Master's Degrees in the U.S. vs. the U.K.: An Overview

Regardless of which side of the Atlantic you are on, there is a certain amount of adventure and excitement that comes with moving someplace like the United Kingdom. While a gap year or an exchange program can satisfy some students, for others—perhaps those who could not afford to move abroad during their undergraduate years—studying for a master’s degree in America or the United Kingdom could be the perfect opportunity to scratch the travel itch. However, before you renew your passport and send off your applications, there are a few things that you must consider about attending graduate school abroad.

Master's Degrees in the U.K.

The prestige of a university can be important to some people. The United Kingdom, home to historically prestigious universities like Oxford and Cambridge, seems like an obvious choice when deciding where to attend graduate school. The 2018 World University Rankings by Times Higher Education lists those two universities, along with Imperial College London, in its top 10 when examining the teaching, research, and international outlook of more than 1,000 schools worldwide.

One of the reasons that Americans choose to study in the U.K. is that the degrees are significantly shorter (and therefore cheaper) than American universities. In the United Kingdom, there are three types of master’s degrees: taught master’s degrees (one year), post-graduate diplomas (two semesters, no thesis), and research-based master’s degrees (12–24 months, used as an entry to Ph.D. programs).\

If your goal for obtaining a master’s degree is professional advancement, then it is often quicker to study for nine to 12 months (between two and three semesters) in the United Kingdom than it is to pursue a two-year master’s degree in the United States.

Costs differ considerably based on program type, but the average cost of tuition for a U.K. master’s degree is £13,840 ($20,700) for an American student. However, this amount does not factor in living costs, which average £12,160 ($18,200) outside of London and £13,521 ($20,200) in London. Other degrees, like medical degrees and certain technical studies, can cost more.

Master's Degrees in the U.S.

In that same Times Higher Education survey, six of the remaining seven universities in the top 10 were in American—but not just the old East Coast schools you might expect—Caltech and Stanford are considered as prestigious as Harvard, MIT, and Princeton. In short, when examining prestige, there are good schools on both sides of the Atlantic, with universities in the United States and the United Kingdom accounting for 74 of the top 200 schools in the world.

American universities charge an average of $10,000 per year, with private universities like Harvard costing more than $40,000 per year. It is difficult to calculate average living expenses in America due to its large size, but a very general estimate is $7,000–$20,000.

Despite America’s lower tuition (if attending a public state school) and cost of living (if in a small town), the potentially longer duration of an American master’s program means that the total cost for a degree is either equal to or slightly more expensive than in the United Kingdom. Following a four-year degree, American master’s degree programs typically require two years of study and thesis work (some degrees can be completed in one year, depending on course load). American master’s degrees can be professional or research-basedthe difference being that research degrees are good starting points for Ph.D. degrees.

According to the British Council’s Student Decision Making Survey, students looking to graduate school to improve their careers choose to study in the United States. This likely has to do with professional connections. Master’s students hoping to make a career after their studies are wise to study where they can make valuable industry connections.

In the same survey, students who chose the United Kingdom did so because of the perceived higher quality education. In addition, American students wishing to study in region-specific fields (medieval history, geology, archaeology, etc.) can find it in their best interests to study in a country that allows the most first-hand research opportunities.

  • Making the decision to pursue a master’s degree does not come easily—nor does your choice of school.
  • Depending on various factors, studying abroad could be a great adventure or a financial nightmare.
  • Hundreds of forums exist online for people to share personal anecdotes and give advice—they are worth checking out before making a final decision.