What Do Prospective Postgraduates Really Want to Know About Funding? Lessons From Our Study Fairs
Funding is one of the most important considerations for prospective postgraduates, which is why we run an independent funding stand at our popular study fairs. In this blog, Content Writer Sarah Hastings-Woodhouse reflects on her experience of fielding postgraduate funding questions – and what it can teach you about what your target market really wants to know.
I’d been writing student-facing content at FindAUniversity for around a year when it was time for my first stint on the funding stand at one of our in-person study fairs – and I was more than a little intimidated by the prospect.
Convinced that attendees would settle for nothing less than a human funding encyclopaedia, I prepared to quote interest rates to the decimal place and answer overly specific eligibility questions from students with dual citizenship who’d completed half a PhD abroad.
I was relieved to discover that answering postgraduate funding questions isn’t the minefield I’d expected. Providing students with the information they needed and addressing their concerns turned out to be (relatively) straightforward. So, I thought I’d share some insights on what I’ve learned so far (and, hopefully, what you can learn too!).
Most questions are very broad
Nine times out of ten, students approach the funding stand with a variation on the same question: “I’m interested in doing a Masters/ PhD. How do I get funding?”
Most often, students are simply looking for a way into the funding discussion. Perhaps this really is their first time looking into the subject, or maybe they’ve found the deluge of online information overwhelming and are looking for another person to give them a condensed rundown of their options.
I think this really speaks to the value of a face-to-face conversation as an entry point to further research. Providing students with a ‘funding 101’ and signposting them to further resources means they come away with an action plan that they can use to fill in the gaps themselves.
Expectations will vary
Students will approach the topic of postgraduate funding with very different preconceptions about what’s available, sometimes unduly pessimistic – and sometimes the opposite.
Some are pleasantly surprised to learn that there is any government funding on offer for Masters and PhD students, having assumed they’d need to finance the entire venture themselves. To these students, a £12,167 loan towards their Masters (or £28,673 towards their PhD) will sound positively lavish.
To others, these figures will sound impressive until you explain that the loan is towards tuition fees and living costs, at which point some quick mental maths will leave them visibly disappointed.
There’s no point denying that the postgraduate funding picture is more complicated than its undergraduate equivalent, and that covering the costs of a Masters or PhD is likely to require multiple sources of funding. Students can quickly be dispirited when they learn this, so it’s important to emphasise the number of additional funding sources on offer!
Drawing attention to the wealth of university scholarships, charity and trust grants and alumni discounts out there can help demonstrate that postgraduate study is accessible – but that finding funding for a Masters or PhD might take that extra bit of effort.
Honesty must be balanced with optimism
Several students harboured (usually negative) expectations due to what they’d heard on the postgraduate funding grapevine. This was particularly true of prospective PhD candidates. For example, someone might recount a story of their friend who had failed to secure a charity grant for their Ancient History PhD, leading them to the common conclusion that “there’s just no funding in the humanities”.
Situations like this require delicacy – honesty about the fact that PhD funding is extremely competitive must be balanced with assurance that opportunities do exist in every field.
It’s possible to understand that financing a PhD takes effort, and that no funding search is guaranteed to end in success, all without falling the fatalistic belief that covering the cost of doctoral study is some near-impossible feat. Informing prospective students of the many avenues available, while avoiding false promises is a tricky (but necessary) line to walk.
If you’d like to know more about what we get asked at our study fairs, we’ve recently published Funding Stand FAQs for both Masters and PhD students. We also maintain exhaustive FAQ sections in our guides to postgraduate and doctoral loans. For more ideas on putting this information into practice, check out our blog on using funding FAQs to educate your target market.
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