What is a Master's degree?

Ben Maples  · Jan 5th 2024  · 8 min

A Master’s qualification is a postgraduate degree course that students can do once they obtain an undergraduate degree.


A master’s degree allows students to further their knowledge in a particular subject or to enter a different academic path. Most Master's courses lead to an MA (Master of Arts) or MSc (Master of Science) qualification; however, there are also subject-specific qualifications. These qualifications include MArch (Master of Architecture), MEng (Master of Engineering), MFA (Master of Fine Arts), LLM (Master of Laws), and more.

And the fun doesn’t stop there! Courses leading to an MPhil (Master of Philosophy) qualification are typically research-led and often designed for students who wish to progress to a PhD or a Doctorate degree and are much different to a DipHE.

What is a Masters degree?

What is a Master’s degree?

A Master’s degree (otherwise known as an MA degree) is a postgraduate degree. A Master’s degree gives students a chance to gain higher-level skills, and vocational-equivalent teaching of the industry. A Master’s degree in the UK takes one of two years of full-time study or four years with part-time study.

So how many credits is a Master’s? It’s usually worth 180 credits on UCAS and is classed as a Level 7 qualification, like most postgraduate qualifications. A Master’s degree will end with students providing either an independent project or a dissertation.

What is an Integrated Master's degree?

An Integrated Master's degree is a programme that combines a normal Master's degree with a different qualification at a different level of educational study.

The best way to explain this is with an example. For instance, if you wished to study an undergraduate degree and a Master's degree at the same time, then you will then be studying an Integrated Master's degree, this is sometimes known as an undergraduate Master's degree as well.

What are the grades for a Master's degree?

Taught Master's degrees require 180 credits worth of work, either through modules, projects, assignments and a final dissertation. Typically, a dissertation is worth 60 credits.

Master's degree UK grades can be listed as a pass or a fail, but most come under fail, pass, merit (or credit) and a distinction. The boundaries can depend on the university, but grades in a Master's degree tend to be 50% for a pass, 60% for a merit and 70% for a distinction.

But what grades can you get in a Master's degree that is research-based? A Master's by research, either an MPhil (Master of Philosophy), MRes (Master of Research) or MLitt (Master of Letters) can be graded as a pass or fail. Certain institutions may offer a distinction as a degree classification.

What is a university Masters degree?

What are the entry requirements for a Master’s degree?

The entry requirements for a Master’s degree will vary depending on where you study and the subject. You will also need a Master’s personal statement.

You can expect the entry requirements to be higher than those of a typical undergraduate degree. One thing’s for certain, you’ll need to already hold an undergraduate degree to apply. Your undergraduate degree doesn't’t necessarily need to be in the subject you are studying at a postgraduate level, unless specified by the university.

How much is a Master's degree?

In the UK, a Master's degree will depend on the university that you're applying to, but it will cost roughly £7,400. There are student loans for Master's degree available.

How to fund a Master's degree?

Master's degree funding will depend on a number of things. If you’ve been offered a scholarship, then you’ll likely have a lot of your university Master's degree or your online Master's degree funded for you.

You will need to see if you qualify for any university grants, scholarships or bursaries and see if these will help you with your Master's degree funding UK.

How difficult is a Master's degree?

A Master’s degree aims to build on the academic skills you’ve already developed throughout your first degree. You can expect your Master’s to be challenging, but you’ll have the tools and knowledge gained from your undergrad to support you in this exciting next step.

Research vs. taught Master’s degree

What is a research Master’s Degree?

This type of degree involves learning through research, and are viewed as valuable preparation for those looking to study a PhD. Students who undertake a research Master's degree will receive less tutor support and be required to spend more time working independently.

Students will spend a lot of their time collecting and analysing data and hoping to have their work accepted for publication in research journals. Assessments on research programmes will be through a professional judgment on the research work completed as well as an oral exam. At the end of the course, students can obtain a Master of Philosophy (MPhil), Master of Research (MRes), Master of Arts (MA by Research), or Master of Science (MSc by Research). This is dependent on the subject a student chooses on their Master's degree search.

What is a uni Masters degree?

What is a taught Master’s degree?

A taught Master’s degree are similar in format to an undergraduate degree course, as they involve a series of taught modules, lectures, seminars, practical work, coursework, examinations and independent study. When students complete their modules, they will be assessed on the knowledge and skills they have learned, through coursework or an examination. Students will also be assessed through a research project, dissertation, and group work.

A full-time taught Master's degree typically takes one year to complete; however, part-time courses will be available at some universities. At the end of the course, students will obtain a Master of Arts (MA), Master of Science (MSc), or a Master of Business Administration (MBA) qualification; this will depend on the subject that they studied.

Students will prefer a taught Master’s if they enjoy studying through lectures, coursework and assignments, and who already have an undergraduate degree.

Why do a Master's degree?

A Master's degree is an opportunity for those who love learning to continue expanding their knowledge in an area they’re passionate about. Master’s can be a great way to continue your academic career, especially those looking to continue in a career in academia as a lecturer or research.

There are also jobs require their workers to have a Master's degree prior to applying. It can also be a way of gaining some industry contacts. As your cohort is likely smaller, there will be more chance of having more contact with key lecturers and research.

How to apply for Master's degree

Applying for a Master's degree is a lot different to an undergraduate degree application. You will need to apply for a Master's through the university, rather than through UCAS.

Most universities have their own online application systems, complete with forms etc. You can apply via the post if you prefer.

The deadlines and timeframes will differ from university to university and will depend on their own application processes. Anyone looking to apply for teacher training will have a different process to go through, which will have its own application deadline and its own entry requirements.

When applying for a Master's degree, you will need a number of things:

  • CV
  • Master's degree personal statement
  • Portfolio (for relevant course)
  • References (you will need two)
  • Research proposal
  • Transcripts of previous academic work

For international students looking to study in the UK, in addition to these, you will need:

  • A copy of your passport
  • Proof of your language proficiency.

If you have studied an IELTS exam or a TEFL exam, you will need to have proof of that as well.

University Masters degree?

How to write a research proposal for Master's degree

To apply for a Master's or Master's degree, you will need to have a research proposal prior to application, this is basically a way of telling the university that you are serious about studying at the university and gives an insight into your interest in the subject and your work ethic.

The structure of your Master's degree research proposal should be like this:

  • Title: Clear and concise, should give an indication of what you're writing about.
  • Background: This should have some background on your research topic, identifying the discipline clearly and concisely, a small literature review of the topic and a summary of what you plan to cover.
  • Research questions: Your questions should be relevant to the topic and open you up to detailed research answers. Don’t ask closed questions that can only be answered by “Yes” or “No”.
  • Research Methodology: Provide an outline on your findings, talk people through your methods, your ideas and how you have drawn conclusions from them. What do these findings prove?
  • Plan of work and your time schedule: This should be an outline of the stages of the timelines for you to develop and carry out research and how and when you plan to write up your thesis or dissertation.
  • Bibliography: A list of references from outlets you have cited in your paper.

When to apply for Master's degree

All postgraduate applications will need to be made before June or July, as many of the postgraduate courses will start in September or October of that year.

UCAS recommends (even though you won't apply through UCAS) that students should apply as early as possible, as there will be student finance and student accommodation. If you are an international student, you should take a look at the Tier 4 Student Visa, F1 Visa or the J1 Visa beforehand.

What comes after a Master's degree?

For those looking to continue in the world of education after their Master's degree, there is the opportunity to continue your studies into a PhD or Doctorate. Some careers may require you to hold a PhD or Doctorate.

Just like a Master’s, it’s not something to enter into lightly. As it’s the highest level of education you can achieve, expect it to be challenging and costly, but also highly rewarding for those looking to support the growth of the field of interest.

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