Educate Your Target Market Using Our Most Frequently Asked Funding Questions
We know that financing a Masters or PhD is one of the biggest barriers to postgraduate education. So, we asked our Content Manager (Student), Ben Taylor, to reflect on his time manning our ever-popular independent funding stand during our physical fairs and share some advice on what students really want to know.
Whether potential students are looking to start straight from an undergraduate degree, have had a couple of years out of higher education or are returning after a long career, there’s a lot for them to consider (and worry about) when it comes to finance.
Having worked at FindAUniversity for around four and half years, I’ve attended many study fairs and spoken to prospective postgrads from all kinds of backgrounds and stages, yet there are a couple of questions we always get asked.
“I’m interested in doing a Masters/PhD…how do I fund it?”
It really is as broad as that. It doesn’t matter that there’s information online or that they’ve been to a talk, they want to know that they’ve understood what they’ve read (or heard) correctly and that it 100% applies to them.
I think there’s a genuine benefit in being able to get face-to-face information on relatively dry topics (like repayment thresholds, interest rates and eligibility). There could be value for your university to hold ‘drop-in’ clinics on postgraduate finance to engage students who are curious about how Masters and PhD funding works.
“Is postgraduate student finance the same as undergrad?”
This one’s particularly common from current undergraduate students, who aren’t always aware of the differences between the two finance systems (the lack of a separate maintenance element for most students comes as a bit of a shock).
It can lead to the follow-up question of “… is that it?” There is compelling evidence that the introduction of postgrad loans has helped increase postgraduate applications, but the differences between the student finance systems can lead to doubts on how students can make up the shortfall between the loan and their tuition fees/living costs. Increasing the exposure of your alumni discounts, scholarships and helpful charities/trusts could go a long way to alleviating some of these anxieties.
On the other hand, the fact that postgrad loans aren’t means-tested (Wales aside!) is usually a pleasant surprise – particularly for mature students who may be considering juggling their career with a postgrad qualification. So, it’s worth thinking about the different postgrad personas and tailoring your messaging for specific markets.
“How did you do it?”
We always make sure to bring our own story to the discussion. Funding can seem complicated, but it makes a lot more sense to people if you walk them through an experience they can relate to. It also gives them the confidence that they can actually achieve it. It seems an obvious statement but funding is something that I don’t hear a lot of the student voice in. Make sure you’re using students in your marketing who can talk about how they financed their studies, and try and get people from different backgrounds. A day in the life of financing a Masters in English is very different from a MRes in Medicine, which is even more different from a self-funded PhD in Political Science.
My own experience is somewhat bittersweet, as I was lucky enough to self-fund a Masters in the Netherlands in 2016-17, just after the Brexit referendum – and while UK students could still access domestic tuition fee rates in the EU. Although it was a long time ago now, I do remember that my university had a central webpage that clearly explained how Dutch tuition fees work, and exactly who is eligible for cheaper fees. If your university doesn’t have a page that explains fee eligibility, it might be a good idea to put one together to give clarity for international students.
“Where do I even start with PhD funding?”
Several of our events are PhD-focused, and it’s interesting to see how many attendees are looking for a basic ‘101’ intro to PhD funding. It’s not surprising, either. Explaining how to apply for a PhD at an AHRC DTP funded by UKRI can start to sound like alphabet soup (or a really dull rap) but students find it really valuable when we walk them through the process and explain how it works. A university that does a good job of explaining how to get started with this could be the university students are more likely to get started at.
“What funding is available for international students?”
Following on from the above, the expansion of UKRI PhD funding to international students has been a game changer for international recruitment, but they don’t seem to know about it! It’s great to be able to tell them at the stand but universities could easily plug this knowledge gap, which in turn might benefit your institution if you’re the main one shouting about it!
At Masters level, the picture is more complicated. Chevening, GREAT and university scholarships are always mentioned, but perhaps collaborating on a campaign with providers that targets specific regions or is in their native language could help build a mutually beneficial relationship.
“Can I get funding for a Masters if I’ve previously studied half a postgraduate programme overseas whilst working as a professional chef with no fixed address…”
OK. Nobody has ever asked this. But we do get some pretty esoteric questions about pretty specific circumstances. The good news is that you can almost always untangle these and provide an answer. In fact, that’s what the extensive FAQs within our student finance guides do.
Rounding things up…
It was great to be able to return to speaking to students face-to-face at our Postgrad LIVE events in March 2022. Although some things in the finance world had changed, many of the questions were remarkably similar to those I was asked back in 2020. There’s clearly still work to be done educating students on the challenges and possibilities of postgrad funding.
We have a lot of great content on FindAMasters.com and FindAPhD.com that everyone is welcome to link to, but hopefully this has given you some ideas of how you can plug a knowledge gap and shine a light on just how affordable postgrad studies can be.
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