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Science degrees: three years or four?

CalendarStruggling to decide whether to study a three- or four-year course? Get some advice here.

Why an extra year?

Many universities offer three- and four-year courses in maths and sciences. The three-year course will usually result in a BSc (Bachelor of Science) degree, while the four-year course will give you a master’s degree – either an MSc or a more specific degree like an MPhys (Master of Physics). Some possible advantages of a master’s include:

  • You get the chance to specialise in an area that really interests you
  • If you want to stay in academia, you might find it easier to get a PhD place with a master’s
  • On average, graduates with master’s degrees make more money than those with bachelor’s degrees

Know your course

Before you make your decision, it’s important to make sure you know how the courses are structured. At many universities, you can switch between the bachelor’s and master’s courses at the end of the first year. You may also find that it’s easier to switch down from a four-year course to a three-year one.

Courses might also differ academically: for example, if there’s a particular area you want to study in depth, you will need to know how much specialisation the two courses offer.

If you have any questions that aren’t answered in the prospectus or on the website, don’t be afraid to get in touch with the department directly.

What about money?

If you study a four-year course, you will be able to get all the usual student funding for the length of your course. By contrast, if you graduated with a BSc and then decided to study for a master’s afterwards, you would have to find other sources of funding.

Although you will have to pay an extra year’s fees, these will be covered by the tuition fee loan and you won’t have to pay them back until you have graduated (at the end of your fourth year) and are earning at least £21,000 a year. You will pay back the same amount each month as if you had done a three-year course, but you might end up repaying your loan for longer.

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