What is master's study?

A master’s course is usually a one-year postgraduate course that is a step up from undergraduate study.

Why study a master’s?

Whether it's to broaden your horizons, dig deeper into a subject you love, or help you get ahead in your career, studying for a master's is a great next step.

You might have really loved studying your subject at undergraduate level, and not be ready to give it up just yet. You might have a set career in mind that requires a master’s, or where you are more likely to be able to advance with a master’s.

You might be set on applying for PhD (doctoral) study, and a master’s is required (or expected). You might be an undergraduate without a clear idea of what to do after you graduate, and be considering a master’s as a productive next step.

It's important you spend some time thinking about exactly what you want to get out of studying for a master’s. While it is a rewarding way to spend a year, it is an investment in both time and money. If you know a master’s is required for your next step, spend some time deciding on the right course for you.

If you’re not sure about whether to do a master’s, it might be worth taking some time to consider whether it is a required next step. Many people return to master’s study several years after graduating from their undergraduate degree.

How long does it last?

Most master’s courses in England last one year full-time, and some have the option for you to study it part-time over two years.

Some more specialist master’s last slightly longer so it's always worth checking the details for your chosen subject before making a firm decision.

Is it much harder than undergraduate study?

Master’s level study is a step up from undergraduate, and more intense.

To give you an idea, a one-year master’s course is usually 180 credits, compared to 120 credits for a full-time year of undergraduate study.

Many people who go on to PhD study after a master’s consider the master’s to have been more challenging – simply due to the step up and intensity.

But most students find the difficulty to be manageable with a little forward planning.

What is the difference between taught and research master’s?

Some subjects offer both taught and research options. The most common reason for studying a research master’s is as preparation for PhD study.

These are the types of master’s study in the UK:

  • MRes – one-year taught course, which may include significant lecture content and one or several research projects;
  • MPhil – one to two years, and is commonly one long research project;
  • MBA – 12–15 months full-time (usually undertaken early to mid-career once you have management experience);
  • LLM – taught master’s course in Law;
  • MLitt or MSt – another name for MA or MPhil (some universities offer this type of degree);
  • PGCE – Postgrad Certificate in Education, the qualification needed to become a teacher in the UK;
  • PGDip, PG Cert – master’s level study, without studying the full course or doing a dissertation, meaning the full master’s degree is not awarded;
  • MEng, MSci, MMath etc – integrated four year undergraduate degree offered in some sciences.

When to do a master's?

People do a master’s at many different stages in their lives, so there is no ‘right’ time to do it.

The right time for you will depend on your reasons for wanting to study a master's degree. 

People who are sure of their next steps (whether a specific job or applying to PhD study) often progress to master’s very soon after undergraduate degrees, either straight away or following a break of a year or so.

For some people, a master’s will only become relevant or necessary later in their career, as part of CPD (Continuing Professional Development). In this case, they may only study a master’s after being in their career for a number of years.

For most people, funding is key, and so they may study a master’s after having taken a year or more out to save up for their studies.

Want to find out more?

You can stream subject sessions as well as general webinars on accommodation, studying at Manchester and campus tours from our postgraduate virtual open week that took place in November.

If you're a current Manchester student you can:

If you’re a recent Manchester graduate, you can still access the full range of support from the Careers Service for two years after you graduate.

If you’re studying at another university, talk to your own careers service or tutor.

Hear from our staff and students

Ahsan Chaudrhy, an MRes student, talks to Felicity Wicks, Sophie Coller, Dr David Allison and Eve Foster about what a master's actually is and what it might mean for you.