Difference between Course based and Thesis based Masters Degree

Difference between Course based and Thesis based Masters Degree

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Rahul Singha
Study Abroad Expert
Updated on Feb 20, 2023 17:53 IST

What are Coursework and Research based Masters degrees?

Before we get into the details of Taught Masters vs Research Masters, let us look at the answer to the question, “what are Masters Degrees?” Once a student has completed an undergraduate degree and wants to pursue further education, he/she can enrol himself/herself in a Masters Degree. After Masters Degree, students can pursue a PhD/M. Phil (Doctoral Degree).

There are two main types of Masters Degrees – course-based (taught) and research-based (Taught Masters and Research Masters). Course-based Masters Degrees are based on course modules taught through lectures, lab work, seminars or distance learning, while research-based Masters Degrees requires student to carry out their own research project in a specialized field of study. Research Masters Degrees normally take longer than taught Masters Degrees to complete.

Coursework programs have a structure consisting of core, elective and optional units and require enrolment in these units, attendance for any timetabled classes, and completion of assignments. Some postgraduate courses are now available through online study and attendance is not required there. Most Coursework based Masters have a research element and may require the completion of a minor thesis.

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A masters degree by research requires the submission of a thesis that is based on an independent research project. Students who are doing a masters degree by research, work independently and get the support of their supervisors and school. In some cases, students are required to attend units in order to expand their skills in the area of research.

Difference between Course based and Thesis based Masters

The key difference between course-based masters and thesis-based masters is the level of independence students will have while studying. In simple words, a course-based masters follows a similar format of an undergraduate degree. It will include things like lectures, workshops, and seminars. While doing a course-based masters, students will have to do their research and independent study but they will get guidance from their professors and tutors.

On the other hand, in a thesis-based masters, there will be very few taught classes. The focus of students will be on a large project or dissertation that will be totally based on their independent research. However, students will still have a tutor who will support them throughout their studies.

Coursework based Masters or Taught Masters Degrees

Taught masters degrees are similar to undergraduate degrees. They involve a series of taught modules, delivered through lectures, practical and work seminars. Upon completion of these modules you will be assessed on the skills and knowledge you have learned. Assessment is through coursework, examinations, group projects and dissertations. At the end of your course, you will be granted a Master of Arts (MA), Master of Business Administration (MBA), or Master of Science (MSc) qualification, depending on the subject of study. 

Research based Masters Degrees

Research masters degrees involve learning through research. Research-based degrees are viewed as valuable preparation for undertaking PhD studies, with many funding bodies awarding money only to PhD students who have completed research programs. If you are considering a research masters, it is important for you to work independently as you will receive less tutor support than that on a taught degree.  However, you will be granted support from supervisors who will help you develop your research proposal.

Majority of your days will be spent collecting and analyzing data. The aim of your efforts will be to have your work accepted for publication in a leading research journal. Assessment of research programs is through a professional judgment of your research work and verbal exam relating to your research topic. At the end of your course, you will be granted a Master of Research (MRes), Master of Science (MSc by Research), or Master of Arts (MA by Research) qualification, depending on the subject of study.

Which is better – Masters by Coursework or Research?

Masters by Coursework

A wide variety of subjects is available for students who want to do masters by coursework. The coursework-based masters is a better choice if students want to improve their employability by gaining advanced knowledge of a subject. This is relevant if students have a certain career in mind that requires a specific qualification.

Advantages of doing a Masters by Coursework

  • Availability of a good range of subjects
  • Chance of a great employability
  • More time at hand with tutors/peers

Disadvantages of doing a Masters by Coursework

  • Less flexibility
  • Might be more expensive than a research master’s

Masters Degrees by Research

A research-based masters degree will allow students to have more freedom and flexibility to manage their own workload and study those areas and topics for which they are passionate. This degree can also give a starting point for a career where research is an important part.

Advantages of a Masters degree by Research

  • Focus on a single topic of interest
  • Get to know the bigger picture as to what PhD study will look like
  • Helpful for research-based degrees

Disadvantages of a Masters degree by Research

  • Lack of variety in subject areas
  • Less development of a skill set since most of the research is independent

Taught Masters vs Research Masters Fees

The following table provides an estimate of the fees for different types of Masters Degrees offered in the UK.

Types of Masters

Approximate Fees for International Students


£18,000 per year


£21,000 per year


£12,000 per year

 Note: These figures are only an estimate. Students are advised to visit the official webpage of the university in order to know the exact fee details.

Taught Masters vs Research Masters FAQs

Q. What is the difference between masters by coursework and masters degree by research?

A. A masters by coursework is generally professional and vocational in nature and involves a series of set modules, whereas, a masters degree by research involves a significant and independent research project. In the Taught Masters, students complete a number of modules and credit hours and gain their degree. However, in the case of a Research Masters, the core element of their academics is their research.

Q. What is a coursework based masters?

A. Masters by coursework involves a study of specified core and elective units. While doing a coursework based masters, you will have to attend classes, complete assignments, and appear for exams, as applicable. This is more or less similar to an undergraduate degree curriculum where a student needs to complete a set of modules and credit hours.

Q. What is the meaning of a research-based masters degree?

A. A masters degree by research is an advanced research-based degree that allows students to focus on a particular topic in-depth and independently. In a Research Masters, a student focuses on his/her research topic or project. The entire theme of the degree is that research project or research work. If you are interested in pursuing research, you can opt for a MRes Degree.

Q. Why should I do a research-based masters?

A. A research-based masters is ideal if you have an interest in extensive academic research, want to enhance your research skills, and ultimately want to narrow your focus to a more specialized field of study. Moreover, if you wish to pursue research in your profession, you should opt for a Research Masters (MRes) degree.

Q. Which is better, masters by coursework or research?

A. Masters by coursework is usually a better option if you want to improve your employability by gaining advanced knowledge of a subject. However, a masters degree by research can give you more flexibility and freedom to know about the study areas for which you are passionate.
About the Author
Written by
Rahul Singha
Study Abroad Expert

Rahul Singha is a seasoned editor with Shiksha Study Abroad, specializing in overseas education. With over 8 years of domain experience, he has made a significant impact in contributing to the study abroad industry ... Read Full Bio

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