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The Ultimate Guide to Getting a Master's Degree in the UK (2024)

This guide covers everything you need to know as an international student pursuing a Master's degree in the UK: from program research and admission process, to funding options.

Jun 8, 2023
  • Study Abroad
Master's students walking around London

Master's degree in the UK: key info

💰 The cost of studying

The tuition fees for Master's in the UK can vary significantly but usually are in the £12,000 – £35,000 range. International students generally pay about twice as much as UK citizens.

Read the full cost breakdown ▼

📋 Scholarships for international students

See more scholarships ▼

✈️ Visa requirements

Most international students need a visa to study in the UK. To apply for a Student visa you need a valid passport, university admission confirmation, proof of your English language knowledge, and sufficient finances. The visa fee is £490.

More on student visas ▼

When it comes to pursuing a Master's degree, UK universities boast a remarkable reputation for academic excellence. Renowned for their rich educational heritage, quality professors and top-notch facilities, the country’s academic institutions stand at the forefront of global education.

In this guide, we will walk you through the essential steps, tips, and insights to navigate the world of UK universities and graduate programs successfully.

Find your perfect program

Use our search to find and compare programs from universities all over the world!

Discover programs →

What are UK Master's degrees?

📌 KEY TAKEAWAYS

  • Master's programs in the UK usually last one to two years.
  • There were 600,000 international students in the 2020/21 academic year.
  • UK Master's are world-renowned for academic excellence, promising career prospects post-graduation, and the variety of scholarship opportunities for international students.

How long does it take to get a Master's degree? 

In general, a Master's degree in the UK typically takes one to two years to complete.

However, the duration of a Master's degree can vary depending on the structure of your program, the pace or if you’re pursuing an accelerated or a fast-track program.

What’s the difference between a Master’s degree, postgraduate diploma and a postgraduate certificate?

Differences between a Master's, postgraduate diploma and a postgraduate certificate

The UK as a Master's Study Destination

International students’ top choice

The country hit its goal of admitting 600,000 international students in the academic year 2020/21, a decade before its projected deadline, according to HESA (Higher Education Statistics Agency).

Out of 1806 applicants for the Master’s in Europe 2022 Scholarship, 42.6% listed the UK as their target destination, placing the country well ahead its runner-up Sweden at 22.9%.

Graph on where 1816 students want to get their Master's degree
Where students want to get their Master's degree - Based on 1816 scholarship application responses

Why should you get a Master’s degree in the UK?

  • The UK is known for its academic excellence
  • Strong career prospects after graduation
  • Lots of scholarship options for international students
  • Access to various research opportunities and industry connections
  • A diverse range of graduate programs in English

How to choose the right program for a Master’s in the UK

📌 KEY TAKEAWAYS

  • Start by defining your goals, passions, strengths, and long-term aspirations to find a program that aligns with your interests and career objectives.
  • Research potential programs thoroughly, and create a comprehensive list of potential universities and programs, noting key details.

With a plethora of programs and universities to choose from, finding the right one can seem like a daunting task. In reality, it all boils down to a few simple (not easy!) steps.

Step 1: Define your goals and plans

Ask yourself what field of study fascinates you the most and what career outcomes you hope to achieve with your Master's degree.

Consider your passion, strengths, and long-term aspirations - reflecting on these will help you identify the program that aligns with your interests and opens doors to the opportunities you seek.

Step 2: Research, research, research

Research is very important when it comes to choosing the right Master's degree program.

How you choose to do it is up to you, but here are a few things you should look out for:

1. Any affiliations or partnerships with renowned companies, research centers, or organizations.

  • These can allow you to get your foot in the door early on in your career.
  • They're also fantastic networking opportunities.

2. A curriculum that supports your goals.

  • Refer back to step one - your goals. Does the program include courses that will teach you skills you'll need in the future?
    • Look out for any specialized modules or opportunities for research or internships.

3. Faculty members that are experts in your field of interest.

  • Explore the program’s faculty research areas, as well as the publications and projects they’ve been involved in.
  • It's also worthwhile to keep an eye out for any mentorship or assistantship schemes at your university of choice.

4. Accreditations and recognitions

Seek out student testimonials

Step 3: Make a list

Like most things in life, your program search will be made easier with a list (or an Excel sheet).

Write down the names of the universities you’re interested in, and the most important information related to the programs they’re offering. This includes, but is not limited to:

  • Tuition fees
  • Scholarship opportunities (if they’re available)
  • Application deadline
  • Application requirements
    • English language requirements: if they’re asking for a specific test or minimum score
    • Course prerequisites: do they expect you to have taken specific courses during your undergraduate studies, or that you know a certain amount about the topic covered in the Master’s program?
    • Degree requirements: some Master’s degrees require you to have gotten a Bachelor’s degree in the same field, while others are universal
  • Program or university highlight features
    • Any interesting courses or facilities
    • Grading methods – are you only going to be taking written tests, or will you be doing some research projects as well?
    • Any exchange or internship opportunities
  • Application fees (if applicable)

Your list of universities should look something like this:

University program side-by-side comparison - image

Applying to Master’s programs in the UK

📌 KEY TAKEAWAYS

  • Prepare essential documents like academic transcripts, a personal statement, letters of recommendation and an academic CV.
  • You need to have a proof of English language proficiency, typically through IELTS or TOEFL scores.
  • Tailor your application to the specific university, highlighting your connection to the program and your academic achievements; demonstrate confidence, passion, and suitability for the program.

Step 1: Collecting documents

While specific requirements for a Master's degree in the UK may vary between universities and programs, here are some common documents you should prepare:

Academic transcripts

Official transcripts of your undergraduate degree or any postgraduate studies you have completed.

These transcripts should include detailed information about the courses you took and your grades.

Note: You may need to get an official translation of your transcripts, certified by a notary, if your previous studies weren’t in English. Make sure to check this on your chosen university’s website.

Personal statement

A personal statement is your opportunity to express your motivation, goals, and why you are a strong candidate for the program.

Watch our video summary below to get a more detailed overview of how you're supposed to structure your statement.

Letters of recommendation

Most universities require letters of recommendation from individuals who can attest to your academic abilities, work ethic, and potential for success in a Master's program.

Choose referees who know you well, such as professors, supervisors, or your employer, and give them enough time to write quality letters.

Academic CV/resume

You will most likely need to provide an updated CV or resume that outlines:

  • Your education
  • Work experience
  • Research projects
  • Publications
  • Certifications
  • Language and other skills
  • Any other relevant achievements
  • References (usually 2-3)

Academic CVs tend to be longer than one page because of the amount of information that needs to be included.

That said, don't add meaningless or low-value points just to add to the length of the document - tailor your CV to emphasize experiences and skills that are relevant to the program you are applying for.

We cover even more tips on how to craft a perfect Master's Academic CV.

Proof of English language proficiency

If English is not your first language, you may be required to provide proof of your English language proficiency.

The most popular and widely accepted tests of English proficiency are IELTS and TOEFL.

Some universities have a minimum score requirement, so double-check if this is the case for your program.

Step 2: Applying to Master’s programs in the UK

When applying for a Master's program or a scholarship, it's important to make your application effective and unique in order to stand out from your competition.

Here are some universal tips for your Master's applications:

Be conciseMaximum one to two pages long (500-1000 words).
Tailor your applicationName professors and research projects that caught your eye.
Be confidentHighlight notable achievements relevant to the program.
Show your suitabilityExplain why you're interested in that university/program.
Ask yourself “So what?"Always have a reason for including more information.

Be concise

Unless otherwise stated, you should keep your statement maximum one to two pages long (500-1000 words). Keep an eye out for any other specific word or page limits.

Make your essay skimmable - The text should be divided into paragraphs with a clear introduction, body and conclusion.

Tailor your application to your chosen university

Name professors and research projects that piqued your curiosity in your personal statement.

Depending on your situation and interests, you may even explain your connection to the university, city or country (UK).

Be confident

Provide a clear summary of your undergraduate degree, including your major, coursework, and any notable achievements such as research projects, academic awards, or publications.

Refer to your transcripts and academic certificates to make your application more credible.

Show your passion and suitability

Explain why you're interested in pursuing that specific Master's degree program, and how it aligns with your career goals.

Mention what and how you'd be contributing to the university's growing body of knowledge and research.

Ask yourself “So what?" and "Who cares?” while you’re writing

This will help you frame your thoughts in a way that highlights why you’re a standout candidate for this program.

It causes a subtle shift in phrasing which people looking at your application can pick up on – it shows that you’re thinking of them as you’re writing, and you're not just thoughtlessly listing out all of your achievements.

💡 Be careful if/when you’re using AI in your application

It may be tempting to use AI (Artificial Intelligence) to write your application essay, but we’d advise against that for two reasons:

  • If your application is too similar to someone else’s, you may be suspected of plagiarism and dismissed as a candidate.
  • Universities nowadays look for candidates from all walks of life, so it’s important to communicate what makes you unique. They want to see your voice and your way of thinking.

Mr Mark Khan, the Director of Marketing and Enrolment at Boston University, outlined a great distinction in our interview with him: if the student uses these tools as a crutch, that's a red flag. But if they use them as tools to communicate their own experience and thoughts more efficiently, that may be okay.

For example, Grammarly excels at proofreading and fixing any grammatical mistakes or typos you may have missed.

UK student visa requirements

Most international students need a visa to study in the UK. To apply for a Student visa you need to have:

You can apply 3-6 months before you start the course, depending on whether you’re applying from inside or outside the UK. The fee is the same in both cases - £490.

You can read more about the requirements and details regarding your Student visa on the UK Government website.

How much it costs to study in the UK

📌 KEY TAKEAWAYS

  • Tuition fees generally cost from £12,000 to £35,000 per year, which is about double the cost for domestic students.
  • To meet visa requirements, you need sufficient funds to cover living expenses during your stay in the UK.
  • Living expenses in London are around £1,334 per month and £1,023 per month outside London.

Studying abroad is expensive. Studying and living in the UK as an international student even more so.

These expenses will most likely take up the largest portion of your budget:

Tuition fees

The UK is known for its diverse range of universities and programs, each with different fee structures. In general, however, international students pay roughly twice as much as domestic students (UK citizens) do, usually in the £12,000 – £35,000 range, averaging at around the £20,000/year mark.

Keep in mind that tuition fees can vary significantly. It is essential to consult the official websites of the universities you’re interested in to find detailed information on tuition fees for international students.

Living expenses

According to the UK government website, you can expect to spend:

  • £1,334 per month for up to 9 months (£12,006 in total) in London;
  • £1,023 per month for up to 9 months (£9,207 in total) outside London.

The financial requirement for your student visa

You may need to prove that you have enough money to cover your living expenses for the entire duration of your course.

If the financial requirement applies to you, and you plan on bringing family with you to the UK, you will need extra money for each member.

You can submit bank statements, bank letters, or similar official documents that show that you’ve had the required funds for 28 consecutive days without falling below the limit. The document also must have been issued less than 31 days before your visa application date.

You can read more about the financial requirement on the UK government website.

Accommodation costs 

Accommodation costs will most likely be your largest recurring expense.

In the UK, there are various accommodation options available to international students:

University-managed halls of residenceOften the most convenient and budget-friendly option, offering a range of room types and meal plans. They also tend to be limited so there's more competition
Private student hallsSimilar level of convenience to university halls but may come at a higher cost
Shared houses/flats and solo rentingThis option offers more independence but requires additional responsibilities and usually includes higher rent

While you are given housing priority as an international student, it is not guaranteed that you will find accommodation after you enter the country.

It's better to arrange your accommodation ahead of time, if possible, to avoid having to delay your studies.

Many universities have a first-come, first-served basis for their residence halls. By applying early, you increase your chances of securing accommodation within the university premises and benefiting from more affordable options.

Travel costs

Many international students like to use their study abroad to travel within the UK. Travel expenses can include flights, local transportation, and visa-related trips. You may also need travel insurance.

Domestic travel

Your monthly travel costs may vary greatly depending on the city you choose to study in, and how much sightseeing you choose to do. Luckily, there's usually some sort of student or youth discount you can take advantage of.

In bigger cities like London, these discounts may be common knowledge and easily accessible, while in smaller towns they may only be available through your university, so make sure to check the specifics on the university website.

Here are some transit options available to you as an international student:

Domestic travel options in the UK - infographic

For a more detailed breakdown of your domestic transportation options, check out the UKCISA (UK Council for International Student Affairs) page on recommendations for domestic travel and transport.

Try to familiarize yourself with local transportation systems to determine the most cost-effective ways to get around – local student groups and associations often give this kind of guidance, so keep an eye out for those.

International travel

Researching flight options, student deals and discounts, and booking in advance can help you secure better deals.

Consider purchasing student travel cards or season tickets for potential discounts on flights. 

Healthcare surcharge

International students are required to pay the Immigration Health Surcharge (IHS). The IHS grants you access to the National Health Service (NHS) during your stay in the UK.

Keep in mind that you’ll still need to pay for certain types of services, such as prescriptions, dental treatment and eye tests.

The surcharge amount depends on the length of your visa and is subject to change. You can read more about it on the UK government website.

Scholarships for Master's degrees in the UK

Many scholarships are available for you in our Scholarships for Master's Studies in the United Kingdom directory. Here are two notable scholarships:

🎓 Study a Master's in Europe Scholarship

€5,000 scholarship for Master's studies in Europe

🌎 Go Global MBA Scholarship

$7,000 scholarship for MBA studies anywhere in the world, including the UK

Governmental and privately funded scholarships

The UK government and private organizations offer scholarships to support international students every year:

  • The Chevening Scholarship – Covers the tuition fees and all administrative and travel costs involved in your move to the UK. It also includes a monthly stipend and a top-up allowance (the amount depends on the city you live in).
  • The Commonwealth Master’s Scholarships - Full tuition fee coverage, monthly stipend (£1,236 per month, or £1,516 per month for those at universities in the London metropolitan area), additional allowances, and a childcare allowance in certain cases.
  • The Global Wales Postgraduate Scholarship - Scholarships of up to £10,000 awarded to students aiming to get a Master’s degree in Wales. It's a collaboration between several organizations, and is funded by Taith, a Welsh exchange program.
Four types of scholarships for Master's in the UK - infographic

Other funding

Student loans

You can consider applying for student loans from financial institutions or government-backed loan programs.

The Student Loans Company provides loans to eligible UK and EU students, while private lenders like Prodigy Finance specialize in international student loans for Master’s students.

Part-time work

International students in the UK are legally allowed to work part-time during their studies. You can explore part-time job opportunities on campus or in the local community to help cover your living expenses. 

If your university has a student parliament or a student union, you can ask them about any available job opportunities.

Keep in mind that while it’s possible to get a job and work during your studies as an international student, the job pool available to you will be very limited, and the competition for those positions will be high.

This is a challenge that many international students face – visa limitations (and the visa requirement on its own) often discourage some agencies and companies from hiring international students due to additional hoops they need to jump through to hire and maintain that employee, compared to a domestic student.

This is why it’s important to use part-time work as a supplement to your other funding methods, and not count on it to be your primary source of money.

Career opportunities after completing a Master’s in the UK

📌 KEY TAKEAWAYS

Post-graduation visa options include:

  • Graduate visa: allows a 2-year stay in the UK for job searching
  • Skilled worker visa: for employment with a UK company

After getting a Master's degree in the UK, you will have a wide range of career options available to you.

The knowledge, skills, and network you acquired during your studies will position you for exciting professional opportunities. Here are some potential paths to consider:

Pursue a career in academia

With a Master's degree, you can pursue a career in academia and contribute to the research in your field. You can also choose to pursue a PhD. Universities often offer teaching and research opportunities to new Master’s grads. 

Getting a job in the industry

Many industries value the expertise and advanced knowledge gained from a Master's degree. Whether it's finance, engineering, marketing, or technology, you can become a specialist in your chosen field.

Become an entrepreneur

Your Master's degree can equip you with the skills to start your own business or become an innovative entrepreneur. The UK has a vibrant startup ecosystem, with access to funding, mentorship, and incubator programs.

The UK Government's Global Entrepreneur Program (GEP) provides valuable information and resources for aspiring international entrepreneurs.

Visas

Keep in mind that you may need to apply for a different type of visa after your graduation. For example:

  • Graduate visa allows you to stay for up to two years to search for a job in the UK. You have to apply from within the UK, and this visa cannot be extended beyond the initial two years.
  • Skilled worker visa allows you to live in the UK on the basis of employment for a UK company approved by the Home Office. To be eligible, among other requirements, you need to get a certificate of sponsorship from your prospective employer.
Sara Evans

Author

Sara is the Content Designer at Keystone Academic Solutions, in charge of creating and curating content for students across the globe. Due to her background in UX and teaching, she's always in pursuit of new ways of presenting information more clearly.

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