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Integrated Masters Degrees - A Guide

When is a Masters not just a Masters? When it’s integrated with another degree!

This may seem like a strange idea. But programs that combine a Masters with a Bachelors or a PhD are quite common in some subjects.

And there are various reasons why you might want to study one: whether it’s to follow a highly structured training program, 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.

What is an integrated Masters degree?

Put simply, an integrated Masters is a program 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, program.

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 programs. 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.

What isn’t an integrated Masters degree?

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 ‘Oxbridge MA’ – The universities of Oxford and Cambridge automatically confer a Masters degree on their Bachelors graduates after a certain period of time. These may look like integrated degrees (awarding a Masters without enrolling on a separate program) but they aren’t. A true integrated Masters is a ‘full’ Masters degree, requiring an additional year or more of study.
  • MPhil to PhD upgrades – Some PhD students initially register for the MPhil, before ‘upgrading’ to doctoral candidates. Usually this doesn’t lead to the award of two qualifications (the student simply switches registration and the PhD supersedes the MPhil). In any case, an MPhil to PhD upgrade isn’t really what’s meant by an integrated Masters.
  • Long cycle Masters – Prior to the standardisation of European degrees, many countries offered extended degree programs that awarded a first degree at Masters level after four or five years of study. These are being phased out, but may still be available. They aren’t quite the same as a modern integrated Masters though. An integrated Masters usually combines two clearly defined degrees, rather than simply running for an extended period of time.
  • Joint Masters degrees – Some Masters degrees are described as ‘joint programs’. These are offered by two or more universities, working in collaboration. They are most common within the European Erasmus Plus project. Joint Masters degrees aren’t the same as integrated Masters degrees, though. Normally only one degree is awarded and this is a purely Masters level qualification.

Integrated Masters degrees abroad

The modern integrated Masters degrees are most common in the UK education system. Some other countries offer similar programs, 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.

What are the main types of integrated Masters degree?

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.

Below you can read about some of the most common types of integrated Masters.

Undergraduate Masters degrees

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.

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.

Considering an Engineering Masters?

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.

The MSci and other integrated Science Masters

Some universities award undergraduate Masters degrees in science subjects. To distinguish them from postgraduate Master of Science (MSc) courses, these programs 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.

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.

Integrated Masters and PhD programs

When people speak of ‘integrated Masters degrees’ they generally mean programs 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 programs 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’ program. As their name suggests, these include a one-year Masters degree before progressing to a normal three-year PhD.

Often, these are funded programs. In the UK, for example, some Research Councils still provide support for integrated Masters and PhD programs.

The Masters component of a 1+3 program 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 program normally awards both a Masters and a PhD.

Looking for a four year, or 1+3, PhD?

We don’t cover PhD programs on (it would be a bit confusing). But you can find out more about combined Masters and PhDs and search for opportunities over at our sister-site, FindAPhD.

Which subjects award integrated Masters degrees?

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 programs 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 programs are also more common in STEM fields, though some are also funded by Research Councils in the Arts, Humanities and the Social Sciences.

Who should study an integrated Masters degree?

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.

The benefits of an integrated Masters

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 program, 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.

Funding an integrated Masters

You may also find it easier to acquire funding for an integrated Masters. In the UK, for example, undergraduate Masters degrees are covered by the undergraduate loans system.

Previously this meant that an integrated program was the only way to receive a student loan for a Masters-level qualification.

The introduction of postgraduate Masters loans from 2016 means this won’t be quite as big a deal. But you may still benefit from having a single larger loan, rather than separate concurrent payments.

1+3 Masters and PhD programs 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.

Are integrated Masters programs easier to fund?

If you’re considering studying an integrated Masters in order to access funding, there are a few topics you’ll want to read up on. In particular, you should make sure you’re informed about the forthcoming loans for Masters students (and the plans for PhD loans). These could offset the current advantages of accessing undergraduate or PhD funding for an integrated Masters.

The limitations of an integrated Masters

The ability to study a specialised degree program, with professional recognition and the potential for funding 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 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 - 23/02/2016

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