We use cookies to ensure that we give you the best experience on our website. You can change your cookie settings at any time. Otherwise, we'll assume you're OK to continue.

Durham University

Careers & Enterprise Centre

Applying For Courses

When do you apply?

It is important to start researching courses and funding possibilities prior to starting your final year. A useful starting point is the 'Prospects' website, which is an excellent resource in respect of postgraduate study and funding. This site, along with the 'FindAMasters' and 'FindAPhD' sites, are excellent tools with which to search for specific postgraduate courses.

Application procedures and timescales do vary between institutions so you will need to research this carefully but generally speaking there is no absolute application deadline for postgraduate study. Exceptions do exist, particularly in relation to vocational programmes such as teaching where clear deadlines are in places. Funding opportunities also have deadlines attached to them which is an important consideration irrespective of your field of study. Funding deadlines vary but typically will be in January or February. Some programmes and institutions are oversubscribed and competitive meaning that it may be necessary to apply earlier than otherwise anticipated.

How do you apply?

There is no central admissions system that covers all postgraduate courses. Most applications are made online direct to a university or college and it is up to you how many institutions you apply to. For some postgraduate study areas, including law, teaching clinical psychology, there is a central application system that you are required to use but this is the exception. The application process for postgraduate study varies between institutions but usually it is an online application form consisting of a personal statement. The statement is a critical element of the application process. It is your opportunity to outline your commitment to, and suitability for, the course in question. A CV is often a further requirement of HE institutions: the structure of the CV does not have to take a particular format in respect of an academic application but it is necessary to emphasise your academic achievements. In respect of PhD study it is normal to submit a research proposal (1000 - 2000 words) to an academic department. The purpose of this document is to outline in detail what you intend to research and how you intend to undertake the research (e.g. research methods). It is important to be able to communicate why the research topic is important and what it can contribute to the field.

Due to differences between institutions and postgraduate programmes, it is essential to contact departments directly to clarify the application procedure and establish what they want to see evidence of from potential applicants.

Academic Personal Statement

There is no set way in which to write a personal statement but it must offer a strong case in terms of your motivation for undertaking the programme and your ability to manage the course. Key elements to include:

Why do you wish to study this course or undertake this piece of research?

  • Reference to specific undergraduate modules or dissertation/project work
  • Career goals and aspirations
  • Origin of your interest in this area (purely academic or additional reasons?)
  • Reference to particular aspects of the postgraduate programme that interest you
  • Reference to research interests of academics
  • Reference to institution and department

What relevant (academic/research) skills and experience do you have?

  • Reference to specific undergraduate modules or dissertation/project work
  • Reference to broader academic skills developed in context of undergraduate study (research skills, technical skills, presentation skills, multi-disciplinary study etc)
  • Other experience e.g. volunteering, work placements, employment and extra-curricular activities (consider the relevance of this information to the programme that you are applying for).

It is important to give your personal statement a clear structure, incorporating an introduction (outlining the key elements of your statement), main body (interest in the course, relevant study and experience, career motivation, broader activities and interests) and a conclusion (drawing your argument together and reinforcing your desire to pursue this course). Demonstrating your enthusiasm for the subject along with your knowledge about the department is really important; attempt to make everything that you say relevant to your suitability for this programme.

As a very approximate guide, a personal statement should be approximately one page of A4 but this may differ depending on the course and the nature of the application: please check with individual institutions and departments. Remember that a Careers Adviser will be happy to discuss your personal statement with you (see the attached resource below).