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 by Mark Bennett
, posted on 5 Mar '20

Masters Study – What They Don't Tell You

You've flicked through the prospectuses, pondered some courses, checked out the shiny campus photos of students sat under trees, staring wistfully away from the open books on the grass before them. . .

And now you're thinking: "I could do this Masters thing, you know. I could be one of those students, smiling away, not actually doing any reading because I'm too busy thinking of all the incredibly intelligent things I am going to think about as soon as I get up from under this tree. Yes. A year of postgraduate study would suit me very nicely."

Well. . .

It's a trap!

It's not really a trap.

But a Masters is a bit more than just 'another year at uni' – and not only because the work is harder. There are a few key details about postgraduate study that you probably won't find in a prospectus. We're not saying they should put you off, but they are worth knowing about before you get too comfortable under that tree.

#1 A year really does mean a year

So, it takes three years to get an undergraduate degree, but (usually) only one to get a more advanced postgraduate degree?

The reason for this is actually pretty simple. You do a lot more work during a Masters. There will still be periods when you don't have timetable, but they aren't really 'holidays' now. Christmas and Easter will usually be when you work on coursework or prepare for exams. And summer will be when you do your dissertation.

#2 Some courses are longer

As above, a year is pretty typical for a full-time Masters in the UK, but there are exceptions. Professional postgraduate qualifications are sometimes a bit longer (they have to fit in a lot more core curriculum) and courses in Europe are usually two years as standard. We'll come back to Europe in a moment.

The degree you get at the end is generally worth the same, but some subjects may take a little longer to get there.

#3 Fees can go up during the course

There's no cap on UK postgraduate fees, so universities are free to charge what they like. This generally means the cost of a Masters rises slightly (with inflation) from year to year.

That's not a problem if you're on a one-year course, but it could affect the fees for subsequent years of a longer Masters, or of a part-time course being studied over two years. This is worth checking with your uni in advance.

#4 The student loans don't necessarily cover all of your costs

We've covered the differences between undergraduate and postgraduate loans in more detail before, but the key detail is this: none of the four UK countries offer a Masters degree loan that is guaranteed to cover your full course fees and only Scotland offers a separate living cost loan.

This makes actually paying for a Masters a little more complex than undergrad.

#5 You still get all the same student perks

Time for some positives? Postgraduate students are still students and still benefit from the same discounts, including those offered by NUS membership. You'll also be exempt from Council Tax, provided your course lasts at least one year and you're studying for at least 21 hours per week.

#6 If you stay at the same university, they might give you a discount

Quite a lot of universities offer an 'alumni discount' for their graduates to stay on and do a Masters or PhD (this can also be available to returning students).

A 10% fee reduction is typical. Some unis offer more generous alumni scholarships, but these may have strings attached (you might need to graduate with a 1st and / or there might only be a limited number of awards available).

Either way, it's definitely worth checking.

#7 You don't have to do a dissertation

Most Masters degrees do require a final dissertation or thesis project, but postgrad study doesn't have to be a Masters degree.

Shorter courses like postgraduate certificates and diplomas only last for one or two semesters and don't include a dissertation. They're well worth considering if you're mainly interested in gaining new skills and subject knowledge. And yes, they usually cost a bit less.

#8 It's probably a lot cheaper to study abroad

We're not biased here at FindAMasters. We know better than anyone that there are great postgraduate study opportunities all around the world – and our team have taken advantage of them.

We also know that Europe, in particular, is generally a much more affordable option for postgraduate study than the UK. Domestic fees are lower (or non-existent) and international fees are still competitive (if Brexit goes that way).

#9 The 'M' in MA / MSc stands for 'Magister'

'Magister Artium!' It sounds like Harry Potter and The Lord of the Rings rolled into one and should clearly always be written with an exclamation mark.

So, there you go

There's loads more helpful information about postgrad study here on the blog, or in our main Masters degree advice section, but we wanted to highlight a few of the details that don't always make it into a prospectus or course listing.

Now, back to that tree. . .

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