University of Chicago Featured Masters Courses
Imperial College London Featured Masters Courses
Cass Business School Featured Masters Courses

 by Mark Bennett
, posted on 5 Apr '18

12 Things You Might Not Know About Masters Study

It's easy for postgraduate study to seem complicated. You're dealing with new degree types, different funding options and rather a lot of courses. Plus, it doesn't really help that they're called 'Masters degrees', right? That's not a label that says 'this way for simple, easily understood qualifications!'.

The thing is though, postgraduate study isn't that complicated. It's just a bit different.

So, what about those differences then? We've already busted the myths - the things you probably think you 'know' about postgraduate study, but probably shouldn't. But what about the things you might not know about Masters degrees, but probably should?

#1 UK students can get a loan for a Masters degree

OK, you probably do know this. Particularly if you're a regular reader of our newsletter. But, on the off-chance you don't, you should.

In fact, there are actually four different postgraduate loan systems. The one you're eligible for depends on where you're from, but the important things is: you probably do have access to a student loan for your Masters degree, if you want one.

#2 EU students can too

Worried about the effect of Brexit on your postgraduate study plans? You don't need to be yet.

Guarantees mean that EU students have access to all four of the UK's Masters loan systems and will pay the same fees as UK students for courses beginning in 2018-19. Our Brexit FAQ has more information.

#3 And, if you live and study in Wales you can probably get a little extra funding

This one is a little bit more niche, but it's definitely worth knowing about if you're a Welsh-resident student looking to study a Masters degree at a Welsh university in 2018-19.

On top of your postgraduate loan you'll also be eligible for some additional support (up to £3,400 or more). What you'll get and how you get it depends on your university, with some offering fee discounts and others providing student bursaries.

#4 You don't need a first

There's a myth that Masters degrees are only for workaholic geniuses. This isn't true. You can go on to postgraduate study with a 2.1 (or lower) and plenty of people do.

#5 You don't need to do it straight away

There's another myth that Masters degrees are only for workaholic geniuses in their very early twenties. This isn't true either.

By all means consider a Masters if you're near the end of an undergraduate degree and want to take the next step. But don't feel there's anything wrong with taking a break from university, working for a bit and then heading back to postgraduate study.

The same goes if you're already in work and want to freshen up your skills or retrain for a different profession.

#6 You can study what you want

Honestly? You pretty much can. And that's the point.

A Masters doesn't have to mean another year of Physics, Computer Science or History. It could mean the chance to spend a year on Quantum Mechanics, Artificial Intelligence or Heritage Studies. Or whatever else interests you.

Chances are good that you'll find a specialised course that interests you. If you don't, well, that's your dissertation topic sorted.

#7 And it doesn't actually have to be a Masters

Masters degrees tend to steal the spotlight when it comes to postgraduate study (maybe it's that name again) but they aren't the only option available and they may not be the best option for you.

Many subjects (and programmes) also offer short postgraduate certificate or diploma options. These courses are at the same level as a Masters (in fact, many of them include modules from a related Masters) but require less credits and usually miss out the dissertation. Perfect if you're looking for a quicker (and potentially cheaper) route to additional training. Or really don't like big independent research projects.

#8 You can skip the classroom (almost) altogether

So, what if you really do like big independent research projects, but are less keen on committing to two terms of taught classes in order to get to a dissertation?

Well, you could just go straight to the dissertation.

Research Masters like the cunningly named Master of Research (MRes) and less cunningly named Master of Philosophy (MPhil) focus on independent project work. They're a bit like a shorter PhD (and are perfect if you're looking to progress to doctoral work).

#9 A Masters can work out cheaper than a Bachelors

This seems counter-intuitive - after all, a Masters is a 'better' degree and it should cost more, right? Well, not necessarily.

Firstly, there's no standard fee for Masters degrees. Different universities charge different amounts for different courses in different subjects. Sometimes these are lower than the standard £9,250 per year you'll currently pay for a Bachelors degree.

Secondly, a Masters is shorter than a Bachelors. This means that the total cost of your degree might actually be lower, even if your fees are higher than they would be at undergraduate level.

It's not quite as simple as that though. . .

#10 But that cost varies - a lot

The average cost of a Masters is. . . actually a pretty meaningless statistic.

It's possible to provide figures for different types of course (and we do) but a) the differences between those figures are very substantial and b) none of them are guaranteed to reflect what you'll actually pay for a given degree at a given university.

On the plus side, this means you can potentially 'shop around' and find a cheaper course in the same (or a similar) subject area. Just bear in mind that cheaper doesn't necessarily mean better. Or worse. Choosing a Masters is a little more complicated than that, but there are resources to help you.

#11 Though you might be able to study for free (sort of)

There are some countries where Masters fees vary a lot less than in the UK. Because there aren't any.

This is true for several destinations in Europe, including Austria, Germany and Sweden. other countries such as France and the Netherlands are a lot cheaper than the UK.

But, before you start packing your suitcase, it's not quite as simple as that. Free tuition doesn't necessarily mean completely free study: you'll still need to cover living costs and potentially pay application and admin fees.

Our guides to postgraduate study abroad can fill you in on the details.

#12 You'll love the dissertation

Three months or so working on a substantial independent project, resulting in the longest essay you've ever written with a third of the credits for your degree riding on the result?

Honestly, your dissertation will be a lot more fun than we've just made it sound.

It'll be hard, it'll challenge you and you'll probably spend at least one afternoon convinced it's all going wrong. But it won't. Instead, you'll realise just how much you've learned during your Masters, produce a piece of work you're incredibly proud of and have some pretty neat experiences along the way.

And, if you're totally convinced the dissertation isn't for you, remember that you can always pick a course without one.

You may also like...

4 alternative destinations for Masters study

Thinking of going abroad for your Masters? Here are four ‘alternative’ places you might not have thought of.

9.5 myths about postgraduate study

Is it that hard? Do you have to study the same subject? Will you need to completely give up your social life? We've busted a few misconceptions about postgrad degrees.

Beyond the MA and MSc

Confused by the variety of postgraduate qualifications on offer? you’re not alone. We’ve explained some of the alternatives to the MA and MSc.