Is MA in Law Equivalent to GDL?
A Master of Arts in Law (Conversion), more commonly known as an MA, and a Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL) are essentially equivalent courses. This is because they are both qualifying law degrees and will help you to move on to either the SQE or BPC, depending on your own career path. However, there are some important factors that you should take into account, if you are trying to choose between the two.
What is a MA in Law?
Since it was first introduced in the UK in 1977, we have been accustomed to the GDL, as the go to conversion course that allowed non-law students to fast track their way into the legal profession. This comprises the seven key modules needed to obtain what is known as a ‘qualifying law degree.’
With the introduction of the SQE, the GDL has been replaced by the PGDL (Postgraduate Diploma in Law). While the course content remains the same, the PGDL is no longer mandatory for non-law students.
An alternative for non-law students looking to start a career in law comes in the form of the MA in Law. This master's degree is specifically designed for non-law students looking to switch into a legal career. It too comprises the seven core modules needed to form a qualifying law degree in the UK. This includes: Criminal Law, Contract Law, Administrative Law, Land Law, Law of Torts, EU Law and Equity of Trusts. Some courses also have an optional research module.
You are probably thinking that this course sounds very similar to the GDL that was introduced all those years ago. The truth is, it is essentially the same course. It covers the same modules and usually for the same length of time (a year), and gives you the opportunity to move onto the SQE or BPC.
While the MA in Law is not mandatory to complete the SQE exams, it provides non-law students with a good foundation in law, and covers many of the skills the SQE assesses. A MA in Law is also not to be confused with a Master of Laws, known as an LLM. This course is designed for those who want to specialise in an area of law or who are interested in teaching. It is not a qualifying law degree like an MA in Law.
What are the entry requirements?
The entry requirements of both the PGDL and MA vary slightly between where you study them, but are commonly the same. This is usually either a minimum of an undergraduate degree at a 2:2 or 2:1.
What are the differences?
The most notable difference for most students is the costs and the funding. Firstly, with regards to costs, the MA is more expensive. Depending on where you complete your MA the costs range from around £11,000-£13,500. Meanwhile, the PGDL costs around £6,500, but this again depends on location.
One key difference is also in the funding. Due to the fact that the MA is a postgraduate masters degree, it entitles UK nationals to a student loan provided by the government. This means that you could complete your degree without paying for it up-front. This is not available for those who take the PGDL.
The MA is also more widely recognised than the PGDL in two distinct ways. Firstly, it is an internationally recognised qualification, allowing for more career opportunities abroad. Secondly, a MA is a very valuable asset to recruiters in both a legal and non-legal setting, and therefore provides a level of security if you believe a career in law isn’t for you.
Which one should I take?
When deciding which to take, it will largely depend on your own personal circumstances, but here are some things you should know.
- Neither is favoured above the other by law firms. If you are looking to obtain a training contract, both are viewed equally.
- The MA is thought to be marginally more difficult, with a higher average pass mark than the PGDL.
- MAs can require a dissertation and are more research based.
- The location of study can vary the cost of both.
- The entry requirements differ between providers but are mostly the same.
Finally, the most important difference is funding and cost. If you have obtained a training contract, then it is likely the firm will provide a grant or fund the PGDL. You need not worry which one you do at this point.
However, if you have not obtained a training contract and cannot afford to pay for the PGDL, then completing a MA with a student loan could be the best option for you. Alternatively, if you can afford the up-front fees of a PGDL, secure a scholarship or get a private loan, this could reduce your debts after your studies.