The master’s degree is offered in many different fields, and is designed to provide additional education or training in the student’s specialized branch of knowledge.
The term “master’s degree” includes a variety of degrees, awarded for different purposes:
– Master’s degrees awarded as advanced research degrees
– Master’s degrees awarded as basic professional qualifications
– Master’s degrees awarded as terminal degrees
The two main types of master’s degree programs are academic and professional.
One main distinction between different types of master’s degree programs is whether or not they are designed for students who intend to continue toward a doctoral degree. Those that do not lead into doctoral programs are known as terminal master’s programs. Most professional master’s degrees fall under this category. Credits earned in terminal master’s programs may or may not be transferable if you decide to continue toward a doctoral degree later on.
Some institutions restrict admission to master’s programs solely to potential doctoral candidates. Other institutions require a master’s degree as part of the requirements for admission to their doctoral program.
Policies vary from institution to institution and within various departments of each institution. It is best to check directly with individual graduate departments to determine the admissions policies for their master’s and doctoral programs.
Academic Master’s – Research Master’s Degrees:
Master of Arts (M.A.) and Master of Science (M.S.) degrees are usually awarded within the disciplines of art, science, and humanities. M.S. degrees are also awarded in technical fields such as engineering and agriculture, where research, research methodology, and field investigation are emphasized. These programs usually require the completion of 30 to 60 credit hours and could reasonably be completed in one to two academic years of full-time study. They could also lead to a doctorate degree.
The length of a master’s degree program depends upon the requirements of the discipline and the degree-granting institution. Degrees may require work in several fields related to the subject of study.
Studies for research-oriented master’s degrees may require that you defend an independent thesis, pass comprehensive examinations set by graduate faculty, and complete special projects.
Many master’s programs offer a thesis and a non-thesis option. While both are referred to as master’s degree, the academic requirements of the two degrees are slightly different. Students in non-thesis programs usually take more coursework in place of researching and writing a thesis, and they often take a written comprehensive examination after all coursework is completed. Students in degree programs that include a thesis component generally take a comprehensive oral examination that serves to assess their coursework and thesis research.
Professional Master’s Degrees:
Professional master’s degrees are designed to arm students with practical skills that can be applied in a profession. An aspiring journalist, for example, may enroll in a dual master’s program in journalism and international affairs. The journalism degree will provide the student with practical knowledge about investigative journalism and ethical reporting. Similarly, the international affairs degree will provide the student with critical background knowledge on a particular region in which the student hopes to practice journalism.
Other master’s degrees chiefly designed for career-oriented students are master’s in social work (MSW.), master’s in business administration (MBA), or master’s of education. Such degrees may prepare students to administer social service programs, manage companies, and run educational institutions.
Those who have an interest in teaching at the university level or obtaining a PhD may not be the best candidates for a professional master’s degree program. Rather, those who seek advanced training to assume a position at a higher level within a company, nonprofit, or government agency are best served by career-oriented master’s degrees.
The curriculum of a professional master’s degree program differs from that of an academic graduate program. Your coursework will be more structured and streamlined–you and your classmates will likely take many of the same courses, especially during the first year of study. You may often work in groups, an exercise designed to get students accustomed to collaborating with colleagues, as one does in a real professional environment.
Professional graduate degree programs typically take one to two years of full-time study to complete. You will probably not be required to complete a thesis, an in-depth research paper on a specific topic. Work will largely be based on projects, participation in class discussions, and short papers.
Master’s Degree Titles:
U.S. degree titles are not governed by national laws, so an institution may exercise wide discretion in the nomenclature it uses for degrees. Accrediting associations may exert some influence on degree titles, as do the labor market and the professional academic community, but there are still a wide variety of master’s degree titles in use.
The best way to determine whether a master’s degree represents research work or professional studies is either to be familiar with the program of the awarding institution or to examine a student’s academic record to determine what type of degree requirements were met. Therefore we highly recommend contacting all schools listed in the search results of our school directory.
Some of the more common master’s degree titles are:
Master of Architecture (M.Arch) (usually a 2-3 year professional degree);
Master of Arts (M.A.) (usually, but not always, awarded for research studies in a wide variety of subjects);
Master of Arts in Teaching (M.A.T.) (generally a one-year professional degree);
Master of Business Administration (M.B.A.) (nearly always a 2 year professional degree in management);
Master of Education (M.Ed.) (awarded for both professional and research studies in education subjects);
Master of Fine Arts (M.F.A.) (a 2-3 year professional degree in studio, applied, or performing arts that is often considered a terminal degree);
Master of Library Science (M.L.S.) (a 2 year professional degree);
Master of Music (M.M.) (a 2-3 year degree in music that is usually professional (performance) but may sometimes be a research award);
Master of Public Health (M.P.H.) (usually a 2-year professional degree);
Master of Science (M.S.) (awarded for both research and professional studies in a wide variety of subjects);
Master of Science in Nursing (M.S.N.) (usually a professional degree but also awarded for research);
Master of Social Work (M.S.W.) (usually a 2-year professional degree); and
Master of Theology (Th.M.) (generally a research degree but may also be professional).