PhD, Masters and other postgraduate funding: Self-funding

Many masters level postgraduate students in the UK are described as self-funded ie using pre-existing funds, using funds awarded by charities, working whilst studying, or using funds provided by family means. Many find that their funding comes from a combination of these, and this is sometimes described as 'portfolio funding'.

In contrast, a much higher proportion of postgraduate research students are at least partially funded, and universities and other HEIs recognise that the three-to-four year commitment by a student can often not be made without supporting funding.

Some universities, even for a one-year masters course, will require students to show that they have the funds in place to complete the course, or have access to the funds, before starting to study. This can include money set aside for living costs as well as for the fees.

If you are a self-funded student intending to study for a PhD, you may still be required to work on a predefined research project. If you have a particular project in mind you will need to find a department that will supervise you, and they will need to satisfy themselves that the project you have in mind can develop into a doctoral level thesis.

However, if you have your own funds, this should not stop you applying for funded positions if the project attracts you. Some departments will advertise a number of project opportunities throughout the year for which they do not have funding to offer the student, specifically to attract self-funded students.

If you intend to fund yourself through your PhD studies, you may also be considering studying part-time: it is important to recognise the commitment you are making in both money and time and to decide before you start whether you are able to make and sustain that commitment over a long period. Otherwise you risk paying for a number of years part time and then withdrawing from your studies: you will not receive a refund on fees for non-completion of a doctorate. There are many part time PhD students but there is some evidence that self-funded part-time students are less likely to complete their PhDs: if you are interested in studying part-time and confident you have the funds to complete this course of study, you may wish to ask the Department where you are considering studying what support they offer to part-time postgraduates, and what the average length of time for completion is for part-time doctoral students.

You can start looking now for Masters funding and PhD funding.

Try this: If you browse to your subject area, you can filter the results to show the charity funding only, and then browse through those to see which funding you could be eligible to apply for.

You may also find our information page on postgraduate loan providers helpful.