Master’s Classifications – Which is right for me?


What Master’s route should I take? Taught qualification or independent research? On-campus teaching or online part time study? With flexible study options to suit you and pathways to match your passion you can find the route that’s right for you.

Master’s Degrees

Whether you study full time or part time, you can expect a lot from a taught degree. There’s usually a combination of formal teaching, tutorials and seminars, along with individual study, projects and written exams. You can study on campus – or anywhere if you choose a distance learning course.

MA | Master of Arts

The MA is the standard Master’s qualification in subjects like literature, language, history, or social science. Most MA students have studied such a subject at undergraduate level, and now want to enhance their knowledge.

The MA is a terminal degree. A terminal degree is usually the highest type of degree that an individual can receive in their field. That being said, some MA students also go on to do PhDs.

MSc | Master of Science

The MSc is the standard Masters qualification for taught courses in Science and Technology subjects. It’s one of the most popular postgraduate degrees, awarded worldwide. MSc degrees focus on logic, science, and numbers.

Many consider an MSc as a stepping stone or prerequisite to progress onto a doctoral degree (PhD). However, not all MSc students end up continuing onto doctoral programs, and their MSc is still well-respected in their fields.

MRes | Master of Research

The MRes provides a structured entry into research and work with world-class researchers. It acts as a preparatory route to a PhD or research-focused career.

You’ll complete a focused, original piece of research that’s centred around your interests. Many courses also include taught modules that introduce specific subjects or relevant professional and research skills.

Portsmouth offers MRes in; Creative Industries, Humanities and Social Sciences and Science and Health.

Subject specific Master’s

There are also a handful of niche Master’s titles applicable to the following subject areas:

MArch | Master of Architecture

The MArch is a professionally-recognised qualification enabling students to gain the RIBA Part 2 award – an important step on the way to becoming a registered architect.

This two-year course builds on the academic knowledge gained during an undergraduate degree in Architecture, as well as your professional portfolio.

MBA | Master of Business Administration

An MBA is a prestigious qualification that provides an overview of key business practices and is highly valued by top employers.

Accredited MBA courses and business schools prepare you for senior management roles in business by exposing you to all areas of business including accounting, finance, marketing and human resources.

MPA | Master of Public Administration

The MPA is a Master’s in public affairs that prepares you to serve in executive positions in municipal, state, and federal government and nongovernmental organisations.

The program’s focus centres on principles of public administration, policy development and management, and implementation of policies.

LLM | Master of Law

LLM stands for Legum Magister, which is Latin for Master of Laws. It’s a non-professional qualification for those who’ve studied an undergraduate law degree.

It’s a means of obtaining specialist information in certain areas of Law. To become a Solicitor or a Barrister you’ll also need to pass the Bar Exam, the Legal Practice Course, or the Diploma in Legal Practice.

MEng | Master of Engineering

MEng stands for Master of Engineering. It’s considered a terminal degree, and the highest distinction an Engineering student can achieve.

The MEng is an integrated Masters – A programme that combines a Master’s with a Bachelor’s. Instead of studying two separate degrees, you’ll study a single combined programme, over a longer period of time.

MPhys | Master of Physics

MPhys stands for Master of Physics, it’s a specific Master’s degree for courses in the field of physics.

The MPhys is an integrated Masters – A programme that combines a Master’s with a Bachelor’s. Instead of studying two separate degrees, you’ll study a single combined programme over a longer period of time.

Are certain subjects best studied as an MA or MSc?

As its name suggests, an MA or ‘Master of Arts’ is usually awarded in an Arts or Humanities subject. You’ll typically study an MSc or ‘Master of Science’ in a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) subject.

As with most things, there’s always an exception to the rule! The truth is there’s no absolute distinction between an MSc and an MA – in fact, many disciplines may award either qualification. This is most common in the Social Sciences and Creative Technologies. In this case, whether a programme is categorised as an MA or an MSc will usually depend on the specific focus of the course.

MA or MSc?

Some say your choice should come down to what you want to achieve:

If you want to focus on a specific topic an MA is most likely the best fit.
If you want to gain a broader, knowledgeable understanding of an entire field, an MSc is ideal.
Are MAs and MScs taught differently?
The MA and MSc are both taught (as opposed to research) degrees, meaning course content will be delivered through a series of individual modules, usually culminating in an independent dissertation project. You’ll learn through a combination of lectures, seminars and (where appropriate) practical workshops.

MSc courses also often include laboratory-based exercises and demonstrations. This doesn’t mean you won’t have the opportunity to explore your own ideas – there’s still a heavy emphasis on independent research in both qualifications, but studying a taught Masters will mean that you have regular contact with academic staff, equipping you with a solid grounding in your chosen subject area.

Contact hours and timetabled activities

MSc programmes will generally involve more contact hours than MA programmes. MA students can expect to attend three to five hours of timetabled activity per week, whereas those studying an MSc in a Social Science will have closer to 10 contact hours per week.

An MSc in a ‘hard’ science (such as Chemistry or Physics) will often require students to follow a 9-5 schedule, with daily activities consisting of lectures and laboratory work.

Both qualifications take 1-2 years to complete. They’re also worth the same number of credits – 180 in the UK.

How will I be assessed?

You’ll conclude your course by submitting a dissertation. This IS generally between 10,000 and 20,000 words (you can expect MA dissertations to be at the higher end of this scale).

If you’re studying an MSc, you’ll usually undertake extensive practical field work in preparation for your dissertation, before presenting your findings in the final product.

Do different careers require different degrees?
Some industries benefit from a solid background in mathematics and science, which can be further studied in an MSc degree program, whereas others better align with the defined discipline approach of an MA.

Both require commitment to the work and intense study, but their focuses are different; one more arts and discipline-based, one more scientific. These nuances are important to keep in mind when you are doing your research to apply for programs.

Ultimately, there’s no hard and fast rules about what qualifies as an MA or MSc, and courses will be labelled at the discretion of individual universities.

Top tip:

Make sure you speak to the Course Leaders to help determine the right route for you and your needs.

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