By Paul Guidry
Published September 13, 2011
A master’s degree is the specialized academic course of study intended to hone your professionalism in the area you choose. Master’s programs can last anywhere from one to three years depending upon the particular course you’ve chosen. During your master’s program you can expect to take classes and exams, and in some cases you may conduct research and write a thesis or dissertation. Depending upon the school you’re attending, you may also have the option of teaching, which can help defray the cost of your tuition as well as provide you with important experience.
Master’s degree vs. bachelor’s degree
In today’s world, because of the phenomenon of “degree inflation”, a bachelor’s degree is still valuable, but no longer seen as a mark of exceptional academic capability. Many people believe in a competitive workforce, a master’s is the minimum needed to stand out from your peers and excel in your career.
In most cases, your master’s level coursework will be more specialized and challenging than your bachelor’s level coursework. Generally speaking, your classes will be conducted as discussion-heavy seminars rather than lectures in which you’re passively learning.
Service-oriented master’s programs can also require an internship or practicum, in which you’re placed at a site where you can learn skills hands-on. For example, if you’re obtaining your master’s in social work, you may spend time at a setting where you’re actually learning how to offer therapy and case management, rather than simply reading about it and discussing it in a classroom.
Competitive career advantage with a master’s degree
Master’s degrees are often, though not always, prerequisites for certain career paths. They’re often also necessary if you wish to obtain a doctoral degree. If you’d like to make a career switch, going back to school for your master’s may be a great way to gain experience and facilitate that change.
Similarly, if your chosen career path has nothing to do with what you studied as an undergraduate, you’ll likely need a master’s so you can get the education you need. In this case, it makes far more sense to pursue a master’s rather than go back for an additional bachelor’s since full time bachelor’s degrees take four years to complete. Many master’s programs are offered online, part-time and/or with evening and weekend classes to accommodate working professionals’ schedules.
A master’s degree also allows you to “upgrade” your bachelor’s. If you obtained your bachelor’s from a college that isn’t particularly well known, a master’s from a well-reputed school can vastly improve your resume. Similarly, stellar academic performance at a master’s program can make up for ho-hum undergraduate grades.
Types of master’s degrees
There are many types of master’s degrees, and while these aren’t the only degrees available to you, they are among the most popular. Search our directory of master’s degrees to find the degree and program that’s best for you.
An M.A. is a graduate degree in the Humanities, such as English or history. Some universities offer an M.A. for the social sciences such as psychology or sociology.
An M.S. refers to a degree in the Sciences, often including the social sciences. Many M.S. programs are course-based, research-based or a mixture of the two.
An MBA is a graduate degree that focuses on various areas of business including accounting, finance, marketing and human resources.
An M.F.A is a graduate degree in the visual, creative or performing arts. M.F.A programs often culminate with a major work or performance.
An M.M or M.Mus is a graduate degree in an applied area of music performance, composition or conducting with a focus on music theory and history.
An M.P.A.S. is graduate degree that trains and licenses healthcare professionals to practice medicine with limited supervision by a physician.
An M.Eng. refers to a professional engineering degree offered as an alternative to the traditional research-based Master of Science.