There are several different ways of funding further study. Most students will use more than one. These accounts from past postgraduate students illustrate what it's really like financing a postgraduate course.

Charitable funding; Ben OLeary, PhD, University of Edinburgh

I decided that a PhD was probably the best route to take once I had completed my first degree, particularly as I would like to begin a career in academia.

As an Irish citizen, I am ineligible for funding by the British government, and the Irish government does not fund citizens outside the Republic. I was made aware of the Carnegie Trust for the Universities of Scotland by the then Postgraduate Director, Professor Norman Fancey, who has now retired, when I went to ask him about possible sources of funding. The money I receive from the Trust pays for both my fees and living costs, which is roughly the same as what I would have received from the PPARC should I have been awarded money from them.

I am about to start my third year of my PhD, which is the final year for which I will be receiving funding. I have been thinking about what I will do once I finish I would like to work as a postdoctoral student, and I suppose that I should be looking into that sooner rather than later. If, however, I am thoroughly sick of research by the time I finish my PhD, then I think that I will do a PGCE and become a secondary school teacher.

I do think that postgraduate study is worth the cost. I am earning as much as some of my friends from university who did not get graduate jobs, and I actually enjoy what I do, which is something a lot of people forget about when thinking about jobs. If you can get the money to pay for further study then I would recommend that you do take up a course.

Institutional funding: Ben Greshon, PGDip Publishing, London College of Communication

Towards the end of my undergraduate studies I realised that I needed to give my future career some shape; a degree in English qualified me for everything and nothing, so I went to the University's Careers Advisory Service to see what my options were. As a result, a postgraduate course in publishing came up as something that matched my skills and interests.

To pay for the course I used money left to me in my Grandmother's will, and also by working over the summer. As the course ran three days a week, I moved back home and commuted on Monday morning, and slept on people's floors in London Monday and Tuesday night. I also applied and received around 500 from the College's Hardship fund something I found out about from another student.

I officially ended the course mid April; I was in work mid May. I sent off my CV to a number of jobs in the Guardian on Monday, but my first job came from a recruitment agency that specialised in placing people in publishing. My second job came from contacts given to me by the College, and I've been working here ever since.

Speaking from my experience, it was worth the cost. Without a very lucky break, I would not be here now without the knowledge, skills and contacts given to me on the course. I did the course for mercenary reasons I wanted a good job and I wanted to get to it as quickly as possible. Make sure that the course you're planning on taking will lead you to where you want to be. If you're not sure of what that is, postgrad study is very expensive and hard work and will rarely help make up your mind.

Loans: Gareth Griffiths, MA in Postmodernism, Literature and Contemporary Culture at Royal Holloway, University of London

I screwed up my original degree, and knew I could do much better so I took up a postgraduate course. I funded the course through a Career Development Loan, and worked part time driving buses for the Students Union to help make ends meet.
Taking up a postgraduate course was definitely worth the cost. It changed my life because I was able to channel my interests academically in a way, for many reasons, I found impossible during my degree. And I met my wife on the course, which was a bonus.
It is important, however, that people consider, fully, the reasons why they are pursuing a postgraduate course. Remember that you are taking a real risk, and not just financially; postgraduate degrees are becoming a more common option, so you need to consider where this interest is going to take you, and where exactly you want it to take you.
But if it is your interest if you feel that this is your subject then grasp the nettle. Circumstances change, and you might not have the money or the inclination to risk such a move again. I am currently employed as a Gallery Assistant at the British Museum, and am working towards my PhD.

Part-time work: Lisa Daniels, Masters conversion course in IT, University of Wales

When considering choices for further education, all of the courses I was interested in pursuing fell into either the field of Maths or Engineering. Applied Maths seemed to be the course that left the most options open to me following completion of my first degree.

When I finished my degree, though, I still didn't have a definite idea of what job I wanted to do. When looking into further study, I found an IT conversion course. I thought that a Masters would definitely not close any doors to me in the world of graduate recruitment, and so I decided to take this route.

I didn't have to pay tuition fees for my undergraduate degree and I never took out a student loan. Instead I worked part-time in between my studies and supplemented my earnings by using money I had saved from a job I had before I went to university. Also, I was very lucky to have parents who were able to support me. As a result of this, I was able to use my overdraft facility to help pay for my Masters as well as using money from my part-time job.

I did make some enquiries about the different funding sources that might be available to me. I contacted the University funding department and also spoke to my bank, but I was disappointed to find out that I could not take out a graduate loan to fund my Masters because it was a postgraduate course, even though I had not taken out a loan for my first degree. Had I known this, I would have taken the loan out, left it untouched, and used it to fund my masters.

Despite this though, I believe that it was worth the cost. I did not have the experience to date to apply for a job in IT. As a result of me gaining experience in a new field, I could apply for and secure a job in IT audit. I did not think that I could have justified the cost to stay at university to complete a maths masters, as this is dissertation based and would not have increased my field of knowledge.

Given the cost associated with postgraduate study and the increasing amount of debt that students are leaving undergraduate courses with, the cost of staying at university must be counteracted by improvements to your chances in the job market.

Further information
Funding my further study