Taught Master’s vs Research Master’s: Which Should I Choose?

Students who have completed their undergraduate degree and are considering master’s programmes need to be aware of the existence of two different categories: the taught master’s course and the research master’s course. Also known as postgraduate taught (PGT) and postgraduate research (PGR) master’s courses, these are internationally recognised Level 7 qualifications, which places them above a bachelor’s degree but below a PhD. Both are academically rigorous and highly regarded, however, there are distinct differences between the two.

Let’s discuss these differences and the points you should be aware of when deciding which route is right for you.

Taught Master’s Course

A taught master’s course is broad, whilst being specialised and applied. It is often seen as a crash course to a particular profession in the sense that it allows you to gain a lot of practical, job-ready skills in a short space of time. It is structured similarly to an undergraduate degree; there are multiple modules to choose from and a set schedule of seminars, lectures, coursework and exams. It also involves a greater number of contact hours with teachers and peers than a research-based degree. Although there is less emphasis on research, students still typically undertake a substantial research project at the end of a taught master’s programme in the form of a thesis.

Research Master’s Course

Whilst a taught master’s course provides the breadth of experience and skills, a research master’s course provides the depth. It is much more theoretical and involves extensive independent research on a narrow topic, which is carried out under the supervision of academic staff. It is more flexible than a taught course since there are no fixed seminars or lectures to attend, nor does it require students to complete coursework or take exams. Instead, students produce an original master’s thesis similar to a doctoral dissertation. In fact, it is seen as a steppingstone to doctorate level, enabling students to gain the high-level research skills and experience needed to pursue an academically-driven career path.


In general, research master’s courses tend to cost slightly less than taught master’s courses. This is typically the case in the Humanities field. However, in areas such as Science, which involve a lot of laboratory work, research courses cost much the same as their taught counterparts.

Which to choose?

This completely depends on your goals and preferences. Taught courses can help to improve students’ employability if they have a specific career in mind, whereas the research route may be more suited to those set on studying at PhD level. However, opting for a taught master’s course does not necessarily make you ineligible for a PhD so long as you satisfy the various requirements.

It is also important to take into consideration how you like to learn. A research master’s demands excellent time and project management skills and a greater level of independence from students. This might appeal to some, but others might find this way of studying too solitary and prefer a timetable similar to that of an undergraduate degree.

Need some help?

Are you thinking about applying for a master’s course but are still unsure which route to choose? Get in touch! We can help you figure out which route is right for you.