What Percentage of Master’s Students Get a Distinction in the UK?

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If you are studying an undergraduate degree or already have one under your belt, you may think about furthering your education by studying a master’s degree. Choosing whether to study a master’s degree can be a difficult decision. To help, you may want to consider some of the statistics involved with master’s degrees. This may relate to how hard the degree is based on how many students get the top grades.

In short, the number of students and even the percentage will vary from class to class or university to university. However, about 5%- 25% of each class are roughly expected to get the top grade – a distinction. However, these figures can be taken with a pinch of salt, and you may want to inquire into a specific university that you are interested in to learn more.

Continue reading to learn more about the grading of master’s degrees in the UK and how common each grade is. This article will provide a brief overview of the amount of students that get top grades and those that fail as well as more.

How many students get a distinction in their master’s degrees in the UK?

Finding out the percentage of students that get a distinction at master’s degree level can be useful for a number of reasons. To begin with, it can help you to see how hard the degree is itself. This is because the lower the percentage of students that get the top grades, tends to mean that the qualification is more difficult.

It can also provide useful insight to compare a master’s degree with other qualifications. This is especially for a qualification that you may have studied before, such as an undergraduate degree.

Despite this, in the UK, universities tend not to publish the grades that master’s students receive at the end of their degrees. The reason for this is unclear but is likely due to the fact that they are not required to as students do not receive government funding for master’s degrees.

However, based on past master’s degree students’ own experience, the number of students that get a master’s degree in each class may vary between about 5% and 25%.

Please note that this information is taken from an online chat room on The Student Room and from Quora, which you can find in their respective links here, here and here. Make sure that you don’t take this information in isolation and if you have a specific university that you’re interested in, you may be able to email them to find out more.

What percentage of master’s students fail?

In the UK, students invest quite a lot in order to study a master’s degree. To begin with, they are often quite costly with the average in 2022 being at about £8,740 just for the single year for a taught master’s degree.

For more on the costs of master’s degree, check out this Think Student article. If you are interested in how to pay for these high costs, you can also look at this Think Student article on student loans for master’s degree students.

It is likely due to this investment that the fail rate for master’s degree in the UK is pretty low. While there’s no available specific figure as of 2022, some universities were even able to not get any fails for several years in a row. This was the case for Lancaster University in 2018, this having fallen from a previous 0.23% fail rate for master’s degree students between 2012 and 2013.

If you would like to learn more about these figures, check out this guide by Lancaster University Students’ Union. You can also check out this thread on The Student Room for more likely reasons that this rate is so low.

How are master’s degrees graded?

If you are familiar with the undergraduate grading system, you will probably find that the master’s degree grading system is pretty different, yet it also shares some similarities. If you are not familiar with the undergraduate degree grading system, it uses degree classifications.

These range from a first-class honours degree also known as a first to a third-class honour’s degree or even a fail. To learn more about this grading system, check out this Think Student article, which will talk you through the degree classifications.

The master’s degree grading system doesn’t use the degree classification grading system. Instead, it uses a grading system of Pass, Merit, Distinction or Fail.

These grades are quite similar to the ones you would get from a vocational qualification, such as BTECs. For more on how BTECs are graded, you can check out this Think Student article.

The reason why the grading system of a master’s degree is comparable to the grading system of an undergraduate degree is because the grades you receive are essentially worth the same.

This is because the distinctions based on your percentage grade are the same, although master’s degrees have fewer passing grades. To see this more clearly, look at the following table.

Master’s grade Percentage Undergraduate grade
Distinction 70%+ 1st
Merit 60- 69% 2:1
Pass 50- 59% 2:2
Fail 40- 49% 3rd

For more information about how master’s degrees are graded, check out this Think Student article.

What is a good grade at master’s degree level?

Defining what is a good grade is incredibly subjective as everyone will have their own views on what a “good grade” means to them. You may consider a good grade to be simply passing while someone else may feel that the only good grade is the top grade.

However, personally, I would say that a “good” grade at master’s degree level is about a merit. This is because getting a merit grade or above is often required to continue your studies for something such as a PhD. Therefore, a “good” grade in this instance is one that allows you to reap as many benefits as possible.

However, as previously mentioned this is incredibly subjective and you are fully entitled to your own opinion of what a good grade is at master’s degree level. For more on a PhD’s entry requirements, look at this article by Find a PhD.

What can you do with a distinction in a master’s degree?

Earning a master’s degree is an incredible achievement and it demonstrates all of the hard work that you have put in. Not only into the year-long master’s degree but also into every qualification you have previously earned beforehand. As mentioned above, getting a distinction in your master’s degree is not easy, but it can be immensely rewarding if you are able to.

This is especially for whatever you decide to do when you complete your master’s degree. While a master’s degree can naturally open doors, having a distinction can enhance these, particularly in an academic sense.

Will getting a distinction in a master’s degree improve your career?

Regardless of the grade, attaining a master’s degree can greatly improve your career prospects. This is for various reasons. For one, it 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. This is especially true if you take a research master’s degree.

Even more, having a master’s degree can improve chances of career advancement and it can improve your salary. For more information about the benefits of a master’s degree for your career, check out this article by the University of Edinburgh.

Can you continue studying with a distinction in a master’s degree?

However, if you are interested in continuing your studies a master’s degree can also be greatly useful. The next level up is the highest level of education in the UK. 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 Think Student article.

Taking a master’s degree and getting a distinction can seriously boost your application to further your studies. If you want to study a doctorate degree, such as a PhD, the entry requirements for a master’s degree tend to be either a merit or distinction.

This will of course depend on what course you are applying for and which university you are applying to. For more information about these entry requirements, check out this article by Find a PhD.

Alternatively, you may want to use all knowledge you have gain and the skills you picked up that enabled you to get a distinction to study for a more vocational course. This can be a great idea if your master’s degree was a more broad topic that doesn’t relate directly to a career option.

In this, your options are endless, from counselling to translation, and it can allow you to better prepare for whatever career you want to go into. For more information about what you can do with a master’s degree, check out this article by the University of West Scotland.

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