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Imperial College London - Postgraduate Admissions Talk

It was a pleasure to host Imperial College London this week in our series of Postgraduate Admissions Talks by some of the UK’s top universities. Lawrence Barnard, an International Officer at the university, gave a very informative presentation followed by a Q and A session.

A Multicultural Community in an International City

Imperial College, commonly referred to as simply ‘Imperial’, consistently ranks in the top ten universities in the world and is understandably proud of its worldwide reputation. Founded in 1907, Imperial is a ‘medium-sized’ university in the UK, with just over 19,000 students, approximately 9,000 being postgraduates. Almost 60% of the students come from outside the UK, with academic staff also from a wide range of different countries, creating a very multicultural atmosphere on campus.

Located in the heart of London, Imperial is also surrounded by an international city which needs no introduction, with many nearby iconic places to visit. The main campus in South Kensington is next to the Royal Albert Hall (where the Imperial student graduation ceremony is normally held), with Hyde Park, the Natural History Museum and Science Museum all close by. There are other specialist medical campuses around London, and the Imperial White City Incubator is a hub for innovation and entrepreneurship, providing office, laboratory space and support for early-stage companies focused on science and technology.

Innovation, STEM and Business

What makes Imperial stand out especially is its innovative nature and focus on STEM subjects and Business. Imperial’s specialisations are sciences, engineering, business, and medicine and medical studies. Indeed, these are the only areas which Imperial offers. Imperial may be a specialist university, but whilst Imperial specialises in these subject areas, there are also significant crossovers in terms of both research and courses. For example, the intersection of business with technology, or engineering with life sciences, or science and its practical applications are important motors for innovation.

What this means is that the university is a very innovative place if you are looking to start a business doing some kind of pioneering research, this atmosphere of ‘STEM meets business’ being a very noticeable characteristic of Imperial. Consequently, Imperial also ranks as the most innovative university in the UK based on the number of patents that are filed and the number of student start-ups it hatches. Imperial has a strong culture of entrepreneurship, bringing together students across different areas and thus encouraging collaboration between the sciences, engineering and business.

Faculties, Departments & the Imperial College Business School

The Faculty of Engineering

Composed of 10 departments this Faculty offers Master’s courses in a variety of specialisations, ranging from aeronautics and bioengineering to materials and mechanical engineering. Within these departments are some very specialised Master’s courses. In the Civil and Environmental Engineering Department, for example, there is an Earthquake Engineering Master’s course. Others are more general. Also worthy of mention is the popular Innovation Design Engineering course which is run in partnership with the Royal College of Art, looking for people who are engineers with an artistic flair.

The Faculty of Natural Sciences

Here you will find the ‘traditional’ science departments that you’d expect to find, such as chemistry, life sciences, biology, biochemistry, maths and physics, and also the Centre for Environmental Policy.

The Faculty of Medicine

This Faculty is composed of a number of specialist departments, with people coming from a range of different scientific backgrounds, including statisticians and mathematicians.

Generally across the STEM subject areas there are many opportunities at PhD level and Master’s.

Imperial College Business School

As well as master’s courses covering a wide range of specialisations (generally taught MSc) the Business School also offers an MBA and a more limited number of PhD opportunities than the STEM departments at Imperial.

The Global Challenge Institutes

The Six Global Challenge Institutes are centres for research looking at some of the world’s biggest problems. Here there are Institutes, often working in partnership with other universities, which look at data science, climate change, energy futures etc. They also offer Master’s courses and PhD research opportunities.

The PhD Training Centres

The ‘Centres for Doctoral Training’ (CDTs) offer fully funded four year training programmes, usually following a 1 + 3 model of Master’s course plus PhD. The Master’s course would be an MRes, followed by 3 years or so for the PhD.

Doctoral Training Partnerships (DTPs) are integrated professional development programmes in an interdisciplinary training environment, and are funded by other government research councils, including the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC).

Both CDTs and DTPs will focus on a specific area of research which you would apply for.

Types of Master’s courses

The MSc (Master of Science) is a taught master’s with mandatory and optional modules, and a project to work on over the summer. This is a full 12 month’s course.

The MRes (Master of Research) will have a couple of taught modules but the focus is very much on research, so you will have a specific research project with more independent learning and specialisation. This is great preparation for doing a PhD in the future, if this is your plan.

Master’s courses in some departments tend to be more MRes orientated (chemistry) whilst some are more often MSc (engineering).

The Business School MBA is very specific.

Online / distance learning & on campus

In ‘normal’ times the vast majority of courses at Imperial are in person on campus, though there are a few instances where distance learning is a possibility.

Main advice!

As with all top universities, the take-away piece of advice here is to do your in-depth research first if you want to apply to do your research at a top university! Focus in on your preferred area of specialisation in order to find the best fit for you out of all the available alternatives.

Entrance requirements

As with all top universities, Imperial is looking for graduates with a good first degree (1st or 2.1 – UK standard or equivalent). Depending on the programme / course you are applying for this may or may not need to be in a specific area. If your degree doesn’t quite match or you are not sure, get in touch with the recruitment team (or Lawrence!) at Imperial.

You can generally apply for up to two Master’s courses, indicating first and second choices. There are no set deadlines for applications, but courses will close once they are filled. Apply early rather than later to avoid disappointment! Applications usually open around November, with popular courses being very quickly filled.

To apply for PhD programmes do your research, see who might be able to supervise you, take a close look at what is available via the CDTs and DTPs mentioned earlier.

The Business School may ask for extra entry requirements (GRE / GMAT for example). Check the website to see if there are any special requirements.

To satisfy English language requirements where your first degree was not taken in an English language environment, IELTS, TOEFL, Cambridge Advanced Proficiency and a wide range of other qualifications are accepted. There is a full list online. For quite a lot of postgraduate course an IELTS score of 8 is required.


Also remember that there are often deadlines for applying for scholarships. See the Imperial website, especially the scholarship search tool, for further information about what is available, when and how to apply.

The Enterprise Lab

Once you are at Imperial the innovation opportunities that the university is so well-known for is ready for you from the first day you step foot on the campus. Whether you will be at Imperial for a one year Master’s or a four year PhD, the Enterprise Lab is dedicated to inspiring, educating and nurturing the next generation of student entrepreneurs, whether you are an engineer with a product to get to market or someone with business skills looking for an engineer with a product to sell.

The Venture Catalyst Challenge is a flagship programme of 7 weeks of masterclasses on how to turn an innovative idea into a tangible product in which teams then pitch for a share of £80,000 in funding to help get their idea off the ground. In 2019, for example, ‘VUI Diagnostics’ won £30,000 to develop a novel plug-and-play retinal imaging tool that connects to smartphones or laptops via Bluetooth. There are other categories for £10,000 prizes, such as finance and fintech, medical devices, sustainability etc.

Other Support for Postgraduates

As a postgraduate you will be eligible for a lot of support in terms of terms of preparing you for whatever you want to do, whether you are a Master’s student wanting to progress to a PhD the following year or a PhD wanting to get involved in teaching. You may want to develop professional skills to better prepare you for the world of work. Whatever it is you are part of the graduate school as soon as you are enrolled at Imperial and eligible for the wide range of support available.


London is the capital of the UK and Imperial is situated in the heart of the City. As such it can be an expensive place to live. However, as mentioned, scholarships are available (generally more for PhD level than Master’s) so check the website. Also remember that fees are different for different courses. All up to date fee information is available on the website.

Whilst it is difficult to calculate exactly how much living expenses will for individuals with different lifestyles and tastes, around £15,000 should be enough to cover accommodation, living expenses and travel for a year.

Accommodation and Social Life

There is some purpose-built postgraduate accommodation not far from the campus in West London, and the College also has a lot of support available to help you find private accommodation if required.

Career Prospects

The Careers Service has a huge range of things going on (both on and offline), having strong links with companies keen to recruit Imperial students. Starting salaries are good and there are opportunities with top employers all around the world.

Ongoing Support for Alumni

Even after you leave Imperial (for up to 3 years) you will still be able to access many of the support services, such as the Careers Service and the Enterprise Lab.


What are the important factors that Admissions will be looking at in order to make their decisions?

This is easier to answer with respect to the Master’s courses. First of course is your academic background. You will need to meet the minimum entry requirement stated on the website, or whatever the equivalent is. This must be met or exceeded.

Second is your letter of motivation or personal statement. This means that you will need to demonstrate that you have ‘done your homework’ about what the course you are applying for entails and why you want to do it. What are the things that especially interest and motivate you?

Finally your references, usually two, though if you have experienced a very strong, relevant internship, for example, one professional reference may be appropriate. References need to be able to strongly recommend you for postgraduate studies.

There may be additional requirements for some courses, these will be made clear on the website.

What if I want to apply for a course in a slightly different area to my academic background so far?

It need not necessarily disadvantage your application. Sometimes background can be vaguer than others. For example, the requirements may be for a background in natural sciences or engineering. Quite a lot of programmes will take students coming from different backgrounds, which is part of what can make the course exciting to study on. If you are unsure, contact the email address given on the course page on the website.

With regard to internships, is it more advantageous to have had such experience with a famous company?

No, it is not more advantageous. What we are interested in is if and how the internship motivated you, and your reflections on what you learned from it (in your personal statement). A smaller company may well offer more ‘hands-on’ experience. It is the experience, not the particular company, that is most important.

And finally…….

Lawrence also left the following two very useful links to help you begin your research into studying at Imperial and to keep you updated:

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