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This is just a general question regarding UK (and I suppose Western European) masters degrees vs. US masters degrees.

The reason for asking is that I have heard that US masters are considered at the same academic level as UK Bachelors with Honours degrees. This seems like pure hearsay but I'd like to understand if there is any thing concrete in this assertion.

And does equivalency tend to manifest itself in the same ways in commercial environments too?

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The UK and US have fairly substantial differences in their underlying educational philosophies. In my field, in the US Masters degree programs are generally one or two years long and include both course work and research in equal proportions. In the UK, Masters degree programs are a year long and have little to no research requirements. As for the level that the taught components of the programs are taught at, they are pretty similar across the two countries using similar textbooks and covering similar amounts of material in terms of both breadth and depth. The US and UK institutions I worked for accepted students from both countries and while international students often have more difficulties than home students, it is not obvious to me that going UK-US or US-UK is easier.

As for the difference between a US and a UK Bachelors degree. Final year classes taught in both countries again use similar textbooks and cover similar amounts of material in terms of both breadth and depth. In my experience, there does not seem to be a substantial difference between students coming out of US and UK institutions in regards to their preparation for graduate school. That said, there are substantial differences in these students. The US system provides much more breadth of education (e.g., foreign language requirements and general education requirements) that are absent from UK universities. I have never heard an admissions committee member in the sciences argue that student X is is more likely to succeed than student Y because student X is competent in a foreign language.

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I've seen (several) hundreds of students get UK bachelour with honours degrees in 3 years. A master degree in the UK takes another 1 year.

Normally in the US a bachelor degree takes 4+ years and a masters takes another 2 - for a total of 6.

How can 6 years of education in the US be considered equivalent to 3 in the UK? If anything, you could consider a UK master degree similar to a US bachelor degree.

  • 1
    Should that 3 in "How can 6 years of education in the US be considered equivalent to 3 in the UK?" be 4? – scaaahu Jun 19 '14 at 9:34
  • At my (Canadian) university, Bachelor students are forced to take 1 year of courses outside of their specialization. When I did my Bachelors in Europe, there was no such requirement. So in terms of subject-matter knowledge, a 3-year European Bachelors is equivalent to a 4-year North-American one. – Mangara Jun 19 '14 at 13:58
  • @scaaahu The 6 = 3 was in reference to the op's saying "a US master degree = a UK bachelour with honours degree." Since a US master takes 6 years and a UK bachelour with honours takes 3 years, then the claim is really 6 = 3. I do not believe the op is saying a US master = a UK master (which would be 6=4). – earthling Jun 20 '14 at 0:30
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    @earthling this will probably lead to a discussion, which I would like to avoid in comments, but students in the UK tend to be better prepared than in the US when entering university. Further, the UK system does provide much breadth in terms of electives/subsids, so almost all UK classes are in the major. Finally, MSc degrees tend to not have a research component in the UK which speeds things up. – StrongBad Jun 20 '14 at 7:08
  • @StrongBad So are you saying a US master degree is similar to a UK bachelour degree? Regardless of quality of entrant (which may be better in the UK) does the education that comes with the 'typcial' UK bachelour (hons) degree match the education that comes with the 'typical' US master degree? – earthling Jun 20 '14 at 7:20
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UK degrees tend to focus on the main degree subject from the beginning of the degree program and thus are more professionally oriented than the US liberal arts education, which requires each student to learn a broader curriculum.

Interesting comparison here: http://colematson.com/2012/01/05/oxford-vs-us-an-undergrad-degree-comparison-chart-glossary/

As for "If anything, you could consider a UK master degree similar to a US bachelor degree." It tends to be the other way around due to the UK degree being a more narrow focus towards the subject area opposed to the US degree having a more broad overview.

  • So you believe that 3 years studying A, B, and C is "better" than 4 years studying A, B, C, and D (D here being the extra, broader subjects which are covered in the US system which are ignored in the UK system)? Or are you saying UK = A, B, and C where the US = A, B, D, and E where D and E are a bit off-topic and the US students really miss out on topic C? – earthling Jun 20 '14 at 0:51
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The value of a US Masters degree is very dependent on the institution and its requirements.

A number of US institutions mass-market their MS (or equivalent) degrees as a quick way to make money. These degrees (often marketed as 1-year degrees) are basically just a coursework requirement and can be equivalent to a bachelor's degree with some advanced courses.

Other institutions require a serious thesis or project as part of a masters, often requiring publishable results in a significant academic venue. This is similar in style to the "old-school" Masters and is a significant step above a bachelor's degree because it requires self-motivated research and often takes two years to complete.

  • I am not sure you answered the question. The OP is asking "UK (and I suppose Western European) masters degrees vs. US masters degrees.". You only talk about US masters degree. – scaaahu Jun 20 '14 at 9:07
  • I don't know enough about UK masters degrees, so I'm presenting the material I do know. – Ari Trachtenberg Jun 20 '14 at 15:14

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