For some of you, it may be the next step immediately after completing their undergraduate qualification. For others, like me, it could be something you undertake several years later after working in industry. After choosing to tackle the prospects and challenges of postgraduate study, the next step is trying to figure out how to fund it. Although initially daunting, this post will help to give you an overall summary of funding options.
One of the first things to note is that the cost of a Master’s degree may be lower than you imagine. While funding can perhaps be a little more intricate than that of an undergraduate degree, there are several routes you can explore to lessen the financial burden.
The latest figures from gov.uk show that you can receive the following amounts for Master’s loans (for courses starting on or after 1st August 2020):
England – up to £11,222
Scotland – up to £10,000
Wales – up to £17,489
Northern Ireland – up to £5,500
It’s worth noting that these amounts are not based on your income of your family’s. These loans are paid directly to you and can be used to cover course fees and associated living costs. If your course lasts longer than a year, the loan will be divided equally across each year that you study. Further details on this can be found at gov.uk/masters-loan
There are several other routes that you can explore to help you financially. If, like me, you choose to study at the same institution where you did your undergraduate degree, you may be offered an alumni scholarship. These differ from institution to institution but can be a useful incentive. Some institutions also provide part-time bursaries which can help to lighten the financial load. I was fortunate enough to be offered both of these while studying for my Master’s degree and it was a huge help. Even though I was working a full-time job, lowering my tuition fees meant that some of the pressure was taken off me and that it would take me considerably less time to clear my debts.
Many universities are eager to encourage and attract strong applicants to their postgraduate courses and often have several scholarships available. A quick search of most universities’ websites will show that scholarships are available. Although these are usually for doctorate-level study, universities do offer these for Master’s degrees. It is worth bearing in mind is that these are typically highly competitive and only offered on a very limited basis.
Like my last point, another route that’s worth exploring is research council funding. These are similar university-funded postgraduate scholarships. Much like university-funded scholarships, these are primarily for PhD candidates, but they do offer Master’s funding in certain fields. Funding usually covers your course fees and the maintenance grant that comes with it is usually tax free. Research council funding is also highly competitive and will often cater to specific academic areas that are in high demand.
Charitable trusts and societies are also another option to explore. While these don’t usually cover larger amounts they are, nonetheless, very useful. It is not unheard of that you can combine more than one of these to help cover tuition fees. It may be worthwhile exploring charities that align closely with your field of academic study.
The last areas that I’d like to focus on are sponsorship and crowdfunding. Certain employers may be willing to fund (or at least part-fund) your postgraduate studies. The benefits, skills and qualifications that you can gain from a Master’s degree could directly align with your employer’s goals and be mutually beneficial. If your area of study relates closely to the role you’re already in, it may be worthwhile speaking to your employer about this. A newer and less traditional way of funding your postgraduate studies is crowdfunding. This entails asking others for small donations to help with the cost of your studies. While this can be effective, the level of preparation can be difficult and funding is not always guaranteed. While anyone can technically set up a funding campaign it is worth bearing in mind that this takes a great deal of commitment and that your studies/proposals must be attractive to others to secure buy-in.
While this is by no means an exhaustive list of funding that is available, hopefully it helps to provide a useful overview. In my case, I worked for several years in industry before going back to study for a Master’s degree. The benefit of this is that I’d already managed to save some money beforehand. The added bonus on an alumni scholarship (coupled with a part-time bursary) meant that I was financially able to study for a part-time Master’s degree. I know this may not be the case for everyone but there are always options and avenues that can be explored; dig deep and you may be surprised with what is available to help you.