English BA, MA vs. Scottish MA

One of the things some people haven’t quite worked out when applying to Edinburgh is the difference between a Scottish MA and an English MA. This article will hopefully clear up any confusion!

When I first visited the School of Philosophy, Psychology and Language Sciences (PPLS) PPLS in Year 12, I didn’t even realise that an undergraduate degree was called Master of Arts (MA) and not Bachor of Arts (BA) at the University of Edinburgh. Even worse, some of my friends only realised this when they were already in Edinburgh!

A Scottish MA is not a Masters degree

A lot of people think that our MA course is the same as an MA course back in England. One reason is that our undergraduate degrees last 4 years, instead of the standard 3 years back in England. This is why many people assume that by applying for an MA in Linguistics, they will get to do 3 years of an undergraduate degree and then 1 year of a masters degree in Linguistics. This is not the case! After 4 years of studying an MA in Edinburgh, you will only obtain an undergraduate Linguistics degree, which is the equivalent of a BA Linguistics degree in England, Wales or Northern Ireland.

A Scottish MA is almost like an English BA

If you are still confused at this point then just remember that a Scottish MA is equivalent to an English BA. Your employers in the UK (but not all!) will most likely know this, so having a Scottish MA does not make you more appealing than other candidates with a BA on this ground alone. There are many differences between the Scottish MA and the English BA.

Firstly, the Scottish MA takes 4 years whereas the English BA takes 3 years.

Secondly, the curriculum structure is different. The Scottish MA includes more outside courses in the first two years. This offers flexibility in the variety of subjects you can study. We divide our years into “pre-honours” (Years 1 and 2), where grades don’t count towards our degree classification, and “honours” (Years 3 and 4), where the course material is more specialised and the grades count towards our degree. In contrast, the English BA is intense and subject-based where you only take one or two outside courses in Year 1. Year 1 (with the exception of Oxbridge Universities) usually doesn’t count towards your degree classification, whilst Year 2 and 3 do count towards your degree.

Why 4 years and not 3?

You might think: why should I spend my time and money on one extra year if I end up with a BA-equivalent degree anyway?

There are actually many advantages to spending more time in undergraduate education that you might consider:

Firstly, how could you really be sure what you want to do in the future? My Year 13-self would roll my eyes at this question. I was very confident that I would like to go into linguistics research then. However, studying at Edinburgh has allowed me to do many outside courses in both Year 1 and 2. Thanks to this, I now realise that psychology is more of my thing than linguistics. I was able to change my course as late as Year 3! This would not be possible at an English university with an intensive 3-year curriculum.

Secondly, you end up being more mature and consequently a better employee for your prospective employer. Have you noticed that most of the undergraduate degrees in the world take 4 years? England, Wales and Northern Ireland are in the minority offering 3-year undergraduate degrees. Many people in English universities I know complain to me that 3 years is too short and intense for them. If you don’t think you would be ready to go into the workforce or a master’s after 3 years, then it might be worth doing one extra year.

Why call it an MA?

We don’t just want to mess with you. Edinburgh actually has a good reason for this misnomer. It’s mainly because the University of Edinburgh is an ancient university which has a tradition of giving out a Bachelor’s degree with honours with an “MA” preceding your degree. It’s the same with other super-old universities like Oxford, Cambridge and Glasgow. It simply means we are an old and prestigious top university in the UK!

But there are some BA programmes though?

Yes, we do have some undergraduate degrees that award a BA, such as BA Architecture which takes three years. All architecture students start with the MA (Honours) Architecture programme. However, at the end of Year 2, students have a choice of pathways enabling accelerated progress (three-year BA Architecture) or development of broader academic interests (four-year MA (Hons) Architecture) – including a variant of the MA (Hons) with an exchange year abroad.

Further information

Why study Cognitive Science at Edinburgh? | The University of Edinburgh