Choosing Undergraduate or Postgraduate Masters

What is the difference between undergraduate and postgraduate masters?

If you are a final year student thinking about choosing between an undergraduate or postgraduate masters, this article may help you choose.

Many students ask about the choosing between undergraduate or postgraduate masters. Although they both have Masters in the title, they are not the same kind of degree. Here is the views of two students who have chosen between the two and have different opinions.

Koye: BEng in Electrical and Electronic Engineering graduate, having originally started on the MEng

"I originally enrolled for the 4-year MEng course in Electrical and Electronic Engineering course, often known as an ‘Integrated Masters’. I chose the MEng because I heard it is attractive to prospective employers. However, in my third year I decided to switch back to the 3-year Bachelor’s degree (BEng). I would graduate that same year with a Bachelor’s and the option of taking a Masters in the future.

I wanted more flexibility. To possibly do a Masters at another university, or even another country. The MEng and BEng courses are identical for the first three years with the MEng carrying on an extra year. While still on the MEng, I discovered a whole range of Masters of Science (MSc) options elsewhere. These will allow me to specialise in an area of Electrical/Engineering in the future.

EEE encompasses many disciplines. Communications, Control Systems, Digital Signal Processing, Power Systems, Robotics and Renewable Energy to name a few. The MEng course lets you learn about a range of these disciplines for an extra year.

On reflection

On the flip side, you don’t specialise in any of the disciplines the way an MSc course would. You can’t be good at everything!

I also found that employers make no distinction choosing between the undergraduate MEng or postgraduate MSc masters. In some cases, an MSc is more likely to get you to meet the skill requirements in specialist roles. My School of Electrical Engineering provided a great description of all the courses on its website. I knew exactly what my 4th year would have been like. I also looked at many other university graduate websites to see available courses and importantly, read about some of the research they’re into.

At the moment I am currently taking a year out to work, then I plan to take a Masters after this in the US."

Elliot, a third year student, switched from a BSc to the MMath in his second year

Before starting my studies, I knew very little about the MMath, other than that it was a 4-year option that awarded a different ‘type’ of degree to the BSc, and what I did know of it came from scrolling past it on the UCAS page. I remember thinking at the time that the MMath was simply a more intense, longer version of a typical Maths degree; appropriate for those who had more of a passion for mathematics than I did.

Not really knowing as it was where I was going to go with an ordinary maths degree, the idea of taking on an unknown, prolonged degree didn’t appeal to me. I had spent a year and a half at the university, gaining some informative experience as a student and a more mature perspective on life, and understood the difficulty that graduates can face finding employment, that I saw the value in doing the MMath over a BSc.

I found out all I could about the MMath and what the additional study involved. It was a familiar format of the final year, and the choice to do one then seemed obvious. With hindsight, it would have been helpful to have had more information about the MMath degree and the graduate-career landscape before commencing my undergraduate studies, particularly without having the benefit of hands-on knowledge and experience of university. I think it very unlikely that I will continue with further study once my MMath is complete, purely based on a rough cost-benefit analysis.

Means to an end

I view a Mathematics degree as a means to an ends in my career. I don’t believe that studying increasingly specialised, higher level Mathematics would be particularly beneficial for me personally, except for bar the satisfaction of it on my CV. Most of the skills and experience that will help me succeed in my pursuits within the Science and Technology sector have already been gained and bolstered by the MMath.

A dominant factor in this outlook is the cost element of postgraduate study. Whilst I see a postgraduate Masters or a doctorate may be essential for people pursuing strictly maths related careers, for me, looking to go into consultancy in technology, I don’t currently feel postgraduate study is necessary for my career at this stage.

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