What is a Master’s Degree?

In General, University by Think Student EditorLeave a Comment

Learning an academic or technical subject that interests you can be a great opportunity to develop and grow in ways that could positively influence your career path. One way to do this is by furthering your education and looking to the future. After completing sixth form college and university you could then go on to get a master’s degree too, but what is a master’s degree?

In short, a master’s degree is a postgraduate qualification, it can only be taken after an undergraduate degree. It is a level 7 qualification in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, or a level 11 qualification in Scotland. It is above a bachelor’s degree, but below a doctorate degree. In the UK, a master’s degree will typically take one or two years if studied full time and three or four years if studied part time. Each one of these years will cost an average of £8,740, but this can vary based on the type of master’s degree as well as the subject and university it’s studied at.

Continue reading for more information about what a master’s degree is and what is involved in getting one. If you are considering taking a master’s degree, this will be particularly relevant to you. If you are simply interested in this topic, this article can still teach you something new.

Is a Master’s Degree a Postgraduate Degree?

You may have already come across the term “master’s degree” especially if you are thinking about continuing your studies after getting your undergraduate degree. But then there are other terms, such as “postgraduate degree” that are often used interchangeably, or in similar contexts to the term “master’s degree”. When trying to figure out exactly what a master’s degree is, it can be confusing to come across all of these terms and truly understand what they mean and how they differ from each other.

What is a Master’s Degree?

A master’s degree is a degree that can be taken after completing an undergraduate degree (or some other suitable kind of undergraduate study). In this type of degree, students are to build on the degree that they have previously studied by going into further depths of study. Also, master’s degrees often give you the option to study more specific areas of the subject in greater depth (although this may not always be the case).

To sum this up, you are pretty much supposed to become a “master” in the subject that you have chosen by the end of this degree. It is far more academically advanced than the previous levels of education. For more information about master’s degrees check out this article.

A master’s degree is also a form of higher education, as it is the level directly after undergraduate degrees. Higher education is essentially any form of education that is done after or beyond further education (aka your post-GCSE options). An undergraduate degree and many other types of academic and non-academic study are also classed as higher education. You can find out more about this as well as the differences between further and higher education if you click on this article. 

What is a Postgraduate Degree?

The term postgraduate degree is an umbrella term that refers to quite a wide range of academic qualifications that can be studied after completing an undergraduate degree. They can be taken for numerous reasons some of the main ones are to specialise in a subject, particularly to enhance your career path, or even to change the subject you want to do entirely. For more information about this look here.

While the term postgraduate degree does contain quite a vast range of different qualifications, there are four main distinct types of postgraduate qualification. These are postgraduate certificates, postgraduate diplomas, master’s degrees and doctorates. As these different qualifications can be quite vast even in themselves, postgraduate degrees are quite diverse, as they can include both taught and research-based forms of study, as well as very academic qualifications and some more applied forms of study. For more information about this, check out this guide.

How Long Does It Take to Get a Master’s Degree?

In the UK, a master’s degree will typically take one or two years if studied full time and between two and four years if studied part time. For more information about how long a master’s degree will take in the UK you can look here.

Due to qualifications such as an Integrated Master’s degree, the amount of time it takes can vary a little more. An Integrated Master’s degree is a qualification that combines an undergraduate degree with a master’s degree (so it is something in between undergraduate and postgraduate study). It typically lasts four years when studied full time, or five years if it includes a sandwich year, which may be a year abroad or work placement. For more information about Integrated Master’s degree, you can check out this article.

A Timeline to Achieve a Master’s Degree

While the master’s degree itself will only take one or two years if studied full time, as a postgraduate qualification that are a large number of steps that you need to complete before you can get to this stage. Due to this, continuing your education and achieving a master’s can be a lengthy process.

GCSEs- 2 or 3 Years

Your GCSEs are a fundamental part of your education, so it is no wonder that they are also an essential part of the pathway to getting a master’s degree. This is particularly due to the fact that compulsory GCSEs, such as English and Maths, tend to be requirements for all other forms of further education, so it is really just the first step in the road to getting a master’s degree.

Other than that, the options you choose, whether they are arts subjects or sciences, can also have some impact on what you are able to study later on. For example, to be able to study art at A-Level it is often compulsory for you to have studied and passed the GCSE. This is similar for other subjects too.

A-Levels- 2 Years

While A-Levels aren’t the only post-GCSE option, they create a much more direct pathway to getting a master’s degree. You can check out this article for more information about other types of further education.

At A-Levels you choose fewer subjects than you would have studied at GCSE and so you will be able to go into greater depth within the subject. This can be particularly evident for any A-Level subject that you have already studied at GCSE level. This means that during you’re A-Levels you can directly build on what you already know while also learning completely new information about you subject. For example, in Maths you will still learn about trigonometry, which you would have already studied at GCSE, but these will be in more detail (and even harder) than before.

Bachelor’s Degree- 3 or 4 Years

A bachelor’s or undergraduate degree is where the pathway towards getting your master’s degree becomes most clear. This is because getting an undergraduate degree is an essential part of going on to study any postgraduate degree, including a master’s degree. Due to this fact and the general entry requirements for master’s degrees being about 2:1 or 2:2 (although this could vary depending on the university that offers the master’s degree and on the subject itself).

It is quite evident that it is essential not only to get an undergraduate degree, but also to do well in one in order to be able to continue your education and complete a master’s degree. For more information about master’s degree entry requirements look here. If you are unsure about the grade 2:2 you may want to check out this article which explains the bachelor’s degree grading system in the UK.

Also at this level, students get to choose the main subject(s) that they want to study. As you choose far fewer options and also have an even wider choice of options to choose from, undergraduate study allows students to focus on a subject that really interests them or that they feel will benefit them in much greater detail than before. You are also normally able to tailor your academic university experience to better fit you. This is possible due to optional modules that are available to study on most university courses. Although these can vary greatly from course to course and from university to university.

Master’s Degree- 1 or 2 Years

As mentioned above, a master’s degree will only take about one or two years if studied full time or three or four years if studied part time. This means that this part of your journey to obtaining a master’s degree is about the same or even shorter in time than any of the previous qualifications that you would have studied. However, it is also by far the most intense part as a master’s degree is a very advanced qualification with a pretty hefty dissertation to write at the end. For more information about the master’s degree dissertation and how it’s different from the undergraduate one, look at this article.

So hopefully after a minimum of eight years of study, the hard work will have paid off and you will be able to achieve your master’s degree.

How Much Does a Master’s Degree Cost?

In the UK, a master’s degree’s cost can vary greatly depending on the type and the institution you get it from. The average cost of a taught master’s degree in the UK in 2022 is £8,740.

 For a laboratory-based master’s degree the average cost is £10,306. A research master’s degree, such as a Master of Research Degree, or a Master of Philosophy Degree, is normally a bit cheaper with the average being £4,000 or more. MBAs tend to be a bit more expensive with the average in 2022 being £19,722.

These figures are all for domestic students and can be found with more information about the cost of master’s degrees in this article.

What Level is a Master’s Degree?

A master’s degree is a level 7 qualification in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, or a level 12 qualification in Scotland. For information about the qualification levels in England, Wales and Northern Ireland look here. For more information about the Scottish SCQF levels look here.

To put into simpler terms, this means that a master’s degree is the level above an undergraduate degree (and equivalent qualifications), but it is the level below doctorate degrees, such as PhDs and other equivalent qualifications.

What Comes After a Master’s Degree?

Whatever career you want to go into, gaining a master’s degree can greatly improve your career prospects. For the figures on this look here. A masters increases your specialist knowledge and so it can help you to stand out in your field. It can also help you with networking, especially if you are at a large university or form a good relationship with your professors and other people there. This networking can lead you to a whole range of new opportunities that you may not have been able to access before.

Also, a master’s degree by itself shows that you are quite dedicated to your work and that you can be quite independent. For more information about the benefits of a master’s degree check out this article.

The next level up is the highest level of education in the UK. This level is either level 8 in England, Wales and Northern Ireland or level 12 in Scotland. The most academic qualification at this level is a doctorate degree. A doctorate degree is an umbrella term for several different advanced degrees, such as PhDs. For a detailed explanation of what exactly a PhD is check out this article.

Taking a master’s degree can really help for if you want to take a doctorate degree. It can make that step into a doctorate level a little less and in turn it can make the whole process of starting your doctorate degree less stressful. Also, all of the extra knowledge you have gained from doing your master’s degree can really help to enhance your doctorate degree studies. For more information about the benefits (and drawbacks) of taking a master’s degree before a doctorate degree, particularly a PhD, look here.

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