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MPhil vs MSc: The Differences Explained

MPhil vs MSc studentDuring your research into becoming a postgraduate student, you will come across various types of masters courses, including MPhil (Master of Philosophy) and MSc (Master of Science)

MPhils and MScs are both highly regarded in the world of academia, as well as in the workplace. The type of masters degree you opt for will depend on the subjects available to study, your preferred study mode and assessment methods.

Whether you choose to study an MPhil vs MSc may also depend on your career aspirations, each type is better suited to particular career paths. Additionally, some industries may favour one type of masters over another. 

An MPhil can often lead students towards academic careers, whereas an MSc is often more suitable for industry-led careers – although both are incredibly valuable qualifications and will increase your employability wherever you ultimately want to end up.

This article explains the main differences between an MPhil and MSc. So, if you’re wondering which of these masters degrees is right for you, you’re in the right place.

What is an MPhil?

The abbreviation ‘MPhil’ stands for ‘Master of Philosophy’ and the qualification itself is an advanced postgraduate research degree. It is considered an advanced postgraduate degree because the research involved goes further than that of an ordinary masters degree (MA or MSc) and it is often used as a stepping-stone to studying a PhD

In fact, students often enrol on an MPhil prior to undertaking a PhD to gain additional research experience and skills. And in the case of some PhDs, studying an MPhil is a necessary requirement and can be an integrated part of the PhD itself.

With an emphasis on independent research, an MPhil is considered to be the most advanced postgraduate research degree before a PhD. It takes less time to complete as a standalone course than a PhD. 

Most MPhils take two years of full-time study, rather than the three-four years of study required by a PhD. The finished research project (dissertation) is also shorter than that of a PhD (around 60,000 words versus 80,000 words). 

The primary purpose of an MPhil is that it helps students learn basics of research and acquire new techniques, preparing them for an array of academic and career opportunities.

What Is an MSc?

The term ‘MSc’ stands for ‘Master of Science’ and this is a postgraduate-level qualification in a scientific, mathematical or technology-based subject. 

In the UK, an MSc usually takes one year of full-time study or two years part time, and is studied after the completion of an undergraduate degree, usually in a similar STEM-related field. In Europe and the United States, MSc degrees often take a minimum of two years to complete on a full-time basis.

MSc degrees are usually taught-based rather than research-based, as their scientific focus lends itself to lab work, seminars, workshops and face-to-face peer and lecturer interaction.

As such, an MSc will include similar teaching methods to an undergraduate degree, however students are expected to work much more independently than they did during their BSc and will be encouraged to develop their own ideas during assignments and when writing their dissertation.

Most MSc programs will require a qualification of 2.1 or higher at undergraduate level.

An MSc usually covers STEM subjects, as well as medicine and healthcare. Examples of subjects studied as an MSc are:

 

Some social sciences can also be studied as an MSc as well as an MA, for example:

 

MPhil vs MSc: the main differences

MPhil vs MSc studentThe main differences between an MPhil and MSC are as follows. 

Subject areas

MSc degrees tend to focus on the sciences. MSc students can choose from a wide range of topics including Biochemistry, Natural Science and Geology.

Whilst an MPhil can be studied in all subject areas, it is most commonly studied in the arts, humanities and social sciences as it can generally be considered to be an in-depth research program into a topic that concerns humankind as a whole.

Length of study

The length of time it takes to study an MPhil vs MSc can vary depending on the institution and the individual courses, but typically in the UK an MPhil takes two years to complete and an MSc takes one year of full-time study.

Length of study will aslo vary depending on whether you study full time or part time, with part time MPhils and MScs taking longer to complete. 

Study mode

When considering an MPhil vs MSc one thing to consider is whether you want to study a taught or research masters program

An MSc is typically a taught masters degree which means there is more contact time, lab work, seminars and workshops. This means more direct interaction with the teaching staff and student cohort. 

An MPhil is likely to be more research-based with a greater focus on independent research. Teaching staff will still be on hand to offer advice, answer any queries and help with research and dissertation.

Academia vs career

An MPhil is often considered to be a stepping-stone to studying a PhD, whether it’s studied as part of an integrated MPhil and PhD course or even as a standalone postgraduate qualification. MPhils are often the course of choice for those interested in pursuing academia further. 

Being more industry-focussed, an MSc is often intended with a career as the next step. For example, an MSc in Biomedical Engineering is highly specialised for a career in this field, whereas an MPhil in Human Sciences offers a much broader subject scope with higher potential for transferable skills. 

Popularity

Another main difference between MPhil and MSc degrees is their popularity. MSc degrees are more popular and widely available than MPhil degrees, with considerably more students choosing MSc and MA degrees over MPhils. 

Learning styles

MSc degrees typically focus on theoretical and practical aspects of study, whereas an MPhil typically only focuses on theoretical aspects and includes extended independent research. It is unlikely that an MPhil will involve much practical study, such as laboratory work, but this is much more common in MSc programs. 

Assessment methods

Because an MPhil is research-based and an MSc taught-based, the assessment methods used for these two types of masters programs are different. While an MPhil is mostly assessed with an extended thesis (around 60,000 words) and a viva, an MSc is assessed through a series of exams, coursework and a dissertation (around 40,000 words).

This is important to consider when weighing up whether to study an MPhil or MSc, as the assessments are a huge part of the process that you’ll have to commit to.

Country of study

An MPhil isn’t offered worldwide, in fact it’s mainly offered at UK universities. Although it is also available in Australia and New Zealand. You can’t study an MPhil at European universities, but it is a recognised qualification under the European Bologna Process.

A popular choice of masters program in the UK, an MSc is a widely available qualification at other countries around the world, including mainland Europe, the United States, Canada and Australia. The MSc is a standard masters qualification recognised around the world.

So, if you intend to study abroad, or work abroad after graduating, an MSc could be a more suitable choice. 

Is an MSc equal to an MPhil?

Both the MSc and MPhil are Level 7 postgraduate qualifications. The main difference is that an MPhil is considered a more advanced masters degree than MSc and MA, as it prepares students for more advanced PhD research skills and is the highest level of masters program that you can study before doctoral study. 

As an MPhil typically takes two years to study full time in the UK, whereas the MSc takes just one year of full-time study, an MPhil could be regarded as higher ranking as it takes twice the amount of study time.

MPhil vs MSc: the main similarities

There are several key similarities between the MPhil and MSc.

Both an MPhil and MSc degree are postgraduate Level 7 degrees. All Level 7 qualifications are suitable for those seeking to attain a qualification and knowledge above undergraduate degree level (Level 6). 

Although an MPhil is often the route to PhD study – especially when taken as part of an integrated PhD – both qualifications can be used as a route to study a PhD program.

An MPhil and an MSc both teach students research and academic skills.

MPhil vs MSc: summary

 

MPhil (Master of Philosophy)

MSc (Master of Science)

Type

Masters degree (postgraduate research)

Masters degree (postgraduate taught science)

Level

7

7

Duration

2 years

1 year

Study mode

Research

Taught

Assessment

Thesis & viva

Coursework, exams & dissertation

Subjects

Any subject area that warrants a major piece of research

STEM, Medicine & Health, Business & Finance, some Social Sciences

Potential career paths

Academia & research

Engineer, medicine & healthcare, business, industry professional

Which is better, MPhil or MSc?

Both an MPhil and an MSc are Level 7 postgraduate qualifications demonstrating excellence in academic progression. However, an MPhil is the most advanced masters degree ranking above an MSc and MA in terms of academic achievement. An MPhil is considered a step between taught masters degrees and a PhD. 

This doesn’t mean that an MPhil is the right choice for everyone as it depends on personal choice and preferences such as career goals, study paths, preferred study methods, chosen subject, country of study, etc.

Both postgraduate qualifications are highly regarded, an MPhil is a good choice for those embarking on an academic research career and an MSc is good for industry-profession careers.

Is an MPhil better for getting into a PhD program?

An MPhil is considered the most advanced masters degree, providing a similar skillset to a PhD and a more refined research experience than an MSc or MA degree. This makes studying an MPhil an excellent way to prepare for PhD study.

At most UK universities it is possible to upgrade an MPhil to a PhD partway through studying MPhil if you decide at this stage that you want to continue down the academic pathway further.

It is not mandatory to do an MPhil prior to a PhD, although it is an excellent way to improve your independent research and analytical skills before embarking on the Level 8 qualification.

Final thoughts

In conclusion, although both the MPhil and MSc are Level 7 postgraduate qualifications, they are suited to different individuals. Study an MPhil if you want a career in research or academia or are considering progressing onto a PhD and want to make sure your research skills are on point. 

If you’re keen on pursuing a career in industry after your masters degree, an MSc is an excellent choice. With a study time of half the length and a research project that’s around 30% shorter, by studying an MSc you will still achieve a masters-level qualification that expands your knowledge and skills set as well as enhance your CV with less time investment.

Whatever option you choose, MPhil vs MSc, postgraduate study is a great choice for students worldwide.

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