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Taught vs Research Master's: What's the difference?

Taught vs Research Master's: What's the difference?

by Yasmina Carlton

One of the first choices you'll need to make when considering a Master’s is whether to enrol on to a taught Master's or a research Master's course. 

In this blog post, we explore the key differences between these two types of postgraduate degree - helping you make an informed decision about which one is right for you.


  1. What is a taught Master's?

  2. What is a research Master's?

  3. What are the differences?

  4. Which is right for me?

  5. What's next after a Master's?

  6. Are the fees different? Is funding the same?

  7. Search for a course


What is a taught Master's?

Similar to a Bachelor’s degree, a taught Master's course is structured around a series of taught modules, lectures, seminars, and assessments. The curriculum is designed to give you an in-depth understanding of a specific subject area.

You’ll typically attend lectures, participate in group projects, and carry out various forms of assessment - such as exams, essays, and group projects - with plenty of support from your tutors.

One of the primary advantages of a taught Master's is the structure of the course. This format is well-suited for those who prefer a more guided and classroom-oriented approach to learning.

What is a research Master's?

In contrast, a research Master's places a greater emphasis on independent research and research expertise. You will have a mix of taught modules and a research project. This allows you to develop deeper knowledge in your chosen subject area and also acts as excellent preparation for a PhD.

While there may be some taught components, the core of the course centres around the completion of a focused and original piece of research under the guidance of a supervisor, which forms the basis of your thesis or dissertation.

Research Master's are best suited to students who thrive in independent learning and are passionate about contributing to the body of knowledge in their chosen field. 


Postgraduate students talking around a table

What are the differences?

1. Learning style 

  • Taught Master's: emphasises structured learning with a focus on coursework and assessments.
  • Research Master's: requires a greater level of independent study and research, culminating in a research project. You’ll develop your research skills by designing, completing and producing this project. 

2. Assessment methods

  • Taught Master's: assessments typically include exams, essays, and group work.
  • Research Master's: assessment methods vary but usually include essays, presentations, professional skills assessment and a research project.

3. Duration

  • Taught Master's: often completed within 12 months if studied full-time, with part-time and flexible study options available.
  • Research Master's: traditionally these courses are 12 months full-time or 24 months part-time. 

4. Awards

  • Taught Master’s: the most common are MSc, MA and MBA.
  • Research Master’s: these are often either MRES, MLitt, MMus, MPhil or LLM by research degrees.

Which is right for me?

Choosing between a taught and a research Master's degree depends on your preferences, career goals, and favoured learning style. You might want to consider the following factors:

  • career goals: if you’re thinking of pursuing a career that requires specialised knowledge and skills, a taught Master's may be more suitable
  • further study:  if you’re interested in academic research, or are considering doing a PhD in the future, a research Master's will provide you with valuable research experience
  • learning style: decide whether you work better in a structured learning environment, or prefer the autonomy of independent research
  • time commitment: consider your commitment to a more extended course if you choose a research Master's, which may require additional time for research and thesis completion


Students talking in a group on campus

What's next after a Master's?

There are plenty of opportunities available after completing a taught or research Master's degree. Some potential routes include:

  • PhD or doctoral study: a research Master's can be a great stepping stone for those looking to pursue a PhD and contribute to academic research
  • professional advancement: taught Master's courses will prepare you with the practical skills and knowledge needed for entry into your chosen profession. If you decide a PhD is not for you, many professions will value the research skills developed through a research Master’s.
  • entrepreneurship: both qualifications can set you up for entrepreneurial opportunities - especially if your Master's research or coursework is aligned with a business idea. At Newcastle, our START UP team can support you with where to start when considering working for yourself. 

Are the fees different? Is funding the same?

Tuition fees vary across taught and research Master's courses; funding opportunities and scholarships are often available for both.

If you’re from the UK, or are a student from the EU, another EEA, or a Swiss national with settled or pre-settled status under the EU Settlement Scheme, you normally pay the ‘Home’ rate. International students will be charged fees at the ‘International’ rate.

For a complete list of funding opportunities, search Newcastle’s funding database for the most up-to-date information about current funding. 

Search for a Master's

Ready to take the next step? At Newcastle University, we offer over 300 Master’s courses – both taught and research-based. Use our online search tool to explore courses filtered by your requirements.

Search Master’s courses.