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The Master of Letters (MLitt) Degree – A Guide

If you’re considering a Masters in Scotland, or at some of the older universities in England, your degree may be an MLitt, or 'Master of Letters'.

Somewhat unusually, an Mlitt can be either a taught or research program, replacing the more common MA or MPhil within a university's qualification structure.

This page provides a basic overview of the MLitt degree. It includes advice on the length and format of an MLitt as well as information on the differences between the MLitt and other types of Masters degree.

What is an MLitt?

The MLitt is a specialised Masters degree, usually awarded in Literature, Law, Theology, History or related Arts and Humanities subjects. It stands for Magister Litterarum, which is Latin for ‘Master of Letters’.

Master of Letters (MLitt)
Type Taught / Research
Subjects Arts & Humanities
Level 7 (NQF)
Length 1-2 years
Credits 180 CATS
Availability Primarily UK and Ireland

Historically, the MLitt originated within the ‘ancient universities’ of England and Scotland.

These universities organise their degree structure slightly differently to other institutions. In particular, they tend to award the MA (Master of Arts) as an integrated four year ‘undergraduate’ Masters or as an automatic degree, conferred upon BA graduates after a certain period of time.

Degrees like the MLitt help ‘stand in’ for other postgraduate degrees and avoid confusion between qualification types (at least in theory!).

Types of MLitt

The MLitt is somewhat unusual in that it can take very different forms:

  • In Scotland, the MLitt is usually a one-year taught course, similar to an MA.
  • In England, the MLitt is more likely to be a two-year research program, similar to an MRes or MPhil.

Both types of MLitt are ‘Masters level’ degrees. They are recognised as ‘level 7’ qualifications by the UK’s qualifications framework and as ‘second cycle’ degrees by the European Bologna Process.

This means that an MLitt is effectively equivalent to other postgraduate Masters degrees.

Making sense of the MLitt

Don’t let the different types of MLitt confuse you. It’s easy to understand individual degrees by looking at their details in our course listings. If a degree is a short taught course, it is probably equivalent to an MA or MSc; a two year research program will be more like an MRes or MPhil.

What are the entry requirements for an MLitt?

An MLitt will usually have the same basic entry requirements as the degree it ‘replaces’ in a university’s postgraduate portfolio.

If you’re applying for a taught MLitt, expect its admissions requirements to be similar to those for an MA. You’ll need to hold a good Bachelors degree in an appropriate subject.

If you’re applying for a research MLitt, you may also be asked to put forward a research proposal, outlining your project.

Which countries award MLitt degrees?

The MLitt is one of the rarer qualifications you’ll come across whilst looking for a Masters. Though the degree originates within the UK higher education system, comparatively few British universities offer it.

Those that do are mainly located in Scotland, where the MLitt often stands in for the MA as a taught postgraduate degree.

The ‘medieval’ English universities of Oxford and Cambridge also award the MLitt, but do so as a research degree. The same is true of some Irish universities.

Outside the UK, the MLitt is less common.

A small number of universities in the USA and Australia award the MLitt as a specialised degree, beyond the taught Masters level. These may be advanced courses, requiring an existing Masters. Or they may sit between MA and PhD level as options within a broader graduate program.

Which subjects award MLitt degrees?

As its name suggests, the ‘Master of Letters’ is associated with the study of the written word. MLitt qualifications are therefore common in Literature and related subjects – particularly in Scotland, where the degree often takes the place of a taught MA.

Don’t take this association with ‘Litt-erature’ too ‘litt-erally’ though. MLitt programs can also cover other areas of the Arts and Humanities such as History, Law, Theology, Philosophy or Politics.

This is particularly true in England and Ireland where the MLitt may be offered as a research degree in these fields.

Unsurprisingly, the MLitt won’t normally be offered in Sciences. These subjects usually award the MSc as a taught Masters or the MRes / MPhil as a research degree.

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Who should study an MLitt?

You won’t normally ‘choose’ the MLitt over an alternative option. Instead, the qualification is offered by some universities in place of a more familiar Masters degree.

An MLitt will therefore be appropriate if you would otherwise study a taught MA (in Scotland). Or if you wish to complete a shorter research project in the manner of an MPhil (at some universities in England).

Whatever your circumstances, you don’t need to worry about studying an MLitt instead of another postgraduate Masters. The qualification is fully recognised within international higher education systems.

What’s it like to study an MLitt?

The variety of program types that award this degree means there isn’t really a single typical MLitt study experience.

But that doesn’t make it hard to describe the MLitt. In fact, it can actually make it easier.

In most cases the MLitt ‘stands in’ for a more familiar Masters degree such as an MA or an MPhil. If so, your MLitt will generally be similar to the degree type it ‘replaces’ at your university.

Taught MLitt programs

If you’re studying the MLitt as a one-year, taught Masters (as is common in Scotland), you can expect the experience to be a lot like studying a postgraduate MA.

You’ll spend most of your degree studying a series of modules on specific topics and will often have the option of choosing those that most interest you.

You’ll then proceed to a final dissertation, during which you’ll investigate and write up an original research topic.

Assessment for a taught MLitt will primarily consist of coursework essays or similar assignments set at the end of each module. Your dissertation will usually be marked as a piece of written work, rather than through an oral ‘viva voce’ exam.

MLitt vs MA

In Scotland, the taught MLitt effectively stands in for MA programmes in the Arts and Humanities. Both are taught courses with similar content, assessment and requirements. Employers (and PhD admissions processes) will regard both qualifications as being broadly equivalent.

Research MLitt programs

MLitt degrees in England are usually research based. Some MLitt programmes feature initial training in research methods, but your degree probably won’t include any taught ‘classes’.

Instead you will spend your time producing an independent project – much like an MPhil or PhD student. You’ll be assigned a supervisor and will be examined solely on the quality of the thesis you submit. This will often mean facing an oral ‘viva voce’ exam, similar to that for a PhD.

MLitt vs MPhil

English MLitt programmes are mainly offered at Oxford and Cambridge. These universities tend to offer highly structured versions of the MPhil, as one-year courses preparing for a PhD programme. The MLitt provides an alternative for students who simply wish to complete a shorter (two-year) research project. However, a research MLitt may not allow you to upgrade to a PhD.

How long is an MLitt thesis?

All versions of the MLitt include a thesis, but the length of this will vary by programme.

  • Taught MLitt courses (such as those in Scotland) normally conclude with a 15-20,000 word dissertation. This is equivalent to the procedure for a taught MA. Your work will be externally marked and moderated, but you won’t be orally examined on it.
  • Research MLitt courses (such as those at older English universities) include a much longer dissertation. This will normally be between 50,000 and 60,000 words. Put in context this is about halfway between an ‘Oxbridge’ MPhil dissertation (around 30,000 words) and the PhD (or DPhil) dissertation (around 100,000 words). This reflects the role of the MLitt at Oxford and Cambridge as a self-contained research qualification – shorter than a PhD, but still substantial.

How many credits is an MLitt worth?

Taught MLitt degrees are normally worth 180 credits, the same as an equivalent MA programme. You’ll gain 120 credits for completing modules in each of two teaching semesters, with the final 60 awarded for your dissertation.

Taught MLitt degrees are normally worth 180 credits, the same as an equivalent MA programme. You’ll gain 120 credits for completing modules in each of two teaching semesters, with the final 60 awarded for your dissertation.

MLitt programmes outside the UK

This page focusses on UK MLitt degrees (where there’s already more than enough variety to deal with!). MLitts are less common in other countries, but some are offered in the USA, Australia and New Zealand. They tend to be advanced qualifications, preparing for PhD work or providing specialised training. The best way to check specific MLitt programmes is to use our course search.

Last updated - 23/02/2016

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