Researching British Universities

Selecting and Connecting with Degree Programs

Narrowing the field among the more than 100 universities in England, Scotland, Wales, and Ireland may seem overwhelming. Excellent electronic resources, listed below, will help you get started. Start there, and then go to the most current information about particular programs of interest to you. The Marshall Scholarship site has links to every UK institution of higher education.  Personal contacts are invaluable resources, so start talking early on to faculty, research supervisors, and others who know you, your work, and your academic interests.

Resources from Official Sources

UK Graduate Careers and Study

Use Postgrad Study in the navigation bar to search this data base of all taught and research courses at UK universities by type of degree course, subject, key words, and/or institution. Brief descriptions include helpful details such as number of students admitted annually, and teaching methods. Site also includes information for international students.

The British Council's  Education site
Use Course Browse to search by subject ,or Advanced Search for more specialized inquiries.


Searches all UK institutions.  Fewer options for narrowing down a search, but has a very broad reach.

Providers of Higher Education in Ireland

Especially useful for Mitchell Scholarship applicants, as UK sites do not include the Irish Republic.  The US-Ireland Alliance site also has Irish university information 

League Tables

Published in the popular press, but not exactly the equivalent of U.S. News and World Report, these ratings are based on  measures that include entry standards, student: faculty ratios, library and facilities expenditure, completion rates, and salaries two years out.  These sources emphasize undergraduate programs and do not separate out the information on graduate courses, but they can provide some interesting insights. 

The Times Higher Education Guide

The Guardian Research Assessment Guide
The Guardian's interpretation of the Research Assessment Exercise, carried out periodically to assess the quality of research in selected fields at UK universities. This guide includes interactive tables that you may sort on various indicators, depending on your priorities. As with all such systems, the numbers don't tell the whole story-- for one thing, they represent whole fields and not necessarily the sub-specialty of interest to you.  Use these data judiciously, and rely more heavily on the detailed information on university websites.

Marshall Scholarship Course Search Page
If you are considering applying for a Marshall Scholarship, you can use this tool to find UK courses and to see which ones are hosted by Marshall partner universities.

Personal Contacts

Often the most useful resource of all!  Ask faculty in your field of interest what they know about leading departments and scholars in their subject in the UK and Ireland, and whether anyone in their professional network can help you in your exploration of degree courses.

If you are applying for a research degree program, do a literature search on your topic to find the specialists in Britain. Use the internet to see what their research centers, labs, and departments are doing currently. Contact the scholar directly, describing your background and your proposed project for graduate research, to inquire about the possibility of working under his or her supervision.  Financial support for non-Commonwealth overseas students is very limited, but there are some sources other than the prestigious fellowships described on this site.  Some of the internet resources above have links to information about funding.

Degrees and other terminology

British degree nomenclature can be confusing for Americans. Different universities may use different terminology for comparable degrees.  The important distinction among masters degrees,  the most likely level for your post-Pomona study in the UK, is between taught and research degrees. Taught masters programs usually have a thesis component as well as or in place of exams during the last third of the course, but the research may grow out of coursework and is usually limited to a 10-20,000-word dissertation. You do not need to have a thesis topic in mind when applying to a taught program; whereas for a research degree you must have a very clear idea of your topic, as you will be working independently under a supervisor from the start, with little or no classroom work. You may also want to determine whether a particular taught degree (diploma or masters) can count toward a research degree (masters or doctorate)—some do and some don't. You also need to be sure of the duration of the particular  program.  A "one year" program can last for 9, 10, 11, or 12 months.

Because of the differences in educational systems, you may want to consider a second bachelor's degree. In years past many Rhodes and Marshall Scholarship recipients studied at this level. Recently, however, a masters degree has become the usual choice, unless you are switching to a different field. Review the requirements and seek advice if in doubt.

Diplomas and Certificates are usually 9 month programs consisting of the taught components of a master's degree, without dissertation.

Taught Masters degrees, depending on the university and subject, may be:

  • One year MA, MPhil, MSc, or Mlitt
  • Two year MPhil or BPhil
  • Professional degrees such as MBA, LLM, MFA, MMus

Research Masters degrees, depending on the university and subject, may be:

  • One year MA, MPhil, MSc, Mres
  • Two year MPhil, MSc, Mlitt
  • And others

Doctorate Degrees are usually 3+ years, and may be PhD or DPhil.  If you are interested in doctoral studies in the UK, find out if the masters degree you are considering can serve as a transition into the more advanced level of work.

You'll find other differences in terminology, including: Faculty (we'd say Division, School or sometimes Department, e.g. Faculty of History = History Department, Faculty of Arts may include subjects we would term Humanities); Academic Staff (the people we call faculty); Course (a whole program of study leading to a degree or diploma); Module (a class, e.g. ID1); Tutorial (independent study or group independent study); Revising (reviewing, as in “We stayed up all night revising for our exam”). You'll catch on as you read each university's prospectus (catalog with general information about degree courses) and see unfamiliar terms used in context.