Which Master’s Degree Is Best?

Thinking of applying for a Master’s degree but not sure which one is best? This guide explains what the key differences between different types of Master’s are and how to decide which one is the most ideal fit for you based on a range of factors.

Which Master’s degree is best?

In short, there’s not one Master’s degree that is better than others. The best Master’s degree for you depends on many factors, including what your future academic/career goals are and your academic and professional experience. You should do your research to determine which course is best based on these factors. Below, we list the different types of Master’s courses available and different elements to consider when choosing.

What are the different types of Master’s?

There are many different types of Master’s degrees and each university offers certain types. One of the main differences between different Master’s courses is whether they are taught or research based programmes. Taught programmes tend to be more structured, with a combination of compulsory and elective modules taught by academic staff and some independent research projects/requirements. Research programmes, on the other hand, tend to be almost entirely focused on one research area chosen by the student or department.

There are also different types of Master’s degree depending on the subject and university you’re applying for. Some of the most common include:

  • 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 based 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.

What are the entry requirements for Master’s degrees?

Each Master’s degree programme has its own set of entry requirements. In most cases, you will need an undergraduate degree in a relevant subject from a UK university (or international equivalent). Grade requirements typically range from a 2:2 to a first-class Bachelor’s degree (or equivalent), which roughly equates to a 2.7-3.7 GPA if you’re applying from the US. However, in some cases, you may qualify for entry with a lower class degree or with no degree if you can meet other requirements specific to your chosen university.

It is important to consider the entry requirements when researching Master’s degrees. The best Master’s degree for you will be one that you are on track to meet the requirements for and that you have a good chance of getting into. That isn’t to say that you can’t aim high: our university tutors can always help you to improve your grades in your final year.

What are the acceptance rates of Master’s degrees?

Some Master’s degrees have higher acceptance rates than others, and this will impact how high your chances are of getting an offer. For example, Statistics is one of the subjects with the lowest acceptance rates across top universities, but there is still some variation. The acceptance rate for MSc Statistics (Statistical Finance) at Imperial is 2.6% and 6.6% at LSE, whilst the acceptance rate for MPhil Statistics at Warwick is 24%.

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. More than 90% 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.

What are your future goals?

Ultimately, completing a Master’s can lead to two main paths: further academic study or a professional career. Depending on what your future goals are, certain types of Master’s courses may be better suited to you than others. Below are some examples of the best Master’s for further study and for professional careers.

What are the best Master’s for further study?

Most Master’s courses can lead to further study if you choose to pursue it. However, some courses may be better tailored to your academic interests and goals. For example, a research-focused Master’s (rather than a taught Master’s) provides you with the independent research skills necessary for further study, so these can be beneficial if your goal is to go on to study a PhD and remain in academia. Courses that allow you to specialise in a particular area of interest, either through independent research or core/elective modules, can also help to prepare you for further study in a focused research area.

Some Master’s subjects are also more likely to lead to further study than others. According to the UK government, the Master’s courses with the highest proportion of graduates in further study are: Psychology (21.3%), Combined and General Studies (21.1%) and Physics and Astronomy (20.1%). Conversely, the Master’s courses with the lowest proportion of graduates in further study are: MBA (4.1%), Architecture (5.2%) or Business and Management (5.3%). Note that the courses that do not typically lead to a high proportion of further study usually lead to a high proportion of graduate employment instead.

What are the best Master’s for your future career?

Depending on which career path you are looking to pursue, different Master’s may be more beneficial. For example, if you are looking to pursue a career in research, a research-focused Master’s (rather than a taught Master’s) may provide you with more relevant skills and help you to stand out to employers.

Certain career paths may also require you to study a certain subject or type of Master’s degree. For example, if you are looking to pursue a career as a lawyer, an LLM (Master of Laws) can help you develop your knowledge of Law and find specialised interests in the field. There are also specialist postgraduate programmes which combine Master’s level study with an accredited qualification, such as a Doctorate in Clinical Psychology (DClinPsy) to become a Clinical Psychologist.

What are the most employable Master’s?

The future employability of a Master’s is a big consideration for many students when deciding which course is best for them. According to the UK government, the highest proportion of graduates in sustained employment completed a PGCE (83.3%) or a Masters in Architecture, Building and Planning (80.8%) or Education and Teaching (79.4%). Conversely, the Master’s with the lowest proportion of graduates in sustained employment are: Philosophy and Religious Studies (63.9%), Combined and General Studies (65.8%), and English Studies (65.9%).

Although these statistics can be used as a guide when deciding which Masters is best, we don’t recommend choosing a Master’s solely based on them. Studying a Master’s course that you are passionate about and provides useful transferable skills is more beneficial than studying a Master’s course you are not interested in.

What are the highest-paying Master’s?

The earning potential associated with a Master’s is another consideration for many students when deciding which course is best for them. Again, although this shouldn’t be the sole factor upon which you decide on the Master’s to apply for, it can be a helpful consideration when weighing up the pros and cons of applying and working out if the course will be financially viable. The table below shows the highest-paying Master’s courses according to the UK government.

RankingCourseMedian salary
3Medicine and Dentistry£43,400
5Business and Management£41,200
6Mathematical Sciences£39,800
7Pharmacology, Toxicology and Pharmacy£39,400
9Architecture, Building and Planning£37,600
10Education and Teaching£36,900

How can we help?

The Profs’ postgraduate admissions consultants are true experts in helping students get into the best 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 more than 90% 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.


Do I need to go through UCAS to apply for a Master’s?

In most cases, you do not need to go through UCAS to apply for a Master’s course. Universities usually have their own applicant portals which allow you to apply to your chosen course directly through them.

There are a handful of taught postgraduate courses that you can apply for through the UCAS Postgraduate service. Always check directly with your chosen university how they would like you to submit your application beforehand to ensure you will be considered.

How much does it cost to do a Master’s in the UK?

Unlike fees for undergraduate courses, postgraduate fees are not regulated by the UK government and so universities set them themselves. Fees for Master’s courses vary greatly by university and by subject, with the most competitive courses (such as MBAs) usually costing the most. Fees will also depend on if you are a home or international student and if you are applying for a taught or research Master’s.

It’s important to research your options when it comes to funding your Master’s as application deadlines for funding are often different to specific course application deadlines. You may be eligible for additional funding from universities via bursaries and scholarships and, if you are a UK student, you can apply for a student loan. Some universities also offer discounted postgraduate courses for their own alumni (for example, Lancaster University offers its alumni a 10% Master’s fee reduction if you achieved a 2:1 in your undergraduate degree and a 20% fee reduction if you achieved a first). Some universities will also conduct a fee assessment to ensure that you can fund the course as part of the admissions process.

What is an MSt degree?

A Master of Studies (MSt) degree is a type of Master’s programme offered by the top three universities in the UK: Oxford, Cambridge and St Andrews. MSt Master’s degrees can be full or part-time degrees (usually 1 or 2 years long) and include various taught and research-focused content depending on the university. Generally, MSt courses are more research-heavy than other Master’s degrees and often require applicants to submit a research proposal as part of the application process. They are academically rigorous programmes and are considered an equivalent qualification to other Master’s qualifications, including MSc (Master of Science) and MPhil (Master of Philosophy) degrees, among others.

What is an MRes?

A Master of Research (MRes) is an internationally recognised postgraduate Master’s degree that focuses on developing students’ research skills. MRes courses can be in a range of subjects across Humanities and Sciences, including Management, Biological Sciences, Data Science, Social Research, Modern Languages, and more.

MRes courses usually last around 1 year and are designed to prepare students for further study (PhDs) and research focused careers. Some MRes courses have specific PhD pathways attached and require applicants to submit a research proposal. They may still have some taught elements, but they will typically require significantly more independent research than taught postgraduate courses such as MAs and MScs.

What is an MA?

An MA (Master of Arts) is a postgraduate Master’s course that is typically Arts or Humanities based. Subjects that typically fall into the MA classification include: History, English, Political Science, Languages, Art, and Law. Some universities also classify Business and Marketing courses as Masters of Arts, however others deem these to be Masters of Sciences (MScs).

MA courses usually last around 1 year and are designed to enhance students’ understanding of their chosen subject area. They tend to be taught Master’s courses, but these still require more independent research than taught undergraduate courses.

What is an MBA?

An MBA (Master of Business Administration) is a popular postgraduate qualification that allows professionals to develop the broad set of skills required to succeed in senior management-level positions. MBAs usually cover concepts, theories and strategies spanning multiple disciplines, including Economics, Marketing, Finance, Accounting, and Management.

Unlike many other postgraduate courses, most MBAs require applicants to have at least a couple of years’ professional experience in the industry before applying. It is very unusual that students study an MBA directly after their undergraduate degree. In fact, the average number of years’ experience of entrants to the most competitive MBAs is 5-7 years.
Some universities also allow flexible and part-time course options to allow students to study an MBA around other commitments, such as professional work.

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’ 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).