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The Ultimate Master's Degree Guide for International Students

Thinking about getting a Master's degree? This guide will tell you everything you need to know on how to get a Master's degree as an international student.

Mar 25, 2024
  • Study Abroad
International Master's Students in a Study Group

5-second summary

  • A Master's can expand your knowledge, help you advance in your career and step into the world of academic research.
  • You may need to meet specific application requirements like GRE scores, language test scores or work experience.
  • Master's graduates generally earn more than Bachelor's grads.

Want to find your dream Master's degree?

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What is a Master’s degree?

📌 KEY TAKEAWAYS

  • A Master's degree is an advanced academic step post-Bachelor's degree, typically involving 1-2 years of study.
  • The program culminates in earning 60 to 120 credits in European universities, or 30 to 60 credits in U.S. colleges.
  • The pathway to obtaining a Master's degree usually encompasses three key phases: Coursework, a Thesis or Capstone Project, and a Thesis Defense.

A Master's degree is a next step in your academic journey that follows after your Bachelor's degree, awarded after one or two years of additional study.

At the end of the program, you will have earned:

  • 60 to 120 credits at European universities;
  • 30 to 60 credits for U.S. colleges.

The exact duration and credit requirements can vary based on the country, university, and the specific degree program.

Is it Master's degree or Masters degree?

The correct spelling is Master's degree.

The apostrophe is needed because Master's is a possessive noun - "degree of a master".

Types of Master's degrees

There are many types of Master's degrees.

Master of Science (MSc)All about numbers, research, and implementing different scientific methodologies.
Master of Arts (MA)Generally focused on arts, humanities, social sciences, and even philosophy and theology.
Specialized degreesFor example, Law (LLM), Business Administration (MBA), Education (MEd), Design (MDes), and others.

How do you get a Master's degree?

There are generally three phases to getting a Master's degree:

1. Coursework
2. Thesis or capstone project
3. Thesis defense

Coursework: Some programs are more practice-oriented, while others are more academic. You'll usually have a series of core and elective courses, and you may even need to complete practical training or an internship.

Thesis or capstone project: This is a research project that demonstrates your ability to apply the knowledge and skills you've acquired in the program.

Thesis defense: If your program requires a thesis, you will need to defend your research before a committee of faculty members.

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

Master's degrees usually take 1 to 2 years of continuous study.

This number might change if you're pursuing an accelerated program, which combines Bachelor's and a Master's program into one shorter and more intense program.

Master's degrees in different countries

How to choose a Master's program

📌 KEY TAKEAWAYS

  • Reflect on how the degree will advance their career and if the chosen field of specialization aligns with a program or university known for excellence in that area.
  • Assess your budget for a Master's and evaluate if the potential increase in earnings and career opportunities will justify the investment in time and money.
  • Consider how pursuing a Master's degree will impact your current lifestyle and responsibilities, and explore flexible program options if necessary.

Opting for graduate studies is a big decision both in terms of time and money you will need to spend on it, so it's important to ask yourself the right questions whenever you are deciding on a program.

For example:

  • What are my long-term career goals and how would a Master's degree help me achieve them?
  • How much can I afford to spend on my Master's degree?
  • Will the potential increase in earnings or career opportunities outweigh the cost and time investment of obtaining a Master's degree?
  • What field do I want to specialize in, and is there a particular program or university that is renowned in this field?
  • How will pursuing a Master's degree affect my personal life and commitments? Do I need to find more flexible programs?

You can use Keystone Academic Student Hub to save and compare different programs. Or, you can go the old school route and write down important information about the programs you're interested in, like this:

University comparison - notes graphic

Master's degree requirements

📌 KEY TAKEAWAYS

  • Most applications will require your academic transcripts and GPA requirements, especially for competitive programs in engineering or STEM fields.
  • Your personal statement or motivation letter will require thorough research into the institution and faculty.
  • Other standard requirements are field-specific undergraduate degree prerequisites, proof of language proficiency for international students, and additional criteria such as the GRE, letters of recommendation, a CV/resume, and a portfolio.

It's important to note that Master's degree requirements can vary significantly among countries and programs, making it crucial to check the specifics on the respective university's website.

Despite the variability, certain requirements are common across many programs:

1. Academic transcripts and/or GPA requirements

Most universities will require you to submit a transcript of your grades from your undergraduate studies.

Your grades or Grade Point Average (GPA) can play a critical role in securing admission, especially those in engineering or other STEM fields.

Due to the competitiveness of their programs, some universities may set specific GPA requirements.

2. Personal statement/motivation letter

A personal statement is another key component of your application.

To craft a compelling motivation letter, research the institution and the faculty under whom you'll be studying.

Pro tip for writing motivation letters - avoid clichés and templates

3. Professional or research experience

Some Master's programs, such as Master's in Business Administration (MBAs), may require you to have relevant professional or research experience.

Depending on the program, this requirement could compensate for grades or other criteria.

What's more, previous work and internship experience is always helpful, as it can set you apart from other candidates.

4. Specific undergraduate degree requirements

Certain Master's programs, such as those in nursing, visual arts, or economics, may require you to hold a Bachelor's degree in the same or a related field.

On the other hand, there are Master's programs, particularly in business, management, international relations, and communication, that welcome applicants with any Bachelor's degree.

5. Language proficiency

International students are usually required to provide proof of language proficiency, unless they are native speakers.

Different universities may accept different certificates, so make sure to check this requirement on the official program website.

Here are some commonly accepted certificates for different languages:

Commonly accepted language certificates

6. Additional requirements

For those applying to U.S. institutions or universities that follow a similar higher education model, there may be other requirements, such as:

What can you do with a Master's? Is a Master's degree worth it?

📌 KEY TAKEAWAYS

  • A Master's degree is essential for those aiming to pursue a career in academia or a PhD, offering a strong foundation in academic research, journal publishing, and networking.
  • Beyond academia, a Master's degree can significantly boost career prospects, often leading to higher salaries and promotions, with graduates typically earning more than those with only a Bachelor's degree.
  • The degree also offers flexibility for career changes, allowing individuals to explore new fields or specializations.

Why get a Master's degree? A Master's degree offers many benefits. It shows your extensive knowledge of, and a commitment to, your chosen subject or research area.

But are Master's degrees worth getting? Here are some of the benefits of pursuing a postgraduate degree.

Pursue a career in academia

Those who have their sights set on conducting further research or pursuing a PhD program will need to complete a Master's degree first.

A Master's is a prerequisite for most doctoral programs and serves as an excellent introduction to the academic world, encompassing aspects such as journal publishing, networking, and collaborative research projects.

Pro tip - Terminal degrees

Negotiate a promotion

A Master's degree can also significantly enhance your career prospects outside academia. It's not just a valuable addition to your resume; it often opens doors to a higher salary or a promotion.

Master's students earn significantly more than their Bachelor's-only peers, and Master's grads' salaries are expected to continue increasing.

While the salary boost varies across disciplines, a Master's degree can certainly be a worthy investment depending on your field of interest:

EngineeringExpected average salary of $86,826, up 2% from 2022.
Computer ScienceExpected salary of $83,681, up 1.6% from 2022
Math and Natural SciencesAverage salaries in 2023 up 5% from 2022.
Business AdministrationSalary average increased 13.1%, amounting to $80,305.

Source: NACE Winter 2023 Salary Report

Make a career change

A Master's degree allows you to explore and broaden your interests, and even make a career change.

Instead of committing to another three- or four-year Bachelor's program, you might choose to pursue a Master's degree to seek opportunities in a new discipline.

For example, there are many Master's degree graduate that find themselves at a crossroad, wondering "What can you do with a Master's degree?", "What can you do with a Master's degree in psychology?" or "Why get a Master's degree in public health?".

You can leverage your degree to pursue a career in an adjacent or a completely different field.

Get involved in research

As a Master's degree student, you are likely to engage in more independent research compared to your Bachelor's studies. This journey offers you a glimpse into the realm of:

  • Academic research
  • Networking
  • Paper publishing
  • Scientific conferences

How much does a Master's degree cost?

📌 KEY TAKEAWAYS

The cost of pursuing a Master's degree varies significantly based on the study destination, your citizenship, and eligibility for financial aid.

  • US: tuition fees range from $20,000 to $40,000 annually
  • UK: £8,000 for domestic and £15,000 for international students per year
  • Germany: tuition-free education at public universities with a nominal semester fee of about €300
  • France: €250 per year for EU/EEA/Swiss citizens and approximately €3,800 per year for non-EU students

The cost of a Master's degree depends on a multitude of factors, including the country where you intend to study, your citizenship, eligibility for funding and scholarships, visa requirements, and so forth.

Here’s a brief overview of the tuition fees in a few popular study abroad destinations:

United StatesOn average, tuition fees for international students are around 20,000-40,000 dollars per year.
United Kingdom £8,000 for domestic students and £15,000 per year for international students.
GermanyPublic universities are tuition-free, but there's a student semester fee of around €300.
France€250 per year for EU/EEA/Swiss citizens and around €3,800 for non-EU citizens.

Scholarships for graduate students - Master's degree scholarships

📌 KEY TAKEAWAYS

  • Numerous scholarships are available for Master's studies, such as the Fulbright Visiting Scholar Program in the United States, supporting around 900 scholars annually.
  • The Commonwealth Master’s Scholarships cover full tuition and provide a monthly stipend of £1,200-1,500 for living expenses for studying in member countries.
  • The educations.com Study a Master's in Europe Scholarship offers €5,000 for Master's studies in Europe.

There are lots of scholarships for graduate students out there, especially for Master's studies. Here are a few:

Master's scholarships for studies in the US, UK and Germany - infographic

If you'd like to see the full list of Master's scholarships for international students, and learn about them in detail (scholarship amounts, requirements, etc.), check out our Master's Degree Scholarship Directory.

You can also look through the scholarships available to international Master's students in:

Master's graduate salaries - Jobs that require a Master's degree

Given the often high costs of getting a Master's degree, it's not surprising that many students want to make sure they're getting their money's worth.

Here are some examples of average salaries of Master's graduates in different countries:

Job titleUnited StatesUnited KingdomCanada
Software Engineer$101,077£38,650C$87,317
Data Scientist$99,171£38,510C$83,896
Electrical Engineer$88,602£35,748C$81,706
Project Manager$84,771£38,756C$77,389
High School Teacher$56,796£32,601C$64,904
Marketing Manager$70,959£34,376C$69,808
Civil Engineer$76,654£33,782C$69,808
Financial Analyst$69,478£37,830C$58,877
Human Resources (HR) Manager$77,751£38,624C$69,815
User Experience Designer$86,805£39,419C$82,028

Source: Payscale, 2023

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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