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How to Decide Between Research vs Taught Masters

If you’re still deciding which master’s course to begin in the autumn, don’t worry – you still have plenty of time. The application process is much more flexible and laid back than the undergraduate application process. You apply directly to the university and typically, you may have up to a couple of days before the start of the academic year to apply. The main choice you will need to make is between the two different types of master’s degree: research and taught. Here are the main differences.


All About the Taught Master’s

You’ll find that a taught master’s has many similarities with an undergraduate degree. That is, you will attend lectures and be expected to complete a series of marked assignments such as essays, research projects and presentations. Your grade is based on these collated marks, much as you did at the undergraduate level. The standard of expectation from the work is higher and so is the volume of work. Your master’s will finish on a dissertation similar to your undergraduate dissertation but it will be longer and you will be expected to produce much higher quality of work.

If you did not have any at the undergraduate level, your course will feature seminars. These are more like meetings, discussion circles where students interact much more than at undergraduate level. They are ideal if you enjoyed and felt the format of an undergraduate degree was best for you, then study a master’s.

Ideal if:

  • Your future career is likely to involve practical work on the job
  • You wish to develop a career as a generalist with strong research, communication and writing skills
  • You prefer broad, general knowledge for wider application in a job


All About the Research Master’s

A research-based master’s is quite different from a taught degree. Whereas a taught course takes around 12 months full-time or 24 months part-time, it’s not unusual for research masters to take a minimum of 18 months full-time. You’ll have minimal contact with faculty and few (if any) actual lectures. You’ll have seminars and contact with a supervisor who will guide you in your individual research project. You won’t be set tasks such as essays, but your grade and right to graduates with an MRes/MPhil etc is a group assessment by your peers.

Research masters are designed to set you up for a career in academia. The idea is that your research project will be published in a major journal, providing a stepping stone towards a doctorate. Most awarding bodies for PhD study will only grant their bursaries to graduates from research masters programmes.

Ideal if:

  • You intend to study for a PhD
  • You wish to develop a career as a specialist rather than a general role
  • You wish to work in a research rather than a practical role
  • You seek deep knowledge of a single issue