Researching Postgrad Programmes
Choosing the right Post Graduate Course for you
Undertaking a post-graduate programme is a big investment in terms of time and money, so it's worth exploring all options before making a decision. Also, the range of post graduate options here and abroad is vast, so it takes time to consider all the options and possibilities.
The following factors come into play when selecting the option that's right for you:
- Interest - Your level of interest in the area: while cost may be a big factor, the most important thing is whether or not the programme is of interest to you. This may seem obvious but it is crucial.
- Mode(s) of study offered: if you already have a full and busy life even before you take on postgraduate study, then the mode of study you choose can make all the difference. Many educational providers offer options other than full-time study including part-time, distance or open/virtual learning environments with flexible approaches - Check this out first.
- Opportunities for Graduates: most providers will be able to provide you with a copy of their "first destination survey". This will tell you where previous graduates have gone and what they are doing.
- Supports for students and graduates: Does the provider have a career service and other supports (such as counselling, disability support, pastoral care, library, on-line access) that you can avail of during your studies?
- Cost: this time of grant cuts it is a challenging one for students considering postgraduate studies.
Eligibility Criteria - Note any academic and/or other criteria specified, for example:
- Minimum 2:1 award
- Good honours degree
- Appropriate primary degree
- Professional experience
- Evidence of interest
- Personal Statement / Letter of recommendation (especially UK)
- It is always advisable to investigate individual university /college websites for details of any research scholarships that may be available as well as for detailed descriptions of the postgraduate course, application procedures and closing dates for application.
Taught or Research Postgrad Programme?
Post graduate qualifications can be achieved through both taught and research programmes. Before you decide what you want to study, it's worth considering how you want to study for it - whether a Taught or a Research-based postgrad is the best fit for you. The decision regarding which to undertake really depends on the way you like to study.
Taught postgrad courses can be a continuation of your undergraduate studies or in an entirely new area. The duration of a course usually determines its qualification:
- A Higher Certificate is generally a 30-credit programme over six modules
- A Post -Graduate diploma is generally 60 credits
- A Master's degree requires 90 credits and results in a Master of Science (MSc) or Master of Arts (MA) qualification
Delivery - Similar to an undergraduate bachelor's degree programme, they are delivered and assessed through a series of taught modules and may include independent research in the specialised subject area.
Assessment - a taught master's may include continuous assessment and examinations. Taught masters often include a research component, possibly during the summer and in some cases in an industry setting.The final assessment for a master's degree is usually based on the submission of a dissertation, typically between 10,000–20,000 words.
Entry requirements and application deadlines - these vary from college to college. It is recommended that you aim for a 2.1 degree (although a 2.2 may be acceptable) and research your postgraduate study opportunities early in your final year to ensure you do not miss any important deadlines.
If you prefer the idea of intensive research and a more independent approach to working towards your master's degree without the constraints of attending timetabled lectures, then you may prefer to study for a research degree, usually resulting in a Master of Philosophy (M.Phil). If you opt for a research-based course, explore the available courses in your research area and the quality of the support and supervision offered. It can also be useful to contact potential employers in your research area for views on the programme’s strengths.
Duration - Research masters, (including the M.Litt) generally take 15 months to four years, depending on whether it’s full-time or part-time. The research M.Phil takes 18–36 months full-time and 36–48 months part-time.
Assessment - Research degrees are generally assessed entirely on the basis of a piece of individual research and an oral examination called a 'viva'. Qualification is achieved through the critical investigation and evaluation of an approved topic. You will also need to demonstrate an understanding of research methodologies appropriate to the chosen field. The starting point for an MPhil is a research proposal. You then work under supervision (usually by a senior academic) and carry out extensive research, using detailed research methods. You will analyse your results and publish your findings.
Entry requirements and application deadlines - Those planning to undertake a research degree should aim for a 2.1 grade in their undergraduate degree (a 2.2 may be acceptable, depending on the college). Closing dates vary from early in the academic year, right through to the summer months, depending on funding. Advice is to check the various institution websites for research masters on offer and, if you have a research proposal, make contact with a suitable department in the college where you would like to carry out your research.
Over 9,600 students engaged in full-time and part-time postgraduate research in 2014/15 across a wide range of disciplines:
If you are interested in a masters by research, reflect on what aspects of your undergraduate studies you enjoyed most and which areas you would like to study in greater depth. The main question is would like to be involved in extensive research, working on your own initiative under supervision for at least 18 months.
Progression to a Doctorate
A particular incentive for completing an M.Phil is the possibility of furthering your research studies and completing a Doctorate of Philosophy (PhD).
While taught masters largely follow a structured timetable and a series of lectures, tutorials and seminars with your peers, research students will be self-motivated to assert themselves to carry out their investigations, analyse their results and meet regularly with their supervisor.
Some masters programmes will facilitate an immediate transfer on to a PhD., which takes a minimum of three years. The topic is generally determined by your area of interest and those of your supervisor. Some PhDs are designed for the lone scholar under the direction of a single expert supervisor. There are also structured PhDs where groups of students come together for transferable skills.
It is advisable to talk to the programme director to get help with deciding which structure best suits you and your work-style.
Video: CIT School of Graduate Studies
The links below will take you to the Postgraduate Studies area of the individual college websites:
Contacting the graduate studies office in each university and college is useful in identifying the best match for you.
Other Useful Links
The principle source of information on postgraduate courses is Qualifax from this link. Other sources of information include:
- Irish Universities Association - Graduate Education area (4thlevelIreland.ie)
- Euraxess - Researchcareersireland.com
- Masterportal.eu (Europe)
- Prospects.ac.uk (UK)
- Postgrad.hobsons.com/ (UK)
- pg.studylink.co.uk (UK)
- Studylink.com (International)
- Ploteus (EU)
- Internationalgraduate.net/ (International)
Also, visit Graduate Careers Fairs, especially those specifically aimed at postgraduate study.
Applying for Postgraduate Courses
In most cases application is made directly to the University or Institute. While there is no central system in place for applying for all post-graduate programmes in the Republic of Ireland, the Postgraduate Applications Centre (PAC) hosts application pages for a limited number of higher education institutions including DCU, NUI Galway, NUI Maynooth, UCC, CIT, GMIT, WIT the 3U partnership (Greater Dublin Universities of DCU/NUI Maynooth and RCSI).
For certain programmes such as teaching, including The Postgraduate Diploma in Education (PDE) which is the required qualification for all teaching posts in secondary, community and comprehensive schools, application is through the PAC. In some cases, you will need to apply directly to the institution. Applicants to Trinity's Postgraduate diploma in education apply directly to TCD.
Funding Postgraduate Study
Opting to pursue a postgraduate qualification is a big undertaking. As well as being time-consuming and hard work, it's a major financial commitment. Help may be available through sources such as bursaries, scholarships, and Research Council grants.
The Costs - Two separate costs are involved:
- Tuition - the cost of tuition or fees you have to pay to the university or college where you plan to study
- Living costs - accommodation, food, travel and entertainment etc.
Both vary according to what you are studying and where your studies are based. Most postgraduate funding, unlike undergraduate grants and awards, must be sought competitively. This is particularly true for research-based courses.
Fees (for Irish students) range from €3,000 at the lower end of the scale to an average of around €5,000 and up to €20,000+ for some programmes. Students should estimate on needing an additional €6,000 a year (minimum) to live on.
There are many sources of funding available, but there is no guarantee that even the holder of a First class degree will actually secure an award.
|In general, postgraduate courses are fee paying. (See note below re financial assistance under the Student Grant Scheme)|
There are different sources of funding for postgraduate students. Some courses are advertised in the newspapers and include funding. Sometimes financial support is available from the university that is running the postgraduate course; sometimes you need to apply to an external body. Awards are available for a range of subjects, both for taught courses and research programmes. They vary as to amount, duration and whether they only cover fees or additiobnally include maintenance.
There are strict eligibility rules and deadlines for application. In addition, there are a large number of postgraduate students competing for limited funding.
Sources through which you can seek financial support for your graduate studies include:
- Postgraduate courses under the Graduate Skills Conversion Programme (see also Areas of Study)
- Loans - you may be able to secure some of the money required by loan arrangement, depending on the amount needed and a guaranteed credit record.
- Employers - your employer may be in a position to support your studies fiancially in exchange for a tenure agreement. For example: a contracted work period following completion of your studies, in return for fees and time invested.
- Other sources - scholarships, bursaries, grants and awards are offered by a variety of bodies to help support post-graduate students in their studies. It is advisable to contact individual colleges directly to find out what supports they may have available. Many public and private sector organisations also offer funding opportunites for particular areas of study.
- Department of Education and Skills
- Enterprise Ireland
- The Health Research Board
- Irish Research Council for Science, Engineering and Technology (IRCSET)
- Irish Research Council for the Humanities & Social Sciences (IRCHSS)
Note: Student Universal Support Ireland (SUSI), the Department of Education and Skills centralised student grant process, came into effect from in 2012. However, eligibility criteria for post-graduate fee support changed significantly:
Following budget changes, students entering postgraduate courses from year (2012/2013) are not entitled to a maintenance payment under the student grant scheme. Existing post-graduate students prior to this date are not affected.
|Detailed information on postgraduate eligibility for grant aid and other financial supports can be found at www.studentfinance.ie|
The Employment Based Postgraduate Programme provides funding for companies to employ high-calibre Researchers to work onsite with them on product, service or process innovations.
The Irish Research Council Government of Ireland Postgraduate Scholarship Scheme supports suitably qualified Research Masters and Doctoral candidates pursuing or intending to pursue full-time research in any discipline.
The Enterprise Partnership Scheme offers researchers the opportunity to gain additional beneficial experience and insight into the commercial arena while completing their research. This is an Irish Research Council initiative in partnership with private enterprise and public bodies.
Postgraduate Scholarships and Awards
Postgraduate awards are often offered as "Fees Only". This means that you will not receive any maintenance on which to live whilst studying; nor are you entitled to claim state benefits to cover the shortfall. If your postgraduate award does not include a maintenance element, you should estimate on needing an additional €6,000 a year minimum to live on.
A number of scholarships for study abroad are awarded annually by foreign governments to Irish students who are engaged in, or have completed a course of third-level education. Details of scholarships are circulated to universities and other relevant third-level institutions of education. Details of scholarships are also published on the Department of Education and Skills website. If you are interested in applying for these scholarships, you should contact the International Section of the Department of Education and Skills and ask to be placed on a mailing list for the scholarship offers. Application forms and relevant details will then be posted to you when the offers are open to receive applications.
Potential sources include the following:
The Central Remedial Clinic offers an annual scholarship for a student with a disability. The Dr. Ciaran Barry Research scholarship is reserved for a student undertaking a postgraduate degree and is open to any academic discipline. The grant covers one academic year of study. Details here.
The James M. Flaherty Scholarship Program - Scholarships will be awarded to support Canadians travelling to Ireland, and Irish travelling to Canada. Awards are made at two levels:
- Emerging Research Scholars from both countries may apply for awards to facilitate a four-week visit to the other country, to make contact with researchers working on research topics which relate to both our countries and which are open to all university disciplines.
- Established Researchers and Academics may apply for awards to enable part-time sabbatical-style leave from their academic appointments to spend up to two months as visiting professors in a university department in the other country, where they will collaborate in both research and teaching in academic areas which relate to both countries. Details here.
|Maynooth University||John and Pat Hume Doctoral Awards scheme - offers a number of scholarships for PhD research across all disciplines at Maynooth University.||Fees support plus €4,000 per year for 4 years|
Alumni scholarships for Maynooth graduates to do taught master’s courses at Maynooth University.
60 scholarships worth €2,000 for all graduates.
Offers 100 postgraduate scholarships for those with a first-class honours primary degree, who have been accepted onto a full-time taught master’s programme.
A number of other course-specific scholarships are also available for high-achieving students. See NUIG Funding and Research Opportunities
Variety of studentships and fellowships available for research students across all disciplines. Some 40 of these are funded by private donations, bequests and bursaries. There is no funding for taught postgraduate courses.
Ranging from €63 to €16,000+ a year.
Several school-specific and course-specific scholarships are available at UCC. Some cover course fees, e.g. the “Excellence” fees scholarships for applicants who intend starting a taught master’s or a one-year research master’s (MRes) in the College of Arts, Celtic Studies and Social Sciences. Details here.
Scholarships, bursaries and awards for top-performing prospective and current postgraduate students including Caroline Walsh Bursary in Creative Writing
Michael Smurfit Graduate Business School - Aspire Scholarship Programme. Offers three MBA and nine MSc scholarships for those who could not otherwise afford to study at the school.
UCD School of English, Drama and Film Scoil an Bhéarla, na Drámaíochta agus na Scannánaíochta UCD - Maeve Binchy Travel Award commemorates Maeve Binchy, her love of travel and her world-celebrated creative writing. The Award, worth €4,000, is open to a student (undergraduate or postgraduate) currently enrolled in UCD’s College of Arts & Celtic Studies. The successful student will use the Award to fund a travel opportunity that will enhance her/his creative writing.
A number of course-specific scholarships for taught postgraduate programmes, such as those offered by the Kemmy Business School.
PhD scholarships in science and engineering.
|Up to€23,500 a year for four years|
|Queens University Belfast||QUB offers a wide range of annual university studentships for both taught and research programmes, which cover the full payment of tuition fees and include a maintenance allowance.
Queen’s also offers a number of other annual scholarships ranging from €650 to €5,000, and links to further external funding sources.
|€650 to €5,000|
|University of Ulster||Funding is available for both taught and research postgraduate study through studentships and scholarships, such as the Barnett Pharmaceutical Sciences Scholarship worth €10,000 for students on the MSc in Pharmaceutical Sciences programme.||€10,000|
|Cross Border||North/South Postgraduate scholarships is a cross-Border scheme offering four scholarships worth €15,000 to high-achieving students from the Republic of Ireland or Northern Ireland who have been accepted on a recognised master’s degree or are entering the first year of a PhD at a university that is not in the same jurisdiction as the institution where they previously studied.||€15,000|
Universities Ireland will offer four “history bursaries” worth €6,500 to students undertaking post-graduate study on a topic relating to the 1912-1923 period in Ireland, the decade of the first World War and the division of the island into the states of Ireland (Irish Free State) and Northern Ireland.
|USA||The Fulbright Irish Student Awards are for Irish students and scholars to undertake postgraduate study and research at recognised colleges and academic institutions in the US. The student grant – the value of which varies depending on a number of factors – is only available for one year but students may remain in the US for the full duration of master’s and PhD programmes.|
|London||Sotheby’s Institute of Art London,, which offers courses to those who want to move into the art business, offers scholarships to applicants of all nationalities for certain MA courses and provides funding based on the income of its students. See|
|Germany||The German Government Awards scheme offers one-year grants for graduate students in any discipline who want to study at a German institution. The value is €750 per month plus an initial extra payment and a lump sum towards travel.||€750 per month plus extras|
Further information on Postgraduate funding, eligibility for grant aid and other financial supports can be found here:
Postgraduate Study Abroad
It is worth noting that there are many opportunities to undertake post-graduate and doctoral courses abroad. Those proving most popular are where the universitites are hungriest for native English speakers, for example: the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, Denmark and Germany.
In Denmark and Sweden you will have no fees to pay and in some countries where there are fees very often you can apply to the government for financial assistance.
There are also approximately 1,700 institutions open to students who wish to study in the US. In order to apply for courses and funding in the States you need to network and be proactive as possible. Many lectures and professors in Irish universities may have spent time in the US and therefore know people you can help you. It is recommended to start an application process to the US at least 18 months in advance.
You should also visit Graduate Career Fairs, particularly those aimed at postgraduate study.
You should be aware that applying to study abroad can be time consuming. It requires a lot of preparation and you will need to begin the process at least 18 months before the date you intent to start your postgrad programme.
Closing dates for application will typically fall early in the final year of your undergraduate programme, around October. Closing dates for colleges in the US are in December.
Factors to consider:
- Subject choice
- Entry requirements
- Reputation of institution
- Reputation of course supervisor
- Personal preference
- Potential funding sources
See also: Funding for postgraduate study
Some tips for researching your options, if you are thinking of postgraduate study abroad.
- Do your research carefully. The internet is a great place to start, but not the only source of information available.
- Try to find someone in your university of choice with knowledge of the course. This might be a tutor, careers adviser or former student. Initiate e-mail contact.
- Where possible, visit the institutions whose courses appeal to you. It will help you to get a feel for the university, the department and the course, and you may well have an opportunity to meet staff and current students.
- Investigate the career destinations of graduates from any course you are interested in, to see where it might take you.
- Check if you need relevant work experience before starting your course. It may be a vital supplement to your study in order to gain new experience and contextualise what you have learnt. Thinking ahead will broaden your options and avoid a last minute panic!
- Find out how the institution supports part time students. Part time study can be a great way of combining learning and work, and may help you to offset some of the costs of further study.
- Research the employment areas you are interested in. You may find that the course doesn't necessarily increase your attractiveness to an employer. For example, they may not differentiate between candidates who apply with a first degree or with a masters.
- Remember that further study is unlikely to buy you much more time to consider your options. One year courses in particular can be very pressurised. Students often have to begin applying for jobs in the autumn term, when they are still settling in!
Don’t assume that any course of study will make you the ideal candidate for a job or career. You will have to show employers what you have learnt and how it is relevant to their needs.
Sources of information for study abroad include: