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Choosing postgraduate study

Postgraduate study, both research and taught, is a popular choice for Exeter graduates. Of those Exeter undergraduate students graduating in 2018, around 22% continued into some form of further level study.

Whether you are considering further study at Exeter, in the UK, or abroad you will need to choose your route with care and make sure that the course/ programme both fits with your interests and also your longer-term career plans. This section of the website provides you with useful information and links to help you research postgraduate study further.

Why continue onto further study?

Students choose postgraduate level study for a wide-variety of reasons:

  • A pure interest in learning and enjoyment of your first degree subject
  • To specialise even more and become ‘the expert’ on a particular topic
  • For a fresh academic perspective and a new area of interest
  • In order to achieve a professional qualification needed to pursue your chosen career (e.g. law, teaching, social work, librarianship or clinical psychology)
  • To work on special projects, perhaps overseas, with academic and industry experts both within and outside the university
  • To develop your research, analytical, problem-solving and communication skills even further
  • To impress employers in industry sectors where postgraduate study is firmly recognized and expected
  • To complement relevant work experience you may have already gained i.e. ‘putting theory into the practice’
  • To make yourself more marketable, employable and perhaps to command a higher salary in some very competitive sectors

There is however a lot to think about when considering further study, including the subject, length of study period, location, reputation of the university and the course (e.g. with employers), links with industry, future career prospects, on-course training and development, access to appropriate facilities (e.g. laboratory equipment), funding etc.

Masters or PhD?

Most undergraduate students’ next step will be a master programme (MA, MSc or MRes for example) and those who have completed a masters can then go on to study a PhD. Whether you are considering taking a 1-year taught masters degree or a 3-year research degree (doctorate), you will often study with leading experts, with those who create the knowledge, and write the books and the journal articles that you read for your first degree. Many courses / programmes will have links with industry, whilst others will be purely academic. It is important to do your research and choose the course that is right for you.

Many taught postgraduate programmes (at Exeter and other universities) are Masters degrees, for example postgraduate certificates and diplomas, MA, MSc, or MBA. These normally combine advanced level tuition with the completion of a dissertation under the guidance of an individual member of staff. You will often have a choice of modules so that you can tailor your programme to your own interests. 

Find a Masters and offer comprehensive databases of postgraduate Masters courses, featuring a wide range of Master’s degree programmes from universities in the UK and across the globe.

Research is the key to innovation. It advances understanding, insight and human enrichment. It underpins every advance in science, education, health and welfare. Every new product, service, process and application depends on it (Vitae website, 2011). Research degrees (e.g. PhD, professional doctorates) involve carrying out an independent in-depth piece of research on a particular topic.

  • See an example of the types of research degrees available at Exeter.
  • is a guide to current postgraduate research and PhD studentships. It lists details of research programmes from universities throughout the UK, Europe and further afield. We offer many excellent courses here at the University of Exeter.


Vitae is the UK organisation championing the personal, professional and career development of doctoral researchers and research staff in higher education institutions and research institutes.

The section of their website on Researcher Careers will be of interest to those considering a PhD as part of a clear career plan. You can read case studies; explore career options; find out more about what researchers do; and look at example CVs. 

You will need to consider how you will fund your further study: student loan, bursaries, competitive scholarships (from research councils and other research organisations, universities, or trusts), personal income etc.
For information on postgraduate funding including student loans, there are a range of sources: 

Applying for funding and scholarships takes time and you need be prepared; talk to your tutors sooner rather than later if further study is of interest to you. More information can be found on the University Funding webpages, particularly the University of Exeter funding database; a one-stop-shop for all Exeter funding awards. 

For more information on reasons to continue onto further study (taught programmes and research degrees) visit the Prospects website, or the Target Postgraduate site.

UCAS have recently released a new app, called Myriad, promoted as being "a single postgraduate gateway under the trusted UCAS brand".

Also, we would strongly encourage you to talk to academics, postgraduates and personal tutors in your discipline, to understand fully their motivations for pursuing postgraduate level study and the possible career options such study might present. Also, why not research the organisation/ sector you may want to work for eventually and see if they require a postgraduate degree.

If you are considering a PhD, contact the academic whom you wish to supervise your PhD or at least the 'academic director of research' in the department/institution that you wish to study at. Disciplines will vary in their requirements and there may also be differences if you are applying for an advertised studentship or making a research proposal. 

The Vitae website has an online suite of over 150 researcher career stories providing an insight about life as a researcher and the different career paths which researchers take. The stories cover a broad range of disciplines and backgrounds.

When you are ready to apply for postgraduate courses, you will need to think carefully about the application process and timescales. For taught courses, you will need to write a personal statement, and for research courses, a research proposal, as part of the application. See our Help with Applying for Postgraduate Study page for more information.

Need more advice about choosing postgraduate study?

Our Careers Consultants are happy to discuss your options and your application with you. Before getting in touch with the Career Zone, please make sure to:

  • Consider what type of course might be suitable for you by using the above links and reading up / researching the various options – please do some homework so that your consultation will be more informed resulting in a better outcome for you
  • Bring any information you may already have about specific courses / programmes you are interested in