A Master's degree is an academic qualification which offers a higher level of expertise than a Bachelor's in your particular choice of subject. They usually take one year full-time or two years part-time followed by a dissertation. Depending on what you choose to study you might gain a qualification of:

  • MA - Master of Arts
  • MSc - Master of Science
  • LLM - Master of Laws
  • MEng - Master of Engineering
  • MChem - Master of Chemistry
  • MMath - Master of Maths
  • MPhys - Master of Physics
  • MEd - Master of Education
  • MArch - Master of Architecture
  • MRes - Master of Research
  • MBA - Master of Business Administration

Master's degrees are often more specialised than undergraduate degrees, so, for example, while you might have studied Biomedical Sciences at undergraduate level, you might choose to study either 'Human Complex Trait Genetics', 'Quantitative Genetics & Genome Analysis' or 'Evolutionary Genetics' in depth.

a Master's student, you'll choose from either a taught or research degree. Taught courses allow you to build on the general knowledge and skills from your undergraduate degree in a more specialised subject. They involve a series of taught modules, delivered through lectures, seminars and practical work. These modules will be assessed by exams, coursework, dissertations and group projects on the knowledge and skills that you have learned.

Research Master's involved more independent study than a taught course and provides you with in-depth  and hands-on training in the investigative processes of your chosen discipline. The course is likely to be a mix of taught modules and research, with the taught modules likely to involves statistical methods which will complement the research modules. The research aspect will be similar to the first year of a PhD, giving you a taste for the research environment. You'll be assessed through a variety of different methods including exams, lab reports, presentations and a dissertation. Research Master's are especially useful if you are looking to develop a career as an academic researcher or consultant, or in industry where an understanding of research would be useful.

To apply for a Master's you will need to have undertaken an undergraduate degree, most probably gaining a 2.1 or higher, while some Master's such as an MBA also require you to have completed a number of years in a related industry. If you are looking to undertake a Master's straight after completing your undergraduate degree start researching what you would like to study and the places that offer your course at the beginning of your last year of university - once admissions open, depending on the popularity of the course, places for the year might get filled up quickly.

You can apply for a Master's through the university's website and have to apply for each place separately, with your admission generally including your reasons for applying; a breakdown of your current and expected academic qualifications; the skills and experience you hold; and your research proposal if you are looking to apply for a taught Master's.

The cost of a Master's varies dramatically depending on what and where you choose to study - the average Master's costs between £5,000-£6,000 while an MBA can cost anything up to £50,000 - and there is currently no loan system in place so you'll need to fund your degree yourself. Grants and bursaries are available, websites such as FindAMasters and individual university websites will offer details on what is out there, however they are often very competitive. If your looking to undertake a research Master's you'll have more chance of gaining funding, especially if you match the research area of research councils. Additionally, government-funded bursaries are available for some courses such as those in teaching, medical, healthcare or social work.

Another way to gain some extra money would be through a part-time job whilst studying.

If your postgraduate course will enhance your career you may be entitled to a Career Development Loan of between £300-£10,000, with the government paying interest while you are studying. If you're certain your job prospects will be enhanced by your Master's this may be suitable option, however be wary as you have to start paying back the loan immediately as your course ends and this may be tricky if you haven't found employment.