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What Is A Masters Student? A Definition

What is a masters student?Masters level students can be quite hard to define – they are further along in their studies than undergraduate students but have a long way to go before they can catch up with PhD students. Masters students can study their master degree from a vast range of subjects using any one of the full variety of study methods available.

What type of masters courses are available?

The two main types of masters courses are a Master of Arts (MA) and a Master of Science (MSc), although in Europe these can often be both referred to as a Master of Advanced Studies. In the UK and the US, there is also the option of an MPhil, or Master of Philosophy, which is a research Masters and is often the first year of a PhD. There is also the option of a Masters by Research (MRes), which tends to be for students who wish to undertake a standalone year of research rather than aiming to start a PhD, but not always and is found in the US, UK and Europe. There is also the Masters of Business Administration (MBA) and the Master of Laws (LLM) at the Masters level for those students wishing to pursue careers in Business or Law. 

Where are masters students?

Masters courses tend to be taught at universities – or Graduate Schools in the US – with increasing numbers of students studying online or via distance learning. This is because online or distance learning can fit around other commitments such as family life and work, and often suit students who are a little further along in their careers. 


What are masters students studying?

Most subjects that are available to study at the undergraduate level are available for study at masters level too. Some courses are aimed at those who wish to retrain or convert their undergraduate degree into another subject such as a Masters in Physiotherapy which can be for students who did not gain an undergraduate degree in Physiotherapy. Other Masters level courses are aimed at those who wish to specialise further in their chosen field, for example a Masters in Biochemistry would offer students a deeper look into elements of Biochemistry. There are also Masters courses that are part of the progression along a career path, such as a Masters in Architecture or an Engineering MSc.

Why are masters students studying?

There are many different reasons why a student chooses to study at masters level. It might be that they wish to immediately further their studies after finishing their undergraduate degree or they may wish to return to study after a few years away from university. Other students want to change direction with their careers or they could be using the course to develop their careers. Some masters students are undertaking their course to then move onto a PhD and excel in the world of academia. In short there are many great reasons for studying a masters program

How do masters students study?

There are several different methods to study a masters level course. A taught on-campus masters course can be studied full time or part time, and is still a very popular way of gaining a masters qualification. Some students also study full or part time with a taught online masters program or a course that is a combination of attending on-campus sessions with other parts done by distance learning or online. 

What qualifications are needed to study at a masters level?

The majority of masters-level courses require the student to have completed an undergraduate degree and usually to have gained an upper second class degree. However, there are also career-focused masters courses that will accept a substantial amount of work experience in place of an undergraduate degree. 

How many masters students are there?

In 2016 there were 19.6 million university students registered at universities in Europe and the UK, and the proportion of these that were masters students varied between a third and a tenth of these students depending on the specific European country. Meanwhile in the United States there were around 900,000 masters students in 2016. 

Masters students in the UK

Here is a table showing the number of students studying taught masters programs in the UK by year.

Masters Students UK


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