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Postgraduate qualifications : Masters degrees

A Masters qualification gives you the opportunity to either further your knowledge of a particular subject or take off in a completely different direction using the skills you’ve gained from your undergraduate studies.

A Masters degree is an academic qualification awarded to individuals who successfully demonstrate a higher level of expertise in a particular field of study. You can study one in almost any subject, but there are two main types of Masters - taught and research.

Types of Masters degrees

As the name suggests, taught Masters are those that involve modules taught by the university, whether through lectures, seminars, laboratory work or distance learning. Taught Masters are available in the following qualifications, among others:

  • Master of Arts (MA)
  • Master of Science (MSc)
  • Master of Education (MEd)
  • Master of Engineering (MEng)
  • Master of Business Administration (MBA)
  • Master of Music (MMus)
  • Master of Research (MRes)

A Master by Research (MPhil), which is distinct from an MRes, allows you to focus on a particular topic in depth and independently. You will be expected to work on a thesis title, using research techniques to develop a single large project, whether practical or a dissertation. This is often seen as the precursor to a PhD.

What does a Masters involve?

In order to successfully obtain a Masters qualification, you will need to gain a number of credits by passing individual modules. Most taught Masters will have a number of core modules which you must take and pass in order to gain the qualification. The assessment of research Masters is almost always entirely by a single dissertation module or project.

Taught Masters normally take one year to complete full time or two years part time. Research Masters often last a little longer, taking one to two years full time and two to four years part time.

Find out more about postgraduate study in the UK

Why study for a Masters?

Photo: Graduation caps thrown into the air

It is important to be aware of your reasons for applying for a postgraduate qualification. Some reasons for applying include:

  • gaining an extra qualification to aid employment;
  • choosing a ‘conversion course’ to change subjects from your undergraduate degree;
  • specialising in a particular field; and
  • conducting research for a career in academia.

The benefits of a Masters extend beyond improving your earning potential. They can provide you with personal and professional skills to aid your development. They are also an opportunity to distinguish yourself from your peers, many of whom will have similar A-level and undergraduate qualifications.

Before applying for a Masters course, make sure you are fully committed to further study. Are you motivated enough to take on the challenge of continued study and yet more debt? Don’t do a postgraduate course purely to avoid finding employment. If you are struggling to a make a decision, contact the course provider or seek advice from your careers service.

How do I apply for a Masters?

Applications are often made directly to the course provider, as there is no central application processor as in undergraduate degrees. Each university and institution has its own deadlines for applications. Most Masters courses run from September until June. To find a course that interests you, search courses and research or Find a Masters .

Written by Editor, Prospects
October 2014

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