What Is the Hardest Master’s Degree to Get?

Thinking of applying for a Master’s degree and want to know which courses are hardest? This guide lists the factors to assess when deciding how difficult a Master’s programme might be and explains the key differences between different types of Masters, so that you can find the best course for you.

Are some Master’s harder than others?

Some Master’s are inevitably more difficult than others to get into and study. However, this differs from person to person and there are many factors to consider when assessing how hard a Master’s degree will be for you, including:

It is important to do your research into the Master’s courses available and apply for programmes that suit your skill set and future goals. If you need guidance on which courses to apply for, speak to our team of postgraduate admissions experts. We help 95% of our students get into their first or second-choice university and have an Oxbridge acceptance rate three times higher than the national average!


Acceptance rates


Acceptance rates can give you an insight into how competitive a programme is, and thus how difficult it might be to get in. The top UK universities, such as Oxbridge, UCL, and LSE, tend to have low acceptance rates due to their courses being extremely competitive. Oxford, for example, has a postgraduate acceptance rate of 18.9% (2020-21), while LSE has a postgraduate acceptance rate of 25% (2021-22).

Certain course types also tend to be more competitive and therefore harder to get into than others. For example, data-focused courses such as Data Science, Statistics, and Finance tend to be particularly competitive, as do professionally tailored courses such as Medicine.
Researching the acceptance rate of your chosen Master’s course can help you to decide where to apply; for example, if you are applying for two extremely competitive Master’s courses, it may be worth applying for two less competitive but similar courses as well in order to maximise your chances of an offer overall.

The Profs’ admissions tutors can help to improve your chances of getting into even the most competitive Master’s programmes. 95% of students we work with get into their first or second-choice universities thanks to our expert support. If you’d like to maximise your chances too, get in touch with our team today.


Entry requirements


Another factor that can give you an indication as to how hard a Master’s degree is to get into and study is the entry requirements. In general, the higher the entry requirements, the more academically rigorous and challenging the course is designed to be. The table below shows the top 10 universities in the UK and their standard academic entry requirements for Master’s courses.

RankingUniversityStandard entry requirements
1University of CambridgeGood 2:1 or first-class honours degree from a UK university (or international equivalent).
2University of OxfordGood 2:1 or first-class honours degree from a UK university (or international equivalent).
3Imperial College London2:1 honours degree from a UK university (or international equivalent).
4UCL2:1 honours degree from a UK university (or international equivalent).
5University of Edinburgh2:1 or first class honours degree from a UK university (or international equivalent).
6University of Manchester2:1 or first class honours degree from a UK university (or international equivalent).
7King’s College London2:1 honours degree from a UK university (or international equivalent).
8LSE2:1 or first-class honours degree from a UK university (or international equivalent).
9University of Bristol2:1 honours degree from a UK university (or international equivalent).
10University of Warwick2:1 honours degree from a UK university (or international equivalent).

Although most top universities have a minimum entry requirement of a 2:1 honours degree, there are some courses where a 2:2 may be accepted. Additionally, many universities outside of the top 10 will accept a 2:2 honours degree as standard, so always check the entry requirements before applying.

As well as your degree classification, there are other specifications universities may make in their entry requirements:

  • Subject requirements – for some courses, you will also need to meet specific subject requirements. For example, if you are applying for a programme that involves a lot of data analysis or is highly mathematical, you will usually need to demonstrate a strong mathematical background, such as by having an undergraduate degree in a Maths-based discipline.
  • Professional experience – some courses require a level of professional experience in combination with academic ability, so will require applicants to have some work experience. For example, MBAs usually require applicants to have a minimum of 3-5 years’ work experience, with some managerial experience included.

If you need help meeting the entry requirements for a Master’s course at a top university, reach out to our university tutoring team today. We have a network of highly qualified and experienced university-level tutors in a range of subjects that have a 90% success rate of helping students achieve their university grades.


Admissions tests


Another element that can make some Master’s degrees harder to get into is admissions tests. Some universities require applicants to take admissions tests for certain Master’s courses. These admissions tests are typically extremely challenging and are designed to distinguish good candidates from outstanding candidates for the most competitive programmes.

The table below shows the most common postgraduate admissions tests and the courses and universities that typically require them.

Admissions testCoursesUniversities
GAMSAT (Graduate Medical School Admissions Test)
How to prepare
Cardiff University
University of East Anglia
University of Exeter
University of Keele
University of Liverpool
University of Nottingham
University of Plymouth
Universities of St Andrews and Dundee in partnership with the University of the Highlands and Islands (ScotGEM)
St George’s, University of London
University of Sunderland
Swansea University
Ulster University
University of Worcester
GMAT (Graduate Management Admission Test)
How to prepare
83 universities and business schools in the UK accept the GMAT, including:
London Business School
University of Cambridge
University of Oxford
University of Warwick
Imperial College London
University of Manchester
City, University of London
Lancaster University
University of Leeds
See the full list of schools on the GMAC website.
GRE (Graduate Record Examinations)
How to prepare
Many universities and business schools in the UK accept the GRE, including:
London Business School
University of Cambridge
University of Oxford
University of Warwick
Imperial College London
University of Manchester
City, University of London
Lancaster University
Check your specific course page to see if the GRE is accepted.


Types of Master’s degrees


Another factor to consider when assessing how hard a Master’s degree will be is the type of programme it is. There are two main types of Master’s:

  • Taught Master’s – these courses involve studying a set of modules taught by academics at the university. They still involve a large amount of independent study, including readings and usually a research project (such as a dissertation), but the programme is structured and guided in a similar way to an undergraduate degree.
  • Research Master’s – these courses involve more independent research and have very few, if any, taught elements. They usually involve conducting an extended research project with the support of an academic supervisor at the university.

Depending on where your skills lie and what your goals are, a taught or research Master’s may be easier and better suited to you. For example, if you enjoy conducting research independently and want to pursue a career in academia, then a research Master’s may be easier for you than a taught Master’s.

There are also different types of Master’s programmes depending on the specific subject and university you are applying to:

  • Master of Science (MSc) – these are typically STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) subjects and some Business courses.
  • Master of Art (MA) – these are typically Arts and Humanities subjects, such as History, English, Political Science, Languages, Art, and Law.
  • Master of Philosophy (MPhil) – these are programmes offered by Cambridge and a few other universities and can be in a range of both Science and Humanities disciplines.
  • Master of Studies (MSt) – these are typically research-heavy Master’s programmes offered by the top three universities in the UK: Oxford, Cambridge and St Andrews.
  • Master of Research (MRes) – these are research-focused programmes that can be in a range of subjects across Science and Humanities.
  • Master of Business Administration (MBA) – these are postgraduate qualifications that allow professionals to develop the broad set of skills required to succeed in senior management-level positions.

How can we help?

The Profs’ postgraduate admissions consultants are true experts in helping students get into the best and most difficult Master’s courses in the UK and internationally. Not only do we have subject-specific admissions tutors, but we also have many ex-admissions staff in our network who have read countless applications and conducted hundreds of interviews at top universities and can advise you on how to excel throughout the admissions process.

In fact, our tutors help 95% of students secure places at their first or second-choice universities, which include the most demanding and competitive Master’s courses in the UK. Apply for Master’s study with the help of The Profs: get in touch with our experienced team today.


How long is a Master’s degree?

Master’s degrees typically last for one year when studied full-time. If you choose to study part-time, programmes will usually last for 2 years. However, each Master’s degree is unique and you should check the length of the programme before applying.

What is the difference between an MBA and other postgraduate degrees?

There are several differences between MBA (Master of Business Administration) programmes and other postgraduate degrees, such as MiMs (Masters in Management).
Firstly, MBAs usually require students to have 3-5 years’ of work experience as a minimum. MiMs and other business-related Master’s degrees, in contrast, usually require students to have a maximum of 2 years’ experience. In addition, MBAs almost always require applicants to take a test (GMAT or GRE) while this is less common among other types of Master’s.
Typically, MBAs are also more competitive than other management-focused postgraduate courses. MBAs are also more focused towards international candidates in the UK.
MBA courses are almost always more expensive than MiMs and in the US can regularly move into 6 figure fees. MIT Sloan is currently the most expensive MBA ($241,984).

Can you do a Masters without a degree?

In the vast majority of cases, you will not be able to study a Master’s without a Bachelor’s degree. Almost all UK universities list a Bachelor’s degree as a requirement for entry to any Master’s course, and top universities in particular will not usually consider applicants without a Bachelor’s degree.

However, some universities may be more flexible and some do encourage applicants from non-traditional educational backgrounds to apply, such as mature students who are applying to study a Master’s later in their career. These applicants typically have a wealth of professional experience which, although is not equivalent to a Bachelor’s degree, may be considered adequate by universities as long as they can demonstrate a keen interest and passion for the subject they’re applying for. They may also be required to take a Postgraduate Certificate (PGCert) or Postgraduate Diploma (PGDip).

How many Masters can you apply for UK?

There is no limit to the number of Master’s courses that you can apply for in the UK. Unlike undergraduate applications, which are limited to five and submitted via UCAS, Master’s applications are submitted directly to individual universities. Although there is no limit on how many Master’s you can apply for, we recommend limiting the number to five courses to ensure that you can invest sufficient time in tailoring your personal statements and maintaining a high quality of application to each.

Who can do pre-Masters in UK?

You can apply for a pre-Masters if you would like to study a Master’s in the UK but do not currently meet the full entry requirements for your chosen course. For example, your undergraduate degree may not meet the academic requirements of your chosen Master’s, you may need to improve your use of English, or you need to improve your academic study or research skills. The entry requirements for pre-Masters differ depending on the university you’re applying to, so make sure you check directly on the relevant website page or reach out to the admissions office.

Can you apply for a Masters before graduating in the UK?

You can apply for a Master’s programme before graduating in the UK. In fact, if you want to study a Master’s directly after you have completed your undergraduate degree, in most cases you will need to start researching courses and working on your applications near the start of your final year. This is because it takes time to find the most suitable course for you and complete all elements of your application.

As part of your application, you will need to indicate when you will complete your degree and may need to include the grade you are on track to achieve (e.g. a 2:1 classification), as well as meeting the other entry requirements (such as work experience, references, etc.). Usually, you will then be made a conditional offer for a Master’s, which will be confirmed when you officially achieve your degree classification and provide evidence (such as your degree transcript) to your chosen university.

Which Master’s degrees pay the most UK?

According to the UK government, the highest paying Master’s degrees in the UK are: MBA (£62,000), Economics (£49,300), Medicine and Dentistry (£43,400), Engineering (£41,200), and Business and Management (£41,200).

What Master’s degree is most employable?

According to the UK government, the highest proportion of graduates in sustained employment completed a PGCE (83.3%) or a Master’s in Architecture, Building and Planning (80.8%) or Education and Teaching (79.4%).

Which Masters degree is the easiest?

No Master’s degree is inherently ‘easy’ and which Master’s will be the easiest for you to get into and complete will depend on a number of factors, which you should consider carefully before applying. Firstly, it can be helpful to look at university acceptance rates. The universities with the highest acceptance rates in the UK include: Aberystwyth University (96.1%), University of Roehampton (93.9%), University of Portsmouth (89.9%), York St John University (89.4%), Leeds Trinity University (89%), and Nottingham Trent University (88.9%). You should also look at the entry requirements for specific Master’s courses, as these can vary between universities, with some top universities accepting 2:2 undergraduate degrees for less competitive courses.