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What is a Master’s Degree? Your ultimate guide for 2024

A master’s degree could be just what you need to nail a subject and level up in your career. Find out all about them in our one-stop guide.

Master's degree student smiles in class

According to the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA), 743,000 students enrolled in a postgraduate course in 2020/21. If you’re thinking of joining them, a master’s is a great option for so many reasons. We delve into the nuts and bolts of this popular postgraduate degree course so you can decide if it’s right for you.

What is a master’s degree? 

A master’s degree is a Level 7 qualification, placing it above a bachelor’s degree but just below a PhD. It is an advanced degree for students who want to build on knowledge and skills acquired at the undergraduate level or from professional experience.

To complete a master’s degree course, you need to have demonstrated a high level of expertise in a particular subject or professional field and evidence this is a final dissertation or thesis. A master’s degree often includes a much higher level of independent study and research than an undergraduate degree.

What are the different types of master’s degrees that you can study?

There are a few different types of master’s courses to be aware of. It’ll likely be one of three types: 

  • Taught: where the focus is on lesson-based learning
  • Research: where more focus is put on independent study
  • Executive: a business-focused degree, usually part-time, for students working alongside their studies, eg. an Executive MBA.

Like at the bachelor’s level, master’s degree courses are also divided into subjects. So, depending on yours, your course may have a different name. 

A few examples of the most common master’s degree types include: 

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How long does a master’s degree take? 

The length of your master’s degree will largely depend on whether you study full-time or part-time, or if you’ve chosen an integrated degree course. 

Average course lengths are:

  • Full-time: you’ll usually study for 1-2 years depending on the university and subject you’re studying
  • Part-time: if you’re planning to work alongside your studies, your course will usually take 2-4 years
  • Integrated degrees: some universities do integrated bachelor’s and master’s degrees, and these usually take 4 years. 

What are the requirements to study for a master’s degree? 

To prepare you for your applications, we’ve provided a general guide to the minimum entry requirements below. However, you should always check the criteria of your chosen course on the university’s website before you apply.


Most universities will ask for a previous degree-level qualification as part of your application for a master’s. 

We’ve broken down the minimum requirements in a few countries below:

  • UK: a relevant bachelor’s degree with upper second-class honours (2:1)
  • US: a relevant bachelor’s degree with a GPA of 3.0
  • Australia: a relevant bachelor’s degree with a minimum of 60% (2:1)
  • Germany: a relevant bachelor’s degree with a minimum of 75% (1st) in your undergraduate degree or CGPA of 7.5/10.

Relevant experience

If you don’t have a relevant undergraduate degree, many universities may look at your professional or voluntary experience instead. If you can show your passion and knowledge of a topic beyond your educational achievement, you could still get a place on the master’s of your dreams.

Language fluency

You may have to show off your language skills if you’re studying in a second language. If you’re applying for a master’s in the UK or the US, and English is your second language, you’ll need to take a test by a recognised testing body.

The most trusted bodies for these tests are the IELTS (International English Language Testing System) and the TOEFL (Test of Engish as a Foreign Language). Each course and university will have different score requirements for entry.

If you want to brush up on your language skills in the meantime, we offer a range of online language courses, including a specialist course on improving your IELTS speaking score.

What can I do with a master’s degree? 

Any master’s student will tell you how fulfilling it is to develop a full understanding of a subject. As well as the satisfaction of building expertise, you can also use your master’s to:

  • Improve prospects in your industry: according to Prospects, almost 78% of all working-age postgraduates are in high-skilled employment, compared with just 66% of all graduates. 
  • Change careers: if you’re looking to change up your profession, a master’s can give you the knowledge and skills you need. Plus, it’s a great sign to an employer you’re serious about working in the industry.
  • Prepare for a PhD: you may not be done with studying just yet. To get onto a PhD course in the UK, you’ll usually need a master’s degree with at least a Merit. During your master’s, you’ll also develop invaluable research and analysis skills for your Doctorate.

How much does a master’s degree cost? 

Unfortunately, master’s degrees don’t always come cheap. While they offer many benefits, you should consider the cost before you apply. 

In the UK, you’ll be eligible for a student loan if it’s your first postgraduate degree. You’ll also be able to get a student loan in the US, but payment plans are often more expensive. We’ve provided total average costs for master’s degrees around the world below:

  • UK: £8,740 
  • USA: $65,314 
  • Australia: $37,600
  • Germany: €600 (you won’t need to pay tuition fees for public universities. For private universities in Germany, fees will vary from €5,000 to €10,000 per semester).

How do I apply for a master’s degree? 

Applying for a master’s is just like applying for a job. You can do it either by email, post or through an online platform.

Since it’s an advanced qualification, you’re expected to show passion, knowledge and prior experience in a subject. While requirements vary by country and university, you’ll generally need to apply with: 

  • Evidence of your qualifications: you may be asked to provide evidence of your undergraduate degree, like your certificate and grade
  • CV and/or work experience: you may also be expected to provide a professional CV instead of, or alongside, your qualifications
  • Personal statement: a short, one-page personal statement that summarises your experience and knowledge of the subject and why you’re applying to that specific university.

In the US, you may also have to take some form of Grad School Standardised Test. Depending on your topic area, the test types include:

  • Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT)
  • Graduate Record Examinations (GRE)
  • Law School Admission Test (LSAT)
  • Medical College Admission Test (MCAT)

In Australia, you may be required to take a GMAT (Graduate Management Admission Test) as part of your application to a master’s course which usually costs around $250 to take. In other countries, like China, you may also require one, or two, letters of recommendation – usually from tutors on your undergraduate course.

If you’re looking to pursue your master’s degree online, check out our how to prepare for your online degree article.

How do I choose a master’s programme that’s right for me? 

Choosing a master’s degree isn’t something to rush into. Take your time to research your course, university and what it can offer you. Try to look at:

  • Curriculum: maybe the most important part of your decision should be the content of your course. Make sure you’re applying for something that interests you and will offer you the most value based on your future plans.
  • Alumni interviews: by reading interviews with past students, you can get a better idea of the particular strengths and/or weaknesses of a specific course.
  • Facilities: this is particularly important if you’re working in a field like science where lab facilities can really make a difference to the quality of your education.
  • Partnerships: if your master’s course includes work experience, then it’s always worth checking the existing relationships and partnerships your university has with other organisations.
  • Graduate prospects: your university should provide these statistics themselves, but you can compare graduate prospects for different courses on comparison websites like The Good University Guide.
  • Finance: make sure you know the cost of the course and if you’ll be able to pay for it either up-front or using a student loan.
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Can I study for a master’s degree online?

Yes, you can! Whether you decide to study part-time or full-time, studying for an online master’s degree is now easier than ever. 

Here at FutureLearn, we offer a range of master’s degree courses in partnership with fantastic universities all over the world. Or, if you’re not ready for a master’s just yet, try one of our convenient online short courses to start your learning journey.

Explore online master’s degrees at FutureLearn

Studying exclusively online, you’ll find a range of accessible high-quality master’s degrees at FutureLearn. Working with leading universities, we provide degree-level courses for students all over the world allowing everyone to reach their potential no matter what their circumstances. We offer:

Master of Science (MSc) courses including:

Master of Business Administration (MBA) courses including:

And other master’s courses including:

If you’re curious about other degree types, check out our types of degrees in the UK article.

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