There are several types of degree programs in the UK: Foundation, Bachelor’s, Master’s, and Doctorates or PhDs; all of which are all globally recognized qualifications. You can choose either a 3-year undergraduate degree in England and Wales and graduate with a Bachelor of Arts (BA) or Bachelor of Science (BSc), or a 4-year sandwich course which includes one year of professional experience in industry or a year studying abroad.

If you choose to study in Scotland, you can study and graduate with an MA (Master of Arts) or MSc (Master of Science) degree after 4 years. These are undergraduate degrees in Scotland as opposed to graduate degrees and are not equivalent to a Master’s degree you would take after a Bachelor’s degree. They are more similar to the North American undergraduate degrees in that you can take a more varied range of subject areas. (The North American system is actually based on the Scottish system!) However, you still declare a main focus from the start of the UK degree program (though this can be changed during your studies) and it still tends to be more focused from the beginning of the degree program than a typical Canadian degree.

British taught Master’s degrees have a structure that is similar to Canadian Master’s programs; however, the British version is arguably a bit more professionally oriented and can be completed in just 12 months, compared to the usual 2 years needed in North America, thus saving you time and money.

Main differences between Canadian and UK degree programs

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 North American liberal arts education, which requires each student to learn a broader curriculum. For students who have a clear idea of what they want to study, a British degree is ideal as you are allowed to specialize in your subject area from the start. UK undergraduate degrees are typically 3 years in length, with the exception of Scotland, where undergraduate programs take 4 years to complete.

The UK style of education is particularly suitable for students who want to immerse themselves in a specific subject or combination of subjects straight out of high school. British degrees leave the learning much more up to you, with the emphasis on lectures backed up by tutorials. Undergraduates are expected to extend their own research on their subject and to motivate themselves outside of lectures.

There is a high degree of flexibility and choice with UK degrees. You can pursue your interests and ambitions in fields as diverse as Sound-Engineering to Marine Biology or Creative Writing.

How are British degrees taught?

  • Lectures - Formal presentations to large groups of students, who take notes on what is said.
  • Seminars - Small groups of eight to twenty students who discuss assigned topics with a tutor. 
  • Tutorials - More informal meetings in which one to three students discuss their work with a tutor. The close contact between student and tutor in seminars and tutorials is a particular strength of UK degree courses.
  • Continuous assessment - Depending on your degree course you will be expected to produce coursework, participate in projects, seminars and exams. Plus, depending on the course, you may produce a final dissertation and take final exams.

Undergraduate degree programs 

There are 2 types of British degrees for which you can apply as an undergraduate:

  • Single honours programs involve focused study of a single subject. The core of each program is already designed and you have the opportunity to shape your work by choosing additional modules.
  • Joint honours programs/Combined programs enable you to study a combination of subjects, creating opportunities for you to build a degree program to suit your personal interests and needs.

Graduate programs

At the graduate level you have a choice between a taught or research-based Master's degree or a PhD.

  • The Taught Master’s, often called an MA (England and Wales), MLitt (Scotland) or an MSc, takes 12 months and is very popular with North American students. It follows the same structure of classroom work and some research that you would expect from a degree at home, but is more focused and thus shorter. In terms of recognition it is the same as a North American degree, but you save a year!
  • The Research-based Master’s are degrees that can be called a variety of names including MSc by Research, MRes, and MPhil and are normally based on a research project you undertake rather than classes you attend.  Research-based Master’s usually involve working closely with a tutor and take around 12-18 months, but can take up to 24 months in some cases. Many students often begin this type of program and then transfer into a PhD. Part of your Master’s work is often credited towards your PhD and may serve as a basis for your PhD research area. As with a PhD, in order to be accepted for degree research based Master’s, you must typically submit a research proposal and have a strong academic background along with some research experience in the relevant subject. If you are particularly interested in a specific area and have perhaps already done some undergraduate research this may be the best option for you.

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Studying in the UK: The essential facts for Canadian students