Your Complete Guide to What an Integrated Masters Degree Is
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Integrated Masters Degrees – A Guide

Written by Mark Bennett

An integrated Masters degree combines undergraduate and postgraduate study into a single four-year long course. If you're looking to study a highly structured training programme or access unique qualifications, an integrated Masters degree might be right course for you.

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 (such as the MSci) and what they involve.

What is an integrated Masters degree?

An integrated Masters degree is a programme that combines a Masters with a PhD or Bachelors. 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 combined 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.

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

What are the main types of undergraduate 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.

As their names suggest, most integrated Masters degrees are Masters level qualifications. These are essentially a Bachelors and a Masters degree combined. 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.

What isn’t an integrated Masters degree?

It’s also 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 programme) 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 programmes 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 programmes’ or ‘double Masters’. 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.

How do combined Masters and PhD programmes work?

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.

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 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.

How are integrated Masters graded?

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.

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 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 study to postgraduate study relatively smooth.

Funding an integrated Masters

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 limitations of an integrated Masters

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.

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Last updated: 10 November 2022