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Guide to MSc degrees

An MSc, short for Master of Science, is a higher-level master’s degree and one of the most common ways to get a postgraduate qualification in science, technology and engineering (STEM) subjects.  Here you can find out everything you need to know about MSc degrees and decide whether it’s the right course for you. 


What is an MSc degree and why study for one? 

An MSc is a master’s level qualification that is suited to students looking to get a postgraduate qualification in a STEM subject. 

The MSc is the same level as an MA and other master’s level degrees, allowing students to develop specialist knowledge and advanced technical skills in their chosen subject area. You’ll normally look at doing an MSc after completing a bachelor’s degree like a BSc. 

An MSc usually involves a mix of taught and research-based modules, and you’ll typically get involved in lectures, seminars, lab work, individual or group projects during your course. You might have as few as six or more than 20 contact hours a week during your MSc. 

An MSc can range from one to two years in length, and most students will finish by completing a dissertation project. 

You might consider doing an MSc course to boost your employability, build technical lab or research skills, or prepare for further studies like a PhD. 

What MSc courses are there? 

MSc courses are offered across a wide range of subjects within the science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) disciplines, as well as the social sciences and medical subjects. 

You’ll be able to choose from a variety of course structures and delivery methods, including full- and part-time degrees, integrated master’s, as well as hybrid or fully remote MSc courses. 

You could study an MSc in a wide range of subjects including, but not limited to: 

  • Life sciences like biology, microbiology and plant sciences 
  • Physical sciences like chemistry and geology 
  • Mathematics, data science and statistics 
  • Economics, accounting and finance 
  • Computer science and I.T. subjects 
  • Engineering subjects 
  • Social sciences 

You could also study an interdisciplinary course, bringing parts of two related subject areas together into one degree programme. 

Some MSc courses might involve travel abroad, industry placements or paid research activity. 

How long is an MSc degree and when do they start? 

A full-time MSc usually takes one academic year in the UK, but they can last up to two years in some cases. Part-time courses normally take between two and four years, depending on the study pattern that you choose and the full-time length of your course. 

The most common starting time for MSc degrees is in the autumn, especially September and October. However, some courses may also offer January starting dates. 

What are the entry requirements for an MSc degree? 

To get onto an MSc degree you’ll usually need to get a 2:2 or more in your undergraduate degree. Your bachelor’s will usually need to be in a related subject. A higher grade at undergraduate level will improve your chances of success when applying for a master’s. 

It’s still possible to get onto an MSc if you have a lower grade than a 2:2, but you might need to demonstrate relevant work experience or otherwise make a strong case for yourself during your application. 

How much does an MSc degree cost? 

You’ll pay less in tuition fees for your MSc than your bachelor’s degree, in most cases. Tuition fees for an MSc are usually similar to the fees you’d pay for an MA or MRes, though an MRes can sometimes cost a little less. 

There is no national cap for the cost of tuition at postgraduate level, so universities will set their own fees. The average tuition cost of an MSc is £8,740 but you might find courses with fees as high as £18,000, such as the MSc in Archaeological Science from the University of Oxford which costs £17,250. On the other end of the scale, degrees like the MSc in Health and Wellbeing from Leeds Trinity University cost just £4,950. 

What funding is there for MSc degrees? 

There are several options you could explore when it comes to funding your MSc course. 

A postgraduate loan is available to all UK students studying their first master’s degree at a UK institution, which could be worth up to £11,836 for students starting their course in the 22/23 academic year. This can be used to cover both tuition and maintenance costs, and will be paid directly into your bank account in instalments. 

Go to: Read more about The ULTIMATE Guide to Postgraduate Funding

Scholarships and bursaries might be offered by your chosen university, as well as private organisations, research councils or charities. These can be worth thousands of pounds and unlike the postgraduate loan, you don’t need to pay these back. Your eligibility for these will depend on your chosen subject, financial background, academic achievement and other cultural or geographic characteristics. 

Go to: Search for postgraduate scholarships

What jobs can you do with an MSc degree? 

An MSc is a great way to develop advanced knowledge and skills in a specific area following a broad education at undergraduate level. It also provides much more opportunity to complete independent research or project work, like a dissertation. 

As a result, it’s a common stepping-stone between undergraduate-level study in a STEM subject and a PhD in that subject area. 

Even if you aren’t looking to go further in academia, many graduate jobs in the science, technology and engineering fields will ask for a master’s level degree. In any case, it will help you compete against other applicants for roles in an increasingly competitive employment market. 

MSc degrees aren’t just for engineers and ‘hard’ scientists, but can help you prepare for a career in the social or medical sciences as well. 

Which MSc degrees are in most demand? 

Interdisciplinary or combined MSc qualifications are increasingly in demand as employers look for graduates who can demonstrate their broad skill base and flexibility. 

Apart from that, MSc degrees in veterinary science and medical-related disciplines like medical technology, biomedicine and neuroscience are in high demand, along with architecture and social studies degrees.  

Other subjects including physical sciences, computer science, engineering and technology also offer MSc graduates good employment prospects. 

An MSc degree is valued by many different employers across various industries, and is a great way to boost your graduate employability. 

When to apply for an MSc degree 

In most cases you’ll want to submit your application as early as possible, as this will give you time to make other applications if you’re unsuccessful and maximise your chances of success. Some courses offer interviews and admission on a first come, first serve basis so you’ll want to get in early. 

In most cases applying six months prior to the start of the course is recommended, while a minimum of three months is strongly encouraged. 

Some courses will have application deadlines while others accept applications at any time. You should check the deadlines for your chosen courses before planning your application.  

How is an MSc degree graded? 

You might be assessed in different ways during your MSc, ranging from written and practical exams to coursework and presentations. A dissertation will form a large part of your final grade in most cases. 

MSc degrees are marked and graded in a similar way to other master’s level courses. Overall scores and grades are as follows: 

  • Distinction - 70% or higher 
  • Merit – 60% to 69% 
  • Pass – 50% to 59% 
  • Borderline pass or fail – 40% to 49% 

It’s possible that some universities or courses will use slightly different grading boundaries to these. Grade boundaries and marking practices may also differ if you’re doing an integrated MSc. 

Next: Search for MSc courses


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