A master’s degree is a second-level qualification after you have completed an undergraduate degree.
It allows you to gain more knowledge in your undergraduate degree subject, or to go in a completely different direction. You usually study a subject in a lot of depth, often with a long piece of original work at the end called a thesis or dissertation.
There are two main types of master’s degrees: taught and research.
Some common master’s degrees include:
MA (Master of Arts) in a wide range of arts or humanities subjects.
MSc (Master of Science).
A range of subject-specific qualifications including MEng (Master of Engineering), MFA (Master of Fine Arts), LLM (Master of Laws), MArch (Master of Architecture), and more.
Courses leading to an MPhil (Master of Philosophy) qualification, which are research-led and often designed for students to progress to a PhD.
Note that some Scottish universities offer an undergraduate degree called a Scottish Masters of Arts. This shouldn’t be confused with a postgraduate master’s.
A Master of Business Administration (MBA) degree is an internationally recognised qualification which gives you the skills you need for a successful management career.
PhDs or doctorates
A Doctor of Philosophy, or doctorate (PhD/DPhil), is the highest academic level a student can achieve. These degrees are very demanding and often lead to careers in academia (as a lecturer or researcher). Most students will complete a master’s degree before they do a PhD, although this isn’t always necessary.
Postgraduate diplomas and qualifications
‘Postgrad’ certificates and diplomas allow students to study something new or build on the skills and knowledge already gained during their undergraduate degree. They are usually shorter than a master’s and you won’t have to do a thesis or dissertation.
Professional and vocational qualifications
These qualifications help you improve or gain skills for specific jobs. Most awards involve practical training. This gives you the opportunity to experience a job first-hand.
A conversion course is a vocational postgraduate qualification usually taken by graduates who want to change subject area after their first degree. Often students do this to develop more professional skills. For example, you could study History for your undergraduate degree and do a Law conversion course to begin your career as a lawyer.
Top ten postgraduate subjects for employability
Students generally study postgraduate courses for one key reason: to boost their career prospects. If you’re wondering what the best subjects are for postgraduate employability, here’s a look at the current top ten.
Postgraduate employability: 90.3%
Generally, those studying a postgraduate degree in education have one thing in mind: to become a teacher. Whether going into primary or secondary education, you’ll study a highly vocational postgraduate degree, spending most of your time actually practising in schools. Graduates leave fully prepared for a job as a qualified teacher, and most end up finding one.
2. Veterinary Science
Postgraduate employability: 80.7%
Many veterinary medicine undergraduates become vets straight after graduation but the option for postgraduate study is always there to give your career an extra lift. There are many different routes you can go down including research, specialisation in specific areas, and internships or residencies.
3. Medicine-related degrees
Postgraduate employability: 80.5%
Postgraduate subjects allied to medicine include anatomy; optometry, ophthalmology and orthoptics; and medical technology, among others. With healthcare being such an important aspect of society, it’s understandable that postgraduate students of these subjects find employment easily.
4. Architecture, Building and Planning
Postgraduate employability: 79.5%
If you’re thinking of working in architecture you’ll need a master’s degree to progress to chartership. Postgraduate students for all architecture courses are normally required to have an honours degree in a relevant subject.
5. Social Studies
Postgraduate employability: 79.4%
Roles in the running of society can lead to high-level jobs for postgraduates in social studies subjects – from political risk analysist to economist, social researcher or in policy development. Or you could qualify as a social worker, to make a direct difference to people’s lives.
6. Physical Sciences
Postgraduate employability: 77.4%
From nanotechnology to astronomy, gaining new understanding in the nature of matter can have huge potential for developments in technology. Whether you’re working in research, as a geophysicist, or metallurgist, there’s a good chance of employment for postgraduates from the physical sciences, such as physics, chemistry, geology or materials science.
7. Computer Science
Postgraduate employability: 77.1%
At the cutting edge of computer science, digital developments can be applied to sectors from business and finance through to health and the environment, in areas such as artificial intelligence and machine learning to data mining to robotics. Those with expertise in this field can find postgraduate jobs in practically any industry.
8. Medicine and Dentistry
Postgraduate employability: 76.7%
Within the fields of medicine or dentistry, a postgraduate qualification could take your career into public health or international health and development or gain you expertise and specialised skills in your clinical area. Many careers within this sector demand long-term studying, so these degrees are highly vocational.
9. Agriculture and related subjects
Postgraduate employability: 76.4%
The production of food is vital to everyone’s life, and yet it faces the challenges of climate change, sustainability, and food security. Postgraduates in these fields can make their impact, whether in agricultural sciences, food and beverage studies, or in management of livestock.
10. Engineering and Technology
Postgraduate employability: 76.3%
The practical nature of subjects like engineering and technology means there’s a high chance of postgraduate students finding professional-level employment after graduation. Whether you specialise in aeronautical, automotive, electrical, mechanical, chemical, or any other kind of engineering, your skills are sure to be in demand.