Making the Application Process Easier

Royal mail

Applying for a postgraduate degree seems to me to be such a frustrating process – it can take a long time to get a firm answer to your application for a place and in the meantime you remain in limbo, wondering how you can arrange your finances, accommodation, travel and so on without a definite yes. This all got me wondering about whether there is a way to speed to process up at all, so I spoke to a friend who works in an admissions team at a UK University. She gave me some really helpful hints, so I thought I would share the knowledge in the hope it can remove some of the pain of the process for others!

Her helpful hints were as follows:

  • Read the postgraduate admissions policy for any University you are considering applying for

Apparently most Universities will have this policy in place and publish it on their website. If it is not on the web then don’t be shy – contact someone and ask for it. After all, you are going to potentially spend a lot of money on your education at the place so it is only fair their admissions policy is transparent!

These sorts of documents are inevitably a chore to read, but it will enable you to be aware of every step of the process, the timescales you can expect to be involved and what the University expects from you before it can make a decision. Forewarned is forearmed as they say! Make sure you stick to the process and send the University all documentation they require in one go if possible – it makes the process so much simpler for the admissions teams, and that in turn makes it easier for them to give you a quick answer.

  • Make Sure you Know the Entry Requirements for your Chosen Course

This may sound obvious but apparently lots of people apply for a course who have clearly not read the entry requirements properly. Not only is it a waste of their own time to do so, but it slows the process down for all the other applicants. There really is no point in applying for a course if you have no chance of meeting the entry requirements. For example, many UK Universities require non-UK postgraduate students to have an IELTS English language test done and obtain a minimum score. If you don’t achieve that score then there is simply no point applying. No matter how much you argue your case, they will not accept you.

  • If you are an international student, consider applying through your chosen University’s overseas representatives.

Lots of University’s employ overseas representatives (otherwise know as agents) abroad, and international students can apply through these representatives. This is a great way of applying if you are an international student, as these people are trained to understand the University’s requirements and guide you smoothly through the process. An example of this is the University of Leeds, which has representatives in nearly 30 countries around the world. Just check out your chosen University’s website to find out if this service is offered and if so make use of it as it is certain to make the process much easier for you.

  • If you are a non-UK or European Union resident, check out the UK Border Agency website before applying

So many students apply for a place without having any understanding of the visa requirements they need to meet, and many are turned away late in the day because they have not been able to obtain a visa in time for the start of the University year. It would be such a shame to have gone through the whole application process, been offered a place and then have to turn it down because you can’t get a visa in time. The best way to combat this is by checking out the UK Border Agency website ( as soon as you start thinking about studying in the UK to find out their requirements.

The UK visa process has become more difficult and trying since the UK introduced what it calls its Points Based entry scheme, so potential students really do need to make sure they apply in good time for a visa or there is no guarantee of getting one in time for commencing your study. Be prepared to fill in lots of paperwork and have a long wait for a response. The University can offer you a provisional place without having seen a visa, but your place will only be confirmed and you will only be allowed to commence study if you can show a valid visa. You will not be able to begin your course without one, even if you have been told you will receive one imminently, so applying in good time is a must.

  • Send in All Supporting Documentation with your Application

All Universities will require documentation to support your application. This can include:

  • Degree certificate from your Undergraduate degree (must be original or a certified copy)
  • A transcript from your Undergraduate degree (i.e. an official list of all your module marks)
  • Details of other qualifications obtained e.g. A-Levels, International Baccalaureate.
  • IELTS or other English Language test certificate demonstrating you meet the minimum language requirement of the University (make sure you check what tests they will accept, you can’t just chose any you fancy because it is cheaper etc!).
  • References (usually two academic references minimum are required – it is no good sending in a reference from your Aunty Agnes who lives in Camden with her pet chichilla who you used to spend your summer holidays with!).

Include as much of this as you can with your application form. Sometimes you won’t be able to include it all initially e.g. if you have not completed your undergraduate degree then you obviously won’t have your degree certificate yet. However, the more you include at this early stage the quicker you will have an offer of a place made. If for any reason you cannot include something make sure you state clearly why on the application, and when the University can expect to receive it. This will keep the person processing your application happy as they will be aware of when to expect documentation and not have to chase it. The sooner you can get all of this information to them to sooner you will get a confirmed place. Most Universities can offer places provisionally if you cannot supply them with all documentation at once, but they will never confirm a place until you have shown them everything they require.

  • Apply Online

If the University you are applying to has an online application system then use it! It sounds simple, but applying online can massively speed up the process. For a start, you are not waiting for Royal Mail to deliver your application to the University! Many Universities much prefer online applications as it makes the whole process simpler and neater for them, hence you will receive a quicker response. Also, if you apply online you will generally be made an offer online, which again is much quicker than waiting for an offer to arrive in the mail.

  • Things to Remember

And finally, just a few simple things to remember which can only help make the process less painful:

  • Complete all relevant sections of the application form: Not only will it mean the University can give you a quicker response, but, let’s face it, it may make them think twice about offering a place to someone if they can’t complete an application form as instructed.
  • Most Universities will give you a reference or ID number when they receive your application. Make a note of it and use it in all future correspondence – you will make the admissions staff’s job much easier and get a quicker response if you do this.
  • If you are invited to interview make sure you respond to the invite, turn up in good time and suitably attired, prepare thoroughly and you will be fine.

I hope that all gives you some helpful hints and tips, and if you are applying for a postgraduate course best of luck to you!


Thanks, I think some of the points are really valid. One of the things that I have come to realise in recent years is that the process of applying is often not as transparent as it should be. Whist I agree with you in terms of checking out in detail the course requirements etc to make sure that you aren’t wasting your time, there is also a lot of networking and discussions that go on, off the record and I think this sometimes creates a bit of an unfair system. Personally I would decide on places that you want to apply for and then maybe contact the lecturer in charge of the course or the admissions office directly to ask if you can speak to them in more detail about your possible application. This is a great chance to find out if you genuinely have a chance and is also a great chance to make yourself known to the university so that when your application comes in, it stands out at least a little. Slightly cheeky I know but I’m convinced that a lot of this goes on and it does absolutely no harm at all.


I’ve noticed this too. It does seem that a lot of postgraduate students also did their undergraduate degrees at the same university so there does seem to be a link between those that are known to the staff and those that have applied from outside. I’m not sure whether this is genuinely preferring their own students or whether it’s a case of it is these students that know more about the postgraduate options and are more likely to apply for these courses.
One of the main things that seem to be important when it comes to making postgraduate applications is a genuine knowledge and desire to study at a specific university. Staff want to see that the student has done their research and has a good reason for wanting to do the specific course at that specific university. Lack of focus will not help at all. Some of these courses do have specific entry requirements which may be a reason that students who have also studied at undergraduate are more likely to have met with these requirements.
Whilst there definitely is a case of individual applications being taken on their merit it does potentially pay to go through the entry requirements and categorically tell the reader why you meet these requirements. Again universities are looking to see that you’ve done your background research and have a good reason for applying to these courses in the first place.



Your comments are of course correct but as a PhD supervisor and someone on the Masters admission board I can tell you that the approach today, whilst incorporating the areas that you quote, has become somewhat commercial. It is not just about making sure that the masters courses are full subscribed numerically but also looking at the blend of students. By this I mean that overseas students will bring more revenue and despite what the press may say that is a consideration. The area of PhD’s has the same consideration in that overseas students produce higher revenue.
The entry criteria academically applies to all but of course how this is applied and the interview processes allow for “differences of approach”.
Clearly if we as an admissions board are approached by alumini they will get faor consideration and questions as to why they wish to study at this university are rather pointless. They will know us and we will know them, but that is no guarantee of acceptance.
In all honesty commercial considerations have been tehre for some years and are now of growing importance.