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What Is an MPhil? – A Complete Guide

What Is an MPhil?

‘MPhil’ stands for ‘Master of Philosophy’ and is an advance postgraduate degree.

Although the degree is technically classed as a Masters, in reality, it sits close to a Doctorate. This is because an MPhil goes beyond the traditional taught Masters by placing emphasis on independent research and a more-targeted topic.

There are usually two reasons you would undertake an MPhil. First, you may wish to learn new research skills to open up new career opportunities. Second, you may want to do a PhD and so first enrol onto an MPhil, either as a compulsory requirement or under your own free choice, to first gain some research experience.

As these two decisions have different end-goals, an MPhil can either be carried out in one of two ways. It can either be undertaken as a stand-alone degree or one integrated with a PhD.

What Does an MPhil Involve?

What you do as an MPhil student will be similar to that of a PhD student, but to a limited extent and in a shorter time period.

For example, you’ll be required to undertake an investigation around a topic in your chosen field. As part of this, you will have to evaluate concepts, understand suitable methods, use published research and demonstrate an understanding of theoretical and analytical studies.

As part of your degree, you will also be expected to produce a thesis. The length of the thesis differs between universities but is typically around 50,000 words. Although your thesis isn’t expected to provide original research, it will need to provide an original insight or evaluation. It must show you understand the core activities of research such as the ability to appraise literature, evaluate methods and identify potential limitations.

Besides a thesis, you’ll also be required to defend your work in an oral examination. As a PhD, this examination is known as a viva voce and is conducted with an interview panel.

As MPhils are research degrees, there are no taught components such as classes, courses or assessments. The exception to this is for MPhils offered by the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge.

MPhils at Oxford and Cambridge

The key difference with the University of Oxford and the University of Cambridge is that their MPhils can be a research degree, a taught degree or a mixture of the two.

The MPhils offered at the University of Oxford comprise two parts, each lasting a year. The first part is a taught component while the second is researched-based. Besides this, you will need to sit several assessments for the taught component.

The University of Cambridge offers two types of MPhils. The first is an ‘MPhil by Advanced Study’, and the second is an ‘MPhil by Thesis’. The MPhil by Advanced Study comprises taught components similar to that of the University of Oxford. The MPhil by Thesis is a research-only degree and is therefore similar to the traditional MPhils offered by other universities.

Transferring from an MPhil to a PhD

In the UK, if you’re accepted into a PhD programme, it’s common for you to first be registered for an MPhil. At the end of your first year, you will be evaluated to determine whether you have made adequate progress and shown the traits of a competent researcher. This is assessed through a write-up of your study and an oral examination. In some cases, you’ll also be required to produce a detailed action plan detailing how you intend to tackle the rest of your project.

Should you succeed, your registration will be upgraded to a PhD.

The reason students are first registered for an MPhil is for screening their suitability and introducing them to the type of work they will undertake in their PhD. This is because an MPhil provides a foundation for developing an individual’s research skills and providing them with specialised knowledge in their research topic.

Transferring from a PhD to an MPhil

Similar to how an MPhil can be upgraded to a PhD, the reverse is also true – a PhD can be ‘downgraded’ to an MPhil.

This usually occurs under one of the following circumstances:

  • You may complete the first two years of your PhD, but after careful consideration decide it is not for you.
  • Due to unforeseen circumstances or extenuating personal reasons, you may no longer be able to continue with your studies.
  • The outcome of your PhD viva and subsequent thesis re-submissions is unsuccessful. You can read more about viva outcomes in our Viva Guide.

In all of the above cases, you would still need to prove that the work you have carried out to date meets the requirements of an MPhil. Should you not have much work to show, or should it be of unsatisfactory quality, you will not be considered for an MPhil either.

How Long Does an MPhil Take?

An MPhil can be undertaken either full-time or part-time.

If studying full time, a stand-alone MPhil degree will usually take two years. This extends to four years if studying part-time.

If you’re undertaking an MPhil as an initial registration for a PhD, these durations typically halve. However, remember that if you pass your initial registration period, your course will be upgraded to a PhD rather than you being awarded an MPhil.

How Much Does an MPhil Cost?

Your tuition will depend on your subject field, your mode of study, i.e. part-time or full-time and where you’re from.

For home and EU students, the average tuition fee for an MPhil is approximately:

  • Full-time: £4500 per academic year
  • Part-time: £2250 per academic year

For international students, the average tuition fee for an MPhil can vary between:

  • Full-time: £13,000 – £17,000 per academic year
  • Part-time: £6,500 – £8,500 per academic year

What Funding Opportunities Exist for an MPhil?

A government loan can be used to fund your studies. If you are undertaking a stand-alone MPhil, you will need to apply to a Postgraduate Master’s Loan. On the other hand, if you are applying to a PhD but first have to register as an MPhil student, you will need to apply for a Doctoral Loan. Both loans will cover your tuition fees, living costs and travelling expenses.

Additionally, you can also apply to scholarships offered by your department or university. Competition for these are fierce as, unlike government loans, they do not need to be repaid. Therefore, this is a popular source of funding.

What Are the Typical Entry Requirements for an MPhil?

The typical requirement for an MPhil is a Bachelor’s degree with first-class honours (1st) or upper second class honours (2:1).

Although most universities won’t require a Masters for a stand-alone MPhil, they may if your MPhil registration is for a PhD programme.

Besides suitable qualifications, most MPhils also require a research proposal with your application. This is to show you understand the field and have thought about the aims and expected outcomes of your research project.

English Language Proficiency

If you are an international student and from a country whose primary language isn’t English, you’re likely to need to sit an English language proficiency test.

You will need to check the requirements for each project you are interested in is the requirements will differ for each university. However, as a guide, the typical requirement for MPhils is a minimum overall IELTS score of 6.5 with at least 6.0 in each category.

Remember that although IELTS is the most common English language test, it is only one of several which are accepted by UK universities.

Life After an MPhil

Having successfully completed a Master of Philosophy, you will no doubt have developed specialised and highly marketable skills. Some of these skills include problem-solving, critical thinking and the ability to form, evaluate and defend ideas.

This will make you favourable amongst employers in analytical and research-based fields. It will also give you a competitive edge over those who don’t have an advanced postgraduate qualification.

Although with suitable experience it’s possible to pursue a career in higher education or advance research, most employers will prioritise applicants with a PhD. Therefore, if you aspire to a career in academia or complex research, consider whether a PhD would be more beneficial for you.

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