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Postgraduate qualifications : Masters degrees

If you want to increase your subject knowledge or change career direction then a Masters degree could be the best choice

What is a Masters degree?

A Masters degree is an academic qualification awarded to individuals who successfully demonstrate a higher level of expertise in a particular field of study.

It is an intense period of study, usually lasting one year full time or two years part time, followed by a thesis.

Types of Masters degrees

You can study a Masters in any subject but there are two main types - research and taught. These can then be further broken down into individual qualifications. Some of the most popular are MA (Master of Arts), MSc (Master of Science) and MBA (Master of Business Administration). Other types include:

  • LLM (Master of Laws);
  • MArch (Master of Architecture);
  • MEd (Master of Education);
  • MEng (Master of Engineering);
  • MLitt (Master of Letters);
  • MMus (Master of Music);
  • MPhil (Master of Philosophy);
  • MRes (Master of Research);
  • MSt (Master of Studies).

What's the difference between a taught and research Masters?

Taught courses allow you to build on the general knowledge and skills from your undergraduate degree in a more specialised subject. They involve a series of taught modules, delivered through lectures, seminars and practical work. Upon completion of these modules you will be assessed by exams, coursework, dissertations and group projects on the knowledge and skills that you have learned

Research Masters involve more independent study than a taught course as you receive less guidance from tutors. The aim of a research degree is to provide you with in-depth training in a selected discipline through investigative processes. The chosen study and research will be decided between you and your adviser/tutor.

What qualifications do I need?

To confirm your eligibility for a Masters programme you need a UK Bachelors degree at a minimum 2:1 or an equivalent qualification. If you haven’t completed a BA Honours degree you could possibly be considered on the basis of your work experience and the relevance of the Masters programme to your role.
To check entry requirements for your chosen career see types of jobs.

If you are an international student then you can test your English language skills to see if you have the required level of English.

How much does it cost?

Cost is dependent on a range of factors and therefore varies hugely. For example a Masters in Business Administration (MBA) can cost in excess of £60,000, while an MA Journalism, Media and Communications costs around £6,500.

The subject you are studying can often affect fees, for example, a lab-based Masters will usually cost more than a predominantly classroom based degree.

There may be some differences in fees for home and international students depending on which country you are from and what you are studying. For example the Cancer Research and Molecular Biomedicine MSc at The University of Manchester costs £10,500 a year for UK/EU students while international students can expect to pay £21,000

To find out tuition fees for a range of qualifications, search Masters degrees.

How do I find a postgraduate course?

To ensure your needs are met by the course you will need to do extensive research to help you draw up a shortlist. You should look at the individual institutions website, department/subject league tables and attend university open days to speak with tutors and have a look around.

When you are searching for a course you need to think about:

  • Institution's reputation - While it's the actual department that’s important it's also worth finding out about university looking at employability and support after graduation.
  • Department ranking - A university can rank highly overall but this is a combination of everything it does. Find out which universities excel in your subject area at the QS World University Rankings by Subject .
  • Fees and funding - Are there cheaper courses available? Are there any scholarships, bursaries or grants on offer?
  • Employment prospects - Is it necessary for your profession? Is the course valued by employers? How many graduates have jobs and what are these jobs?
  • Student satisfaction - Many universities conduct their own satisfaction surveys but you could also take a look at the UK's National Student Survey.

These considerations will differ and some will be more important than others depending on your motivations.

To find out what courses are available, search Masters degrees.

How do I apply for a Masters degree?

The easiest and quickest way is online as you will be able to track the progress of your application. You will need to create an account on your chosen university's website which, in most cases, will allow you to revisit your application several times. This is not always the case so make sure you check with the specific institution.

It's also possible to download an application pack from the website or request one over the telephone. However you apply you need to ensure that you have all of the supporting documentation, which will vary but can include:

  • evidence of your qualifications;
  • evidence of English language ability;
  • two references;
  • a copy of your passport (if you need a visa to study here).

Most application forms will ask you:

  • your reasons for applying;
  • what academic qualifications you have;
  • what skills and experience you have;
  • what your research proposal is.

Find out more about applying for postgraduate courses.

Where can I get more advice?

  • Postgraduate fairs - Usually open to students and graduates from any university you get the chance to meet representatives from a number of universities. You can't apply for courses on the day but they will be able to offer you advice.
  • University tutors - Find out more about the content and see if your aims will be met by the course. You may also wish to speak to your undergraduate tutor for help with your references and application.
  • Careers service - A careers adviser can explore your options, look at which Masters degree is suitable for you and help you with your application.
  • Current students - They will be able to tell you things that the literature doesn't such as how much work outside of class is involved and they will be able to recommend books and other sources that you should be looking at.
Written by Editor, Prospects
January 2015

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