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An integrated Masters is a programme that combines a Masters with a Bachelors or PhD.
This may seem like a strange idea, but there are various reasons why you might want to study one: whether it’s to follow a highly structured training programme, or to access unique qualifications.
If you’d like to read about specific degree types in more detail you might want to start with our full guide to postgraduate qualifications. Otherwise, this page will give you an overview of the main kinds of integrated Masters degree and what they involve.
An integrated Masters is a programme that combines a Masters with an additional qualification at a different level of study. Instead of studying two separate degrees, you’ll study a single, longer, programme.
Sometimes this involves gaining two separate qualifications, but many integrated Masters just award the more advanced of the degrees they cover.
The most common integrated Masters degrees begin at undergraduate level, but eventually award a Masters instead of a Bachelors. These are sometimes referred to as ‘undergraduate Masters degrees’.
Other Masters degrees are integrated with PhD programmes. In this case you will study a Masters year before beginning work on your doctoral thesis. The Masters component helps prepare you for more advanced postgraduate research.
You can read more about some of the main types of integrated Masters below. First though, it’s worth distinguishing the modern integrated Masters from some other degree types.
The modern integrated Masters degrees are most common in the UK education system. Some other countries offer similar programmes, but these are mostly long cycle European Masters, as described above. You can read more about Masters degrees in specific countries in our guides to postgraduate study abroad.
Integrated Masters degrees can take a few forms. Some are a product of specific university systems, or of the way specific universities organise their degrees. Others offer structured training in professional fields where possession of core subject knowledge is vital.
As their names suggest, most integrated Masters degrees are Masters level qualifications. They begin at undergraduate level, just like a Bachelors degree. Unlike a Bachelors degree, however, an integrated Masters continues for an extra year (or more) and eventually awards a Masters.
Some older universities in Scotland award the MA (Master of Arts) as a four-year undergraduate degree. This combines a BA with an MA in the same subject.
After three years of study at Bachelors level, a student progresses to a final year of postgraduate-level work, including a Masters dissertation.
Scottish MA degrees are a product of the history of higher education in Scotland, but are fully recognised in the modern higher education landscape.
Effectively, they are the same as finishing a Bachelors degree and then going straight into an MA in the same subject at the same university.
The only difference is that you will earn a single MA, instead of a BA and an MA. This won’t normally matter in practice, however. Your MA will supersede your BA and employers will be familiar with the Scottish MA system.
Taught postgraduate Masters courses are also available in Scotland, but these generally award MLitt degrees in order to distinguish them from the Scottish MA.
The four-year MEng degree is one of the most common undergraduate Masters degrees in the UK.
It awards a professional Masters degree in Engineering and is a pre-requisite for registration as a chartered engineer.
Postgraduate Masters such as the MSc (Eng) are also available, but the MEng is the main qualification pathway for students who make an early decision to train as engineers.
Engineering is one of the most popular subjects for undergraduate Masters degrees (at least in the UK). You can find out more with our detailed guide to the MEng, MSc (Eng) and other Masters degrees in Engineering.
Some universities award undergraduate Masters degrees in science subjects. To distinguish them from postgraduate Master of Science (MSc) courses, these programmes are often titled ‘Master in Science’ and abbreviated to MSci.
They usually focus on more vocational subjects, where a certain amount of core practical knowledge is required to practice professionally.
Examples include regulated professional fields like Psychology and applied branches of the Sciences, such as Industrial Chemistry or Pharmacology.
Studying an undergraduate Masters in the Sciences can be a good idea if you wish to gain practical skills for a specific career.
However, you should check whether your course is suitable for progression to more academic and theoretical work. A conventional BSc plus MSc may be a better preparation for PhD study than an MSci.
Most European countries now operate a system of separate degree cycles (levels), standardised through the Bologna Process. The growth of integrated Masters in the UK can present some problems for this by combining levels of study. In practice, however, this isn’t an issue. An undergraduate Masters earned in the UK should be internationally recognised as a second cycle (Masters level) qualification.
When people speak of ‘integrated Masters degrees’ they generally mean programmes that award a Masters-level qualification. (A degree at level 7 of the UK’s qualifications framework, or at the second cycle of the European Bologna Process).
But Masters degrees are also sometimes combined with PhDs. Strictly speaking, these aren’t integrated Masters so much as PhD programmes that incorporate a Masters as a kind of ‘foundation’ year. It’s worth quickly describing them though.
The most common kind of combined Masters and PhD is a ‘four-year PhD’ or ‘1+3’ programme. As their name suggests, these include a one-year Masters degree before progressing to a normal three-year PhD.
Often, these are funded programmes. In the UK, for example, some Research Councils still provide support for integrated Masters and PhD programmes.
The Masters component of a 1+3 programme will usually be slightly different to a standalone degree.
As well as building your subject knowledge you’ll be very focussed on acquiring the research skills necessary for your doctorate. In fact, the Masters you study may actually be an MRes (Master of Research) rather than a taught MA or MSc.
Unlike an undergraduate Masters, which doesn’t tend to grant a separate Bachelors degree, a 1+3 programme normally awards both a Masters and a PhD.
Integrated Masters degrees can be available in any subject, particularly if you study in a country like Scotland where undergraduate Masters are more common.
However, most programmes that combine Bachelors and Masters study are in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) subjects. They tend to focus on applied knowledge and practical training, with close links to specific vocations or career paths.
1+3 PhD programmes are also more common in STEM fields, though some are also funded by Research Councils in the Arts, Humanities and the Social Sciences.
Undergraduate Masters are graded in much the same way as Bachelors degrees (rather than the traditional standalone Masters grading system). This means that at the end of your degree, you’ll receive a 1st, 2.1, 2.2. or 3rd.
The main difference you’ll come across in the grading of an undergraduate Masters is how each year of the programme is weighted. Each year of a four-year undergraduate integrated Masters is usually weighted 0:1:2:2, with the third and fourth years being worth twice as much as the second.
If you study a 1+3 PhD programme, the Masters portion will be graded as a standalone qualification, while the PhD itself will be assessed based on the thesis and your performance in the viva voce. Find out more about the PhD journey.
Setting aside the Scottish MA, integrated Masters degrees are generally designed for students with quite specific aims.
What’s more, they require you to know what those aims are very early on in your university career.
If you’re looking to work in a field that will benefit from very specific professional training and qualification, an undergraduate Masters can be a great way to prepare for this.
You’ll benefit from studying within an extended degree programme, designed to offer exactly the skills and competencies you need. You’ll be able to gradually develop these in a logical way and may find the transition from undergraduate to postgraduate work relatively smooth.
If you’re studying an undergraduate integrated Masters in the UK, you should apply for funding through the undergraduate student finance system (not for a postgraduate loan – these are aimed at standalone Masters). You’ll be eligible for tuition fee and maintenance loans to cover the entirety of your studies (even the final ‘Masters’ year).
1+3 Masters and PhD programmes may also benefit from funding. Whereas the UK’s Research Councils rarely fund standalone Masters, some do fund four-year doctorates that include an initial Masters year.
And, unlike funding from loans, this support doesn’t need to be repaid.
The ability to study a specialised degree programme with professional recognition is great, but integrated Masters degrees also have their limitations.
Most obviously, you’ll need to make an early commitment to your subject and / or profession.
It’s sometimes possible to exit an integrated Masters early (and receive the appropriate Bachelors degree). But this isn’t always possible (or ideal).
If you’re not sure that you want to pursue a specific career, you may be better off considering separate Bachelors and Masters degrees instead.
In addition, integrated Masters aren’t always an ideal preparation for PhD study.
Some undergraduate Masters are fine for prospective PhD students. But others are intended more as terminal – i.e. final – degrees than as pathways to academic research.
If you think you may want to study a PhD after your Masters, make sure you’ll have that option.
Last updated - 16/05/2019