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What is a Masters?

A master’s degree is the most popular postgraduate qualification. It’s usually taken after an undergraduate degree and before a doctorate. Courses can be either taught or research-based. 

Taught master’s courses have timetabled classes. The most common qualifications are Master of Arts (MA) and Master of Science (MSc). You’ll also come across others such as Master of Business Administration (MBA) and Master of Engineering (MEng). 

Research master’s courses have fewer contact hours and require more independent study. The most common qualifications are Master of Research (MRes) and Master of Philosophy (MPhil).


How long is a master’s degree?

In the UK, a master’s degree usually takes one or two years if studied full-time, two or more if studied part-time. This includes time spent completing a dissertation or large project. 

Several undergraduate degrees have an integrated master’s degree at the end of the course. This means you study for four years instead of three, and earn both qualifications. 

Most master’s courses begin in September or October. Some start in January.


What qualifications do you need for a master’s? 

For most master’s courses at universities and colleges in the UK, you’ll need at least a second-class (2.2) honours in a relevant undergraduate degree. Subject-specific requirements vary between courses and institutions.


How is a master’s degree taught? 

Taught master’s courses have timetabled lectures, seminars and other activities such as lab sessions. They’re similar to undergraduate courses where you work through several modules and are led by course tutors.

You take charge of your studies outside of classes, but tutors are available to guide you throughout. You can expect anything from 6 to 20 or more hours of contact time per week.  

Research master’s courses demand a lot more independent study. You work on your own research projects and receive guidance from an academic tutor. You have very few or no timetabled contact hours and instead attend a small number of supervision sessions.


How are master’s degrees assessed? 

Depending on your chosen course and institution, you may have to sit exams, be assessed on practicals, submit coursework and complete a final dissertation or project. 

Master’s degrees are usually awarded as a pass, merit, distinction or fail.


What skills do you learn? 

During a master’s degree, you develop skills specific to your subject area. You also build transferable skills that are useful across different careers, such as: 

  • Communication 
  • Teamwork 
  • Analysis 
  • Critical thinking 
  • Problem-solving 
  • Project management 
  • Independent study


How much does a master’s cost? 

Fees can vary widely between courses and institutions across the UK, from £4,000 to £30,000 per year (full-time). On average, master’s courses cost £8,000 to £11,000 per year. 

Course fees are often higher for international students, averaging around £16,000 to £21,800 per year.


Master’s degree facts

It's a Level 7 qualification (RQF).

Some undergraduate qualifications include a master’s degree as part of the course.

In Scotland, the Scottish MA is an undergraduate degree.

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