The Master of Science (MSc) Degree: A Guide

Written by Coursera Staff • Updated on

An MSc can extend your study in a specific subject and improve your career prospects. Learn more about a postgraduate qualification in this guide , including what it is, what you can do with it, costs, and how to choose the right MSc program for you.

[Featured Image]:  Master of Science candidate preparing for a class.

Earning your MSc degree can advance your knowledge, and build your competencies in a range of in-demand subjects.

The master of science (MSc) degree is a graduate degree that typically pertains to subjects in tech, mathematics, medicine, business, administration, and the natural sciences. In an MSc degree programme, you’ll advance your knowledge in a more technical, analytical, and at times practical way, gaining specific skills you can apply to further your career in a number of in-demand industries.  

What is an MSc degree?

The MSc degree builds on an undergraduate education. While an undergraduate programme requires a number of general education courses before concentrating on a major, a master’s programme will focus on one area and deliver a more specialised education.

You can earn your MSc degree in a range of subjects, including:

  • Civil engineering

  • Computer science

  • Data science 

  • Economics

  • Entrepreneurship 

  • Management

  • Marketing 

  • Occupational therapy

  • Statistics

Master’s degrees in general (not just master of science degrees) are growing more specific. That means, instead of earning a Master of Science in Management, you may have more options, such as a Master of Science in Nonprofit Management or a Master of Science in Supply Chain Management. Each programme should provide a foundational education in management while allowing you to take special courses that prepare you for a career in the sector of your choice.

What can you do with an MSc degree?

Because of the lucrative fields in which you can earn a master of science, you may be able to achieve more senior-level roles and higher salaries with a postgraduate degree. To give you an example, two occupations that typically require an advanced degree are computer research scientist (median UK salary: £37,198) and economist (median UK salary: £45,245).

Even where an MSc degree isn’t required, you can develop and strengthen the high-level skills you’ll need to succeed in managerial and executive-level roles through a master's course. It’s worth noting that there’s a growing demand for master’s degree holders. 

In general, earning your master’s degree has been shown to increase earning potential. Master’s degree holders earn a median annual salary of £42,000, while undergraduate degree holders earn £36,000, according to UK Government's Graduate Labour Market Survey (GLMS). Salaries in industries such as data analytics, computer and information science, health care management, and finance all tend to pay well and often prefer candidates with postgraduate degrees.

MSc postgraduate degree costs

There are compelling reasons for earning your MSc degree, but you should understand what it may cost—both in terms of money and time—before making your decision. The average master of science degree programme costs £13,000 to  £15,000, though that may not account for additional fees, materials, and housing. It takes, on average, one to two years to complete an MSc degree when you attend full-time, but many programmes offer part-time options to help mature students or professionals who work.

Affordable online MSc degrees 

An online MSc degree may be a more affordable option than attending an in-person course. Online Master’s degrees are available at 50 percent or less of the price of campus courses.

What does it take to get a Master of Science degree? 

Before you pursue an MSc degree, you’ll normally need to have earned your undergraduate degree. Fortunately, you don’t need to earn your master’s in the same subject area as your first degree. You can use the MSc degree to further your education in a subject that interests you, or switch paths entirely and forge a new direction. In some circumstances, experience and certifications in a sector can be enough to earn you entrance to a master’s degree. 

Once enrolled in your MSc degree programme, you can expect to take postgraduate-level modules, and may complete a project or thesis, depending on the course.

Which MSc programme is right for me? 

Given the cost and time commitment associated with a master of science programme, you should assess your individual situation, weighing the degree’s more immediate expenses against the outcomes you’d like to achieve. The categories we’ve outlined below should also be important factors in your decision-making.  


Look for MSc programmes from accredited universities. An accredited institution has been verified by a government agency (approved by the UK Department for Education), which ensures that your course meets minimum standards and likely provides quality education.  

You should also make sure your school is accredited if you intend to apply for UK government-backed loans. Learn more about why accreditation is important when deciding on your master of science program.


As you research different MSc programmes, take a close look at the kind of modules you’ll be completing. Pay close attention to the kind of subject knowledge or training you’ll receive and how it fits into your larger goals. Is it too broad for the kind of specific skill set you’re looking to develop—or is it too niche? It's also helpful to take a look at the faculty who will be teaching your classes, especially their experience. Reviewing each programme’s course offerings can indicate what you’ll learn and help you identify whether it’s a good fit for you. 


Whether you attend an in-person or online MSc programme, you may find that you have some options when it comes to the way you take classes. To ascertain which postgraduate course makes sense for you, consider your larger needs. Do you need greater flexibility because you’ll be working while attending university? Would you prefer more face-to-face interactions rather than video lectures and Zoom meetings? If possible, consult each programme’s graduate advisor to find out what type of classes they offer so you can ensure they fit your scheduling needs.  


  • In-person: Classes take place in person and are held at set times.  

  • Hybrid: Classes take place both in-person and online synchronously. 

  • Synchronous online: Classes take place online and are held at a set time. 

  • Asynchronous online: Classes take place online and aren’t held at a set time. Instead, they can be completed as a student needs, though generally work may need to be done by a certain time (each week or month). 

Additional resources

If funding is an important consideration for you, look into what kind of financial assistance each programme offers. Beyond government grants or loans, you have several options to consider. Many MSc programmes offer scholarships, or teaching support jobs that can help balance out the cost of the programme. It may also be worth looking into a programme’s career placement resources as you consider the potential long-term impact of earning your master’s degree. 

PhD degree plans 

Some students earn a master of science degree knowing they plan on pursuing a PhD, or other higher qualification. If you know that you’d like to pursue a research or academic career, and therefore intend to get your PhD, you should think about your master's plans in light of those future educational goals. Some PhD programmes include the opportunity to earn your master’s while working toward your PhD, which can save you time from reapplying for PhD programmes. 

Next steps

Whether you’re interested in advancing your career options or pursuing additional education, you can do a lot with an MSc degree. If you’re looking for more affordable and flexible options than an in-person experience, explore this collection of online degrees and master’s degrees. You can earn your MSc degree in an in-demand and high-paying field, such as public health, computer science, engineering, and data science.  

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This content has been made available for informational purposes only. Learners are advised to conduct additional research to ensure that courses and other credentials pursued meet their personal, professional, and financial goals.