fees). Some sources of funding can also be extremely competitive. This may mean that you have to fund part of your studies yourself.

For advice on funding for postgraduate study, see funding postgraduate study (Prospects). For information on postgraduate funding available at the University of St Andrews, see the postgraduate scholarships page.