Master by Coursework vs. Master by Research: Which One to Choose?

Yogi at Monash University graduation ceremony. Source: Monash University
Yogi saat wisuda di Monash University Sumber: Monash University

“In preparing for your future academic degree, prospective Master’s degree students should comprehend various academic and non-academic aspects that will be experienced at the study destination, including the pathways of graduate studies.

In this article, Yogi Saputra Mahmud (Content Director for Australia, New Zealand, and Pacific Islands) will help you understand more about the differences between Master by Coursework vs. Master by Research, as well as some advice to select a pathway of graduate studies.”



Before starting your initial journey as a master’s degree student overseas, it is essential to explore the programs you wish to take. University websites will always become the best source of information for you to examine the desired courses. For instance, before I decided to pursue a Master’s degree in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL), I started my investigation by visiting several university websites all over the globe. Ultimately, I chose Monash University as my study destination as it offers a very unique course pathway that supported my future career.

Working as a Student Engagement Officer at Monash University. Source: Personal documentation
Working as a Student Engagement Officer at Monash University. Source: Personal documentation

At Monash University, I also experienced working as a Student Engagement Officer who helped students in their course progression. At that time, I realised that different universities might have different types of graduate studies offered to prospective students. Some Master degree programs are specifically designed for a full-coursework, a full-research, and coursework with a partial research pathway during the study, which will be exemplified further below.

Master by Coursework

On its website, Edith Cowan University outlines that A Masters by Coursework “is a professional qualification involving the study of a specified set of core units and a selection of eligible elective units” (ECU, 2019). In other words, Master by Coursework students are required to enrol in classes that belong to compulsory units and choose several elective units for a certain number of credit hours throughout their study. During the study, you are also expected to complete assignments/projects/exams specified in each class or unit.

An example of Masters by Full Coursework pathway that I will illustrate here is Master of Business at Monash University. As an industry-focused graduate program, Master of Business enormously creates a professionally developed and socially responsible business practitioner. Therefore, the full coursework type allows you to immerse yourself in practical understanding to become an effective business practitioner.

Master of Business course progression. Source: Monash University
Master of Business course progression. Source: Monash University

As shown in the picture above, a Master of Business course requires its students to complete 96 credit points consisting of three major parts, including Advanced Preparatory, Mastery Knowledge, and Application Studies. Students will have to take core units and some elective units based on their interests in each part. In my perspective, the full coursework type will allow students to scrutinise theoretical and practical understandings in a particular field. Furthermore, it also enables students to tailor their expertise in their area based on their selection of core and elective units throughout their academic journey.

Master by Coursework + Partial Research

Yogi's mini thesis at Master of TESOL course. Source: Personal documentation
Yogi’s mini thesis at Master of TESOL course (12,000 words). Source: Personal documentation

Besides the full coursework pathway, some Master’s degree programs also offer a partial research stream as an alternative pathway in the Masters by Coursework program. Usually, the partial research stream requires the students to complete a minor thesis comprising less than 15,000 words.

There are several requirements that you must fulfil to take this pathway. For instance, I personally took this pathway when I was studying at Monash University. Regarding this, the Master of TESOL course offers a Master by Coursework for prospective students. However, this course also has an alternative research pathway for those who achieve satisfactory results (75 of 100) from the first to the third semester. Since other courses may have different requirements, you are advised to check the university website or the course handbook to investigate them further.

As can be identified in the picture below, Master of TESOL at Monash University offers either a Master of Full Coursework or Master of Coursework + a partial research pathway. I believe that both types provide different advantages for prospective students. In this case, students who prefer a Master of Full Coursework type will have a more comprehensive experience in teaching and other professional development programs. Similarly, those who select a partial research pathway will improve their research experience and capacity, which can become an essential milestone for their future academic trajectory at Ph.D.

Master of TESOL course progression. Source: Monash University
Master of TESOL course progression. Source: Monash University

Master by Research

In a Master by Research program, students are required to submit “a completed thesis based on an independent research project” (ECU, 2019). Furthermore, students will engage with a research supervisor throughout the completion of their research project. In this graduate study type, students will not have to attend any course units (core or elective units). However, there might be some preliminary classes to support their understanding of their research project, including classes in research methodology and statistics. Therefore, it is essential to explore the course progression and requirement in the university website or course handbook.

An example that I will illustrate here is the Master of Engineering Science (Research) at Monash University. This course is offered with two years and four years duration for full-time and part-time study respectively. Regarding this, students have to complete a research project in the areas of chemical engineering, civil engineering, electrical and computer systems, materials, and mechanical engineering. In each area of research, students will also be able to explore several subthemes that they are interested in. Ultimately, students are required to submit a thesis of not more than 50,000 words to complete their Master by Research degree.

Master of Engineering Science course requirements. Source: Monash University
Master of Engineering Science course requirements. Source: Monash University

In the other Master by Research courses, students will also find areas of research that can be selected as the theme of your research project. In addition, communication between yourself as the prospective student and a prospective supervisor is also necessary to ensure that the suitability of the research project, as well as the approval from the prospective supervisor to supervise you throughout the academic program. You can find the list of prospective supervisors by entering the following keyword in the Google search box: “find a supervisor + University name + Faculty/Department name.”

Search engine keywords to find a prospective supervisors. Source: Personal documentation
Search engine keywords to find a prospective supervisors. Source: Personal documentation

Which One to Choose?

As stated earlier, each type of graduate studies has its particular characteristics. In this regard, Masters by Full Coursework pathway allow you to deepen theoretical and practical insights about a specific area of knowledge. For instance, a Master by Full Coursework pathway at Master of TESOL course allows the students to immerse in teaching and classroom supervision, further supporting the key developments of becoming an effective teacher after completing the study. In other words, a Master by Full Coursework pathway is suitable for those who are planning to have a future career as a professional/expert in a particular field (e.g., business practitioner, education practitioner, and many more).

However, some Masters by Full Coursework pathway also offers a partial research pathway for those planning to extend their understanding of research. The partial research along with Masters by Full Research pathways are essential for students who would like to pursue a Doctoral degree since most Ph.D. programs require their applicants to have prior experience in completing a substantial amount of research in the form of a Master’s thesis. Furthermore, those who intend to become researchers, analysts, and university lecturers will also benefit from taking these pathways since the professions require them to engage in rigorous research and other academic projects.

Main Takeaways

It is important for you to explore the available pathways in the Master’s degree course that you desire. Every pathway at the graduate level has its own characteristics and strengths that ultimately affect your overall academic trajectory. Moreover, selecting a particular Master’s degree pathway should be based on the future career that you want to have.



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