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Masters in New Zealand

by Mark Bennett & Study Options

Featured Universities

New Zealand has a reputation as a popular tourist destination, but international students don’t just travel there for the local landscapes, wildlife and sporting opportunities.

You can do all of these while studying a Masters in New Zealand, of course, but you’ll also have access to a wide variety of postgraduate degrees at internationally acclaimed universities.

Our guide to Masters study in New Zealand has been put together with the help of Study Options, the official Application Support Service for UK-based students wanting to apply to university in New Zealand and Australia.

Here you can find out how postgraduate degrees work within the New Zealand university system, what the visa requirements are for international students and more.

Elsewhere in this section you can also read specific guides to fees and funding and student life for postgraduates in New Zealand.

Why study a Masters in New Zealand?

There are plenty of great reasons to study a Masters in New Zealand.

You might be looking to indulge your sense of adventure while studying for a postgraduate degree – in which case you’ll have plenty to keep you occupied in a country that offers snow-capped ski-resorts and sub-tropical oceans.

Or you might be a very dedicated fan of The Lord of the Rings, with a plan to visit the beautiful landscapes made famous by recent blockbuster movie adaptations.

The simplest and best reason to study a Masters in New Zealand, however, is the quality of the country’s higher education system. There are only eight universities in New Zealand, but all are well respected and four even feature in the top 300 institutions worldwide – if you think about it, that’s a pretty impressive proportion!

As an international student you’ll also benefit from studying in a country with an education system modelled on the UK’s – and recognised worldwide.

So: stunning landscapes, hobbits and top-ranked universities – what’s not to like?

Masters degrees in the New Zealand university system

With only eight universities, New Zealand isn’t home to the largest higher education system in the world, but the degrees it awards are recognised internationally.

Universities in New Zealand

All of New Zealand’s universities are publically funded institutions, offering a wide range of Masters degrees. They are split almost evenly between the two main islands that make up New Zealand:

  • AUT University, The University of Auckland, Massey University, Victoria University of Wellington and Waikato University are located on the North Island (Te Ika-a-Maui).
  • The University of Canterbury, The University of Otago and Lincoln University are located on the South Island (Te Waipounamu).

All of these universities offer Masters degrees and you can study at any of them as an international student.

Institutes of Technology and Polytechnics (ITP)

The New Zealand higher education system also includes a number of Institutes of Technology and Polytechnics. These specialise in vocational courses and other postgraduate degrees in subjects such as nursing, midwifery, art and design and others.

ITP can therefore be an excellent choice for postgraduate students seeking a professional Masters-level qualification in New Zealand.

The academic year in New Zealand

Just like the rest of the southern hemisphere, New Zealand begins its academic year in February. The academic calendar is split into two semesters, running from February to June and from July to November.

As a Masters student you can potentially begin your degree in either semester. Masters courses are usually available to start in either February or July, although some professional courses are only available to start in semester 1 (February).

New Zealand Masters degrees: varieties, program structure and course content

Masters degrees in New Zealand are postgraduate qualifications, modelled on the well-known British and Irish system. This means they usually follow a course of undergraduate study on a Bachelor's degree and can be a prerequisite for advanced postgraduate research work at PhD level.

Types of Masters degree in New Zealand

Postgraduate courses in New Zealand can be designed to suit a variety of career aims. Instead of simply selecting a Masters in an academic subject area linked to your Bachelor’s degree you can also use postgraduate study and training to acquire or develop professional skills.

This can be particularly useful if you wish to specialise in fields at which New Zealand excels, such as education, social work, sports science and physiotherapy.

There are four main varieties of Masters degree in New Zealand:

  • Traditional Masters programs are academic courses, building on a related undergraduate program. They tend to award familiar qualifications such as the Masters of Arts (MA) or Master of Science (MSc).

    You can use these courses to develop your existing subject knowledge and take advantage of specialist academic expertise at universities in New Zealand.

  • Change of direction Masters degrees are designed to help you switch academic or career pathways and become competent in a field you haven’t previously studied. Most will offer a solid grounding in a subject before offering the chance to specialise in a specific aspect of it.

    You can use these courses to make the transition between careers, or move from an academic to a professional focus.

  • Graduate entry professional qualifications allow candidates to acquire advanced vocational skills at the postgraduate level or qualify for professional careers such as teaching or social work.

    You can use these courses to enter regulated professions (such as teaching) but should ensure your qualifications are recognised and accredited in the country you eventually plan to work in.

  • Professional development qualifications, unlike graduate entry courses, are designed for candidates with relevant work experience. They can provide additional skills and training to enhance or modify an existing career path.

    You can use these courses to acquire advanced postgraduate training in your professional field. For example, you might be a marketing specialist looking to specialise in digital communications, or a teacher seeking to develop school management skills.

What about Masters by Research?

New Zealand’s universities offer research-based Masters degrees as well as taught courses. Most of these will be academic programs, during which you will produce an extended independent dissertation under the supervision of a suitable expert.

As a Masters student you won’t be expected to produce research with the same scope as a PhD project, but you will still be required to identify an original topic of inquiry. Some institutions may offer an upgrade path between Research-Masters and PhD degrees. You can read more about PhD study in New Zealand at FindAPhD.com.

How long do Masters degrees take in New Zealand?

Traditional Masters programs in New Zealand usually last for two years. The first year is taught by coursework, the second year is research based.

There are now also a wide range of primarily taught Masters courses in New Zealand, which usually last for just one year. Research Masters are usually longer, with programs up to two years long. You can check the course length for individual Masters degrees in New Zealand by browsing our course listings.

Applying for a Masters in New Zealand

Universities in New Zealand are free to set their own admissions processes, but all will welcome applications from prospective international students.

Admissions criteria

Entry criteria will vary slightly between different program types:

  • Academic Masters programs in New Zealand will normally require an undergraduate degree in a related subject area. This may not have to be the exact same subject as your postgraduate degree, but it should have some relevance. A Masters in history might build on a Bachelor’s in literature, for example, but probably not on an undergraduate physics degree.
  • Professional Masters programs in New Zealand may require relevant work experience. This is less likely for graduate entry qualifications, but will be a pre-requisite for most professional development courses.

Where a program requires an undergraduate degree universities may specify a minimum result. This will usually be a 2.1 or higher (roughly equivalent to a US GPA of 3.0 or better) but universities may choose to modify their requirements. If you have not received your desired degree result but are otherwise submitting a strong application, you may still be considered.

Application deadlines

Application deadlines for Masters degrees in New Zealand vary according to the semester in which a course begins:

  • For a Masters beginning in semester one (February-June) you should normally apply by the 31st of October in the preceding year.
  • For a Masters beginning in semester two (July-November) you should normally apply by the 30th of April in the year your course commences.

Application process

There are various ways to apply for a Masters in New Zealand as an international student:

  • You can apply directly to universities, most of which will offer application guidelines online (you can view application requirements for individual courses by searching specific Masters programs in New Zealand).
  • Alternatively, students from the UK and Ireland can apply via the New Zealand universities official Application Support Service, Study Options. This is a free service, offering independent assistance and advice.

Application requirements

The most important part of your application for a New Zealand Masters degree will usually be proof of your existing qualifications or experience (as appropriate). In addition to these, you may need to submit:

  • Academic transcripts – universities in New Zealand will need to see a certified transcript, detailing the modules you’ve studied and the grades you received for them. Your current or previous university should be able to prepare this for you upon request.
  • References – not all courses will require references. If you are asked to provide some you should probably include statements from tutors, employers or other people with experience of you in an academic or professional context. Your mum probably isn’t a good choice – unless, perhaps, she’s a lecturer and / or your boss.
  • A Personal Statement – You’re most likely to be asked for a personal statement as part of your application to a professional development program or a Masters by Research (where it may be associated with your project proposal).


Interviews aren’t likely to be required for international Masters students in New Zealand. (universities will appreciate that it’s rather a long way to travel!).

If your institution does want to chat to you during your application they will normally be happy to arrange a less formal interview over Skype or telephone.

Masters student visas in New Zealand

Universities in New Zealand welcome international applicants, but you will still need a visa to live and study in the country.

As an international Masters student you’ll need to apply for a specific student visa. You can study in New Zealand for up to three months on a standard visitor’s visa, but this won’t be long enough to complete a Masters degree.

Who doesn't need a visa to study in New Zealand?

You won’t need a visa to study abroad in New Zealand if you meet any of the following criteria:

  • You hold a New Zealand passport (even if you have not lived there for a while – or have never lived there at all).
  • You are an Australian citizen.
  • You hold an unconditional permanent residence visa for Australia or New Zealand.

Other students will usually need to apply for a student visa. If you think exceptions may apply in your case you should contact Immigration New Zealand (INZ).

Requirements for a New Zealand student visa application

In order to successfully apply for a New Zealand student visa you must meet the following criteria:

  • You must have been granted a place at a university in New Zealand on a course recognised by the New Zealand Qualifications Authority (NZQA).
  • You must be studying full-time. Unfortunately it isn't possible to study part-time on an international student visa in New Zealand.
  • You must meet an acceptable standard of health. You will not normally be required to provide medical documents to prove this (unless the assessing officer at INZ asks for them) but you will need to sign a declaration to this effect).
  • You must be of good character, with no outstanding criminal convictions. If you are applying to study in New Zealand for more than two years, you will need to provide police clearances from your previous country/ies of residence.

In addition, you will need to meet the following requirements during your stay:

  • You must not exceed the working hours set by your visa. These are capped at 20 hours per week during term time and 40 hours per week during holidays.
  • You must maintain comprehensive health insurance for the duration of your degree (see below).

Applications process

You can apply for a New Zealand student visa online at the Immigration New Zealand Website.

Or, if you are applying for admission to a New Zealand university from the UK or Ireland through Study Options, you can also lodge your student visa application through them.

In addition to your passport you will need to provide:

  • A completed application form.
  • Two passport-sized photos.
  • Proof that you have an unconditional offer of a place at a New Zealand university along with a receipt showing that you have paid the required deposit towards your tuition fees.
  • Evidence that you will be able to support yourself whilst studying in New Zealand, including proof of sufficient financial resources to cover living costs and a guarantee of suitable accommodation.

This is the minimum list of requirements – other documents might be asked for, depending on the requirements of your course.

Health insurance for international students in New Zealand

You’ll need to have valid health insurance for the duration of the time you spend studying a Masters abroad in New Zealand.

Your New Zealand university will have a preferred provider and will offer you the option of purchasing a policy when you accept your place.

This is usually the best way to go, as the policies have been designed to meet the strict requirements imposed by Immigration New Zealand. Very few international health insurance policies meet these standards and you should therefore budget for additional cover as one of your study abroad expenses.

Find out more about studying a Masters in New Zealand

Hopefully this page has answered most of your questions about Masters study in New Zealand.

If you’re looking for more information about other aspects of postgraduate study abroad in New Zealand, why not check out our guides to Masters fees and funding or our guide to student life?

Remember that if you are based in the UK or Ireland and have more questions about studying in New Zealand, you can get help and advice from Study Options.

Their team offer expert and impartial help and support to all students lodging applications to New Zealand universities from the UK and Ireland.

This article was produced by FindAMasters.com in partnership with https://www.studyoptions.com. It may not be reproduced without permission.

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