There are lots of things to consider when choosing a Masters degree and identifying the best course for you can be a challenge. Think about the following when making your decision
Whether pursuing postgraduate study to enhance your career prospects, to enter a particular profession or accelerate progression, ask yourself 'is a Masters degree necessary for my career?'
For example, most science careers in the UK require a Masters qualification, while aspiring teachers qualify by studying for a Postgraduate Certificate in Education (PGCE).
If you've a particular employer in mind, contact them to confirm whether the qualification will improve your application. Look at relevant job adverts to identify what recruiters are looking for, and speak to potential employers at careers events to get an understanding of how they view Masters qualifications. Also look into the employability rate of graduates on the course you're considering.
With career prospects in mind, ensure that the university has consistently produced successful graduates who've made a positive impact on both industry and society. Be confident that the institution will help you to develop the real-world skills and knowledge needed to master your profession. Alternatively, if you're looking for a career in academia, check that the degree leads to a PhD.
To help decide which Masters is right for you, look into the institution's reputation.
While overall league tables can provide an indication of a university's strengths and student satisfaction, they're usually based on undergraduate courses.
Do your own research, but don't focus on the university's reputation as a whole, as this varies depending on the subject you choose. A university's subject-specific strength is a more valid concern - an institution may be strongest for your area of study even if it doesn't score highly overall.
Find out about course reputation and student satisfaction rates (for particular programmes and with the wider department), how well courses are run and the reputation of tutors. What's the quality of teaching like? Do well-known lecturers spend time teaching at the university? Speak to past students as they are well placed to answer these questions and can provide 'inside' information.
To narrow down your options when choosing a Masters, target programmes and institutions that satisfy your interest. Scrutinise your potential department and its research reputation. Browse the academic profiles of lecturers to ensure that they're specialists in your particular field. This is important if you're considering a PhD, as you must strive to build strong relationships with experts.
Taught or research Masters
Should you opt for a taught or research programme? They have several similarities. Both take one to two years to complete, are generally worth the same number of credits and include, to some extent, a taught and research element.
However, differences include:
- Taught Masters follow a similar structure to undergraduate study, while research Masters include more independent learning.
- The majority of Masters programmes are taught courses and these mainly consist of Master of Arts (MA) and Master of Science (MSc) subjects. Research courses include the MRes and MPhil.
- Taught Masters are made up of core and optional modules delivered through seminars, workshops and lectures. Research Masters involve one or more independent research projects, with little to no timetabled hours.
Consider what you enjoyed about your undergraduate degree. If you preferred studying set modules, maybe a taught course is best. If you enjoyed writing your dissertation and the freedom this afforded you, perhaps you're more suited to a research programme.
Your career goals should also help you make a choice. Those working toward a particular profession usually opt for a taught Masters, while those who'd like to enter academia or move on to a PhD, choose a research Masters.
Courses with similar titles vary significantly in terms of content, so look beyond the summary to understand what is covered.
Ensure that compulsory modules aren't too generic or replicate what you've learned at undergraduate level. Scrutinise optional modules and confirm that your specialist interest will be covered. Be sure that the department won't cancel modules if only a small number of students select the option. Find out whether the course is exam-based, continually assessed or both, plus check that the teaching methods and style suit your preferences.
To achieve this, study course literature, check the programme's graduate employment rate and investigate alumni closely. Most university websites profile graduates, so discover what jobs they're doing and where, and how they've used the qualification to further their career.
Links with industry
Strong industry links are vital - access to mentoring schemes, opportunities to work with businesses, and the chance to network with employers and alumni are important things to think about when choosing a Masters. Not all institutions offer the same opportunities, so check before making your decision.
Work shadowing, work experience and placement opportunities can boost your CV and lead to a graduate job, while your course may offer the chance to conduct research with an employer as part of a dissertation or other work-based learning experience. Many institutions even invite industry professionals to deliver guest lectures.
Links with industry are often determined by location. Discover whether the industry that you're hoping to break into - and the type of employer you're hoping to attract - has a presence within the region.
Consider whether you prefer city life or something more rural. Remember that some universities don't provide specialist housing for Masters students, so you may have to find your own accommodation.
Because it's important to keep your mind and body healthy through sports and other social activities, discover if there's a good selection of gyms, bars, cafes and shops on offer. If leisure facilities are off-campus, consider whether local transport allows you to easily access them.
When making your choice you'll be able to choose either a campus or city university. A campus university has all its facilities, such as teaching locations, accommodation and leisure activities on one site. At city universities, facilities are usually spread out over a wider geographical area.
Unless you feel that a change of scenery would be beneficial, you may want to remain at (or return to) your undergraduate university - particularly if you've built a strong network of academics and friends there. Alternatively, you could consider studying abroad.
Flexible study options
If flexibility is important, check which institutions offer distance-learning options. Learn more about online learning.
Those with work or family commitments should look into how courses are structured in order to plan your time effectively. Investigate programme timetables and discover how many days a week you need to dedicate to study, and how many lectures and tutorials can you expect?
Find out about contact hours, class size and whether you'll be able to work part time. Search for distance learning and online Masters.
Part-time study is also an option, but this often doubles the time it takes to gain a qualification. Search for part-time Masters.
Fees and funding
The cost of study will need to be factored into your decision when choosing a Masters. Tuition fees vary so compare the cost of courses that interest to you. For help with paying your fees, see postgraduate funding options.
Most institutions offer scholarships and bursaries for Masters students, which are awarded for academic excellence and demonstrable potential for outstanding research. Find out more by contacting the institution directly, or by attending a postgraduate study fair or open day.
The seven publicly funded Research Councils award studentships - the UK's biggest source of PhD funding. However, they also provide provision for research Masters students. For more information on your personal eligibility, your course eligibility and how to apply, see Research Council funding.
Some universities also offer a discount to students who have previously studied an undergraduate degree with them.
Support and facilities
Successful postgraduate study relies on having access to the latest academic facilities and resources, such as specialist workshops, up-to-date literature, modern teaching spaces and industry-standard equipment. It's therefore important that the university has a track record of investing in and improving its academic facilities.
If your chosen course is a stepping-stone to academia, discover whether the institution has strong research links.
The strength of the university's careers service is also important. Consider how you can capitalise on any advice, support and training opportunities that it provides.
Finally, ensure that the university offers wellbeing support to postgraduates. This could include counselling provision, mental health support, disability support or a personal tutor system.
Find out more
- Learn more about applying for a Masters degree.