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Why further study?

Applying for further study

If you're interested in postgraduate study, you need to find out about the application process from the relevant institution. For training in professions such as teaching and law, applications are made through a central 'clearing house' (e.g. UCAS for teacher training). Check whether there is a closing date for applications.


If you're applying for a postgraduate degree, you're likely to be asked to nominate two referees. Remember that nominating a recognised academic in your chosen research area will carry weight.

With a vocational course such as teaching, one person will normally be an academic referee, (e.g. a personal tutor) and the other, a professional in your chosen field (e.g. the head teacher of a school where you have undertaken some work experience).

Always seek permission from those you wish to cite as referees. Brief them on your future plans so they can fine-tune their reference accordingly.

Personal statements

You will almost certainly be required to write some form of personal statement as part of your application for postgraduate study. A strong and persuasive statement needs careful preparation. Check the department's research rating and the quality of its teaching. The questions you'll need to address include:

  • Why do you wish to undertake this particular course of study or research?
  • Why have you chosen to apply to this particular institution?
  • How does this study option fit into your longer term career or life plans?
  • What is the relevance of any previous study, with the OU and elsewhere?
  • What other related experience can you cite?
  • What personal skills and qualities do you possess?

To improve your application, seek advice and feedback from either the Careers Team or a tutor.

Applying for a PhD

The most common routes for applying to do a PhD include:

  • applying for an advertised PhD with a defined project and secured funding
  • applying for a free-standing research studentship where the project has not been pre-defined
  • targeting a potential academic supervisor who specialises in your area of interest and enlisting their support to secure funding for a PhD.

Advertisements for PhD research can be found in publications such as the Times Higher Education, the Guardian on Tuesdays, the Irish Times, and specialist magazines such as New Scientist. Check out websites such as and

If the research project is as yet undefined, you may need to produce a statement outlining your areas of interest, or even to write an initial research proposal. You may also have to submit a CV as part of your application. Academic CVs may be longer than the standard two A4 pages used for non-academic CVs and would include:

  • your areas of research interest
  • research activities that you have undertaken (e.g. a dissertation)
  • any experience of teaching, supervision or training
  • attendance at conferences, seminars or events organised by relevant professional bodies
  • details of any publications or academic papers you may have contributed to.

Prospects website has more information on academic CVs.

The selection process

For many taught postgraduate courses, selection is based purely on the application form and references. Others also require an interview, either one-to-one or with a number of academic staff. Additional selection techniques may involve group discussions, written tasks and aptitude tests . Many of the same principles apply when preparing for an academic interview as for preparing for a job interview.

Last updated 4 months ago