Crowdfunding your Masters

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If you're great at marketing yourself, try crowdfunding your postgraduate course - having others pay for your degree is a more realistic option than you'd expect…

What is crowdfunding?

Crowdfunding involves asking a large number of other people - often strangers - to contribute to your postgraduate study costs by donating relatively small amounts of money.

Money sourced through online crowdfunding can soon build up - for example, 50 friends, relatives and random small-scale philanthropists donating £50 each can quickly make £2,500.

Anybody can crowdfund by setting up a page on one of many specialist crowdfunding websites. On this page, you must explain your cause in detail and set a fundraising goal. You can then promote this page to family and friends, and to strangers via methods such as social media, personal emails and - potentially - by gaining media exposure.

You will also be able - but not obliged - to offer a reward for your supporters. This can be anything, from their name being included in your dissertation acknowledgements to a professional copy of your dissertation.

Crowdfunding is extremely hard work, so you should treat your project like a full-time job - you'll spend most of your waking hours managing it. However, the rewards can be huge.

Popular crowdfunding websites include:

What are the advantages of crowdfunding?

The most commonly cited advantage of crowdfunding is the obvious one: you achieve your postgraduate qualification without accruing debt.

However, you can also build a large network of people who are interested in your area of study - something that may be incredibly useful during your degree and subsequent job search.

After her application for a Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) grant was rejected, Emily-Rose Eastop turned to crowdfunding to finance her MSc in Cognitive and Evolutionary Anthropology at the University of Oxford. Her fundraising target was £26,307, to cover tuition fees and living costs.

Incredibly, within five weeks Emily-Rose raised £26,569 from around 500 donors. Even more astounding was that two donations of £1,000 came from complete strangers.

'The greatest advantage, without doubt, is the wonderful group of supporters that I now have in my life - people who decided that they wanted to help me achieve something important to me,' says Emily-Rose.

'They're all such cool, clever and diversely skilled people, and they inspire me in so many unusual ways. Whenever I feel lonely, or cynical thoughts creep into my mind, thinking of them reminds me of how beautiful human beings can really be. Corny, I know - but 100% true.'

Emily-Rose adds that a positive side-effect of her project was re-kindling connections from her past. 'People give to people, not just causes,' she adds. 'You must be bold - make lots of contact, including with public figures connected to your area of interest. Don't be shy when it comes to people who you haven't seen for a while.'

What are the disadvantages of crowdfunding?

The cynical thoughts to which Emily-Rose alludes highlight the biggest potential drawback to crowdfunding.

When her story hit the newspapers, some commenters responded nastily - even labelling her a 'posh brat' for appealing for funding in this manner. Emily-Rose says that anybody wishing to crowdfund on such a scale must be prepared for a backlash, though it must be stressed that the chances of this happening are very slim.

'Their objections, apart from being shockingly mean, were badly reasoned and hypocritical,' she adds. 'In any case, it backfired on them. Their hostility inspired a steady flow of donations from strangers specifically wanting to counteract it. I probably wouldn't have met my target were it not for the trolls.'

Crowdfunding tips

Duncan Knox, co-founder of Hubbub, gives his advice on how to crowdfund:

  • When you create your project, it's important to focus on the benefit to your supporters. How is your study going to make the world a better place?
  • You must be comfortable asking for support. It's important that you have an initial network of people to ask, and a plan for reaching beyond that network. The most successful projects write to leaders in their field of study, all over the world. People will give - you just have to reach them.
  • Press and blog exposure is very effective, but not easy to get unless you have an interesting slant. Start warming the media to your story immediately.
  • Get advice from others who've been successful. Find their projects and message them through their project pages. They'll be delighted to help.