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Graduate Study in the UK: Guide for International Students

Graduate Study in the UK: Guide for International Students main image

Despite its relatively small geographic size, the UK is a big player on the international stage, in terms of its economy, cultural influence and also its higher education system. Second only to the US in popularity as a study abroad destination, the country has a strong presence in the QS World University Rankings® 2019, with 76 UK universities featured.

For those looking to undertake graduate study in the UK, here’s an overview of application requirements, scholarships and tuition fee information.

Types of graduate study in the UK


In the UK, master’s degrees are typically categorized as either “taught” or “research” programs. Taught programs are often just one year in length, consisting of lectures, seminars, exams, assignments and dissertation work. The workload is likely to be more intensive than at undergraduate level, and students will be expected to pursue independent work, but with a significant amount of class time and supervision; this will vary by subject.

Research-based master’s degrees usually take longer, often two or three years, and require students to complete in-depth independent research within a specific field – similar to the work required for a PhD, and resulting in the production of a thesis or dissertation report. A PhD takes longer again – at least three years, but often longer. Usually a master’s degree is needed in order to apply for a PhD position, but this is not always the case.

For more information on finding a PhD in the UK, see this article.

Applying for graduate study in the UK

Lake District, UK

The Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) runs UCAS Postgraduate, through which you can apply to some but not all postgraduate courses in the UK. However, you’ll most likely be required to apply directly to your chosen university, so application processes will differ accordingly.

The easiest way to apply for graduate study at universities in the UK is usually through an online submission process, which often allows you to track the progress of your application once sent. You will usually be required to include a personal statement, along with supporting documents such as evidence of your previous qualifications and two references.

As an international student you’ll also need to submit proof of your English language proficiency if you’re not a native speaker (i.e. TOEFL/IELTS test scores) and a copy of your passport. PhD applicants may be asked to present a research proposal. Some universities may require you to attend an interview, either in person or via phone/internet, in addition to your written application.

Tuition fees and living costs


The cost of tuition fees in the UK will vary depending on whether you’re a home, EU or international student, and also which part of the UK you’d like to study in. For international students from outside of the EU, fees are typically higher than those for UK and EU students. For postgraduate qualifications, most courses cost around UK£11,000 (~US$14,560), with some specialized courses costing more.

While fees for EU students may change once the UK completes the process of leaving the EU (‘Brexit’), the government has stated that EU students enrolling in 2018 will be charged the same rates as domestic students for the full duration of their course.

You will also need to consider living expenses, including the costs of accommodation, food, travel and entertainment. Average living costs in the UK come to about £12,000 (~US$15,900) per year, but you should budget more for life in the capital. If applying for a visa, you’ll need to meet the financial requirements set by the UK Border Agency (UKBA), which currently stands at £1,015 (~US$1,340) per month if studying in the UK outside London, and £1,265 (~US$1,670) if studying in London.

For more information on how much it costs to study in the UK, click here.

UK scholarships and funding

Conwy Castle

Almost all UK universities offer opportunities to gain funding, which are worth looking into. The amount you may be eligible for depends on where and what you choose to study, as well as your current financial situation. To find out what opportunities are available, visit the website of the university you’re interested in attending, and search for information about funding for graduate study which is open to international students.

While opportunities are sometimes offered by external organizations and foreign government schemes, the majority of graduate scholarships for international students are offered by individual UK universities, the British government and via the EU (e.g. Erasmus+).

As of 2018, EU master’s students can also apply for a loan of up to £10,609 from the UK government, and this will remain the case for EU students enrolling in 2018. This hasn’t yet been confirmed for EU students enrolling in 2019. PhD students may be able to undertake paid teaching or research assistant positions within their university.

You can find a full list of scholarship opportunities and alternative funding options on the British Council’s education website. You may also want to browse our listing of scholarships to study in the UK. Due to limited opportunities, you should apply for UK scholarships as early as possible to maximize your chances of gaining funding.

Find out more about studying in the UK with our complete guide.

Meet UK grad schools in a city near you

The QS World Grad School Tour is your chance to meet representatives of leading universities and grad schools from the UK and around the world. You'll have the chance to speak with admissions directors, attend free seminars, and collect a complimentary copy of the QS Top Grad School Guide (for the first 100 attendees), as well as being eligible to apply for exclusive scholarships.

This article was originally published in January 2015. It was last updated in November 2016. 

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Laura Tucker's profile image
Written by Laura Tucker
Laura is a former staff writer for TopUniversities.com, providing advice and guidance for students on a range of topics helping them to choose where to study, get admitted and find funding and scholarships. A graduate of Queen Mary University of London, Laura also blogs about student life.

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