What is a master’s degree? Understanding master’s degree courses 💡

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You may be in your final year of your degree and have started to consider postgraduate study. For many people this will mean applying to a master’s course.

However, many courses will offer what is known as an integrated master’s.

Having almost completed an integrated master’s course myself, I am often asked, ‘what on earth does that mean?’

This blog will discuss the main differences between a so-called ‘normal’ master’s degree and an integrated master’s, so that you can make an informed decision when choosing your postgraduate study.

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What is an integrated master’s degree?

In essence, an integrated master’s is an extension of the undergraduate course you are already on.

For example, I am studying Biomedical Sciences and I’m now doing my integrated master’s year, turning my three-year course into a four-year course.

In other words, an integrated master’s is still considered part of your undergraduate degree.

In contrast, a master’s degree is completely separate from a three-year undergraduate degree.

As a result, anyone undertaking a master’s degree will end up with two degrees, whilst an individual doing an integrated master’s will only end up with one.

Additionally, those who would prefer to complete a regular master’s have the option to move to a different university if they would like.

In contrast, an integrated master’s will have to completed at the same university where the rest of the undergraduate took place.

All of this can make an integrated master’s seem daunting – if the master’s year doesn’t go to plan, it can impact your whole degree.

However, there are plenty of reasons why an integrated master’s might be suited to you.


How much does a master’s degree cost?

For post-graduate degrees, universities can set their own tuition fees.

Many master’s degrees are cheaper than undergraduate degrees, ranging from about £4,000 for taught and research degrees, according to FindAMasters, but can end up being much more expensive (greater than £10,000) for laboratory-based master’s and MBAs.

It’s worth noting that master’s fees tend to be even higher for international students studying in the UK.

On the other hand, an integrated master’s is still considered to be part of an undergraduate degree, and therefore the tuition fee is the same as the first three years of the course, currently £9,250.

This distinction also changes the student finance available for each type of master’s.

When doing an integrated master’s, you are still entitled to a loan to cover the full cost of tuition, as well as a maintenance loan currently starting at £4,534 if you are living away from home.

But, if you decide to do a regular master’s course, you can only receive a government loan of up to £11,295 to cover both course and living fees.

However, when completing a master’s degree you are more likely to qualify for scholarships and/or bursaries.

The cost of your course and the loan you will receive is definitely something to consider when deciding between a master’s and an integrated master’s degree.

One thing to also note is that some company schemes (e.g., the NHS Scientist Training Programme) will pay you to work for them and complete a master’s degree part-time – an option that is not available for integrated master’s.

How many years is a master’s degree?

A standard master’s degree will take a year to complete when carried out full-time.

Although, a master’s degree may take two or more years to complete if you decide to do it part-time instead.

When I say a full year, this usually means that it starts in September/October and finishes the following September.

An integrated master’s, on the other hand, lasts the same amount of time as an academic year of an undergraduate degree, meaning you would start in September and finish in the following June.


Understanding master’s degree classifications

Another key difference between a master’s and an integrated master’s degree is how the degrees are ‘graded’ or classified.

For an integrated master’s, your degree will be classified as a 1st, 2:1, 2:2, or a 3rd, the same as any other undergraduate degree.

In contrast, a regular master’s degree is marked as a Distinction, Merit/Commendation, Pass, or Borderline Pass/Fail.

Whilst the marks required to achieve each classification are usually around the same across the country, different universities may vary slightly, so always be sure to check your course guide for the classification guidelines.

Sometimes, particularly due to recent disruptions due to the COVID-19 pandemic, universities may use their discretion to consider each student on a case-by-case basis and allow flexibility in grading.

Looking into master’s degree requirements

For most integrated master’s degrees the minimum requirement for entry is to have achieved a 2:1 in the first three years of your undergraduate degree.

This tends to be the same for integrated master’s degree, however the grade requirements can vary a bit more between a 2:2 and a 1st, depending on the university and the course.

The main reason for these requirements is due to the fact that master’s (integrated or not) do tend to be harder than undergraduate degrees, and therefore it is important that the university believes you have the skill level to be able to take it on.

Although, as mentioned previously, universities can take individual circumstances into account and may allow for some flexibility in this cut-off.


Is an integrated master’s degree worth it?

The answer to this question partly depends on what it is you are wanting to apply for.

If you are looking to apply for a job in organic chemistry, then having a regular master’s specifically in organic chemistry may increase your chance of getting the job than having an integrated master’s in chemistry.

Regular master’s tend to be more specific in your field of study and can make applying to jobs in that specific field much easier.

Also, in lab-based master’s, the lab projects tend to be longer and may give you more lab experience than an integrated master’s would.

This could be beneficial if you wish to go into a PhD following your master’s.

However, as the name suggests, an integrated master’s is still a master’s-level qualification, with the added feature of having a bit more flexibility in what you choose to study throughout the year.

Whether or not one type of master’s degree is more ‘worth it’ will entirely depend on what it is you would like to get out of your degree and what field of study you would like to move into.

For many subject areas, it is very common for master’s students of either type to go on to do a PhD or further postgraduate study, as well as move into the industry of their choice.

If you are considering a master’s degree and are still unsure whether or not to apply to a regular master’s or an integrated master’s, talk to your personal tutors, or one of your lecturers/project supervisors. 

There is no harm in asking for extra help with this big decision!

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