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.
What is an MSci degree?
Some universities award undergraduate Masters degrees in Science subjects, known as MSci degrees – this stands for ‘Master in Science’. Don’t confuse these courses with a postgraduate Master of Science (MSc).
During an MSci you’ll usually study for three years at Bachelors level, before concluding with a year of Masters study, where you’ll typically focus on a particular research project.
MSci qualifications usually focus on more vocational subjects, where a certain amount of core practical knowledge is required to practice professionally. These courses may also involve a work placement.
Examples include regulated professional fields like Psychology and applied branches of the Sciences, such as Industrial Chemistry or Pharmacology.
Studying an MSci degree 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.
When you apply for an integrated Masters in the form of a MSci programme, note that you’ll apply through UCAS, similar to traditional undergraduate courses. Bear in mind that it’s normally easier to transfer from an MSci to a BSc, rather than the other way around.
Undergraduate Masters degrees and the Bologna Process
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.
The Scottish MA
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 MEng, or Master of Engineering
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.