Types of Master’s Degree Programs Available

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types of master's degree


Choosing a master’s degree program that suits your career objectives could be key to unlocking your potential. But with so many types of master’s degree programs available to earn, it might be overwhelming to decide which program could fit your needs and goals. That’s why we have put together this extensive guide to help you make an informed decision.

In this article, we explore the different types of master’s degree programs you might encounter, the potential benefits of earning your master’s degree, and how you could choose the program that supports your career aspirations.

Master of Science (MS)

A Master of Science (MS) is a master’s degree in a field related to science and technology.

Fields of study that offer an MS degree

You may find MS degree programs in a variety of fields, including:

  • Computer science
  • Engineering
  • Political science
  • Economics
  • Marketing

Master of Science: a research-based degree

Master of Science programs tend to involve a significant amount of research. In fact, MS programs could help prepare you for research-based roles after you graduate. By focusing on research in your field, you could help find solutions to complex problems—solutions that might have wide-reaching applications.

Requirements for completing an MS degree program

Earning an MS degree may require anywhere from 30 to 60 credits of coursework—or more, depending on the program. You may also need to complete a thesis.

Master of Arts (MA)

A Master of Arts (MA) is a master’s degree in fields pertaining to the arts, humanities, or social sciences.

Fields of study that offer an MA degree

You may find MA degree programs in a variety of fields, including:

  • English
  • Communications
  • Performance
  • Sociology
  • Psychology

Research requirements for an MA degree

MA programs tend to focus on research within your field of study. You could take courses about research practices, such as interpreting and presenting your findings. There also tends to be an emphasis on writing skills. Whether you’re researching the works of Shakespeare or the social challenges impacting communities, you could prepare to make a contribution to your field.

Requirements for completing an MA program

Earning an MA degree typically requires you to complete between 30 and 60 credits of coursework, though some programs may call for more. Along with taking courses in your field of study, you may need to complete a thesis or capstone project to earn your MA degree.

Master of Business Administration (MBA)

A Master of Business Administration (MBA) is a professional degree that focuses on teaching skills in business and management. In an MBA degree program, you could study subjects such as finance, accounting, human resources, and marketing.

Purpose of an MBA program

The purpose of an MBA is to help students develop the knowledge they need to pursue business leadership roles. Whether you’re interested in launching your own business or chasing career enhancement, you’ll likely need to know how to manage a team, communicate effectively, and make strategic business decisions. MBA programs are designed to teach these and other skills.

Types of careers an MBA degree might help you pursue

Earning an MBA could help you go further in your current role or compete for a new opportunity. Career paths you could pursue with an MBA degree include:

  • Marketing manager
  • Medical and health services manager
  • Financial manager
  • Chief executive
  • Management analyst

Benefits of pursuing an MBA

Wondering whether you should pursue postgraduate education in business administration? Some potential benefits of earning an MBA include:

  • Professional development. In an MBA degree program, you could learn new skills—such as managerial tactics or business analytics—to apply to your career.
  • Higher earnings. Earning an MBA could help you qualify to pursue career paths that pay more. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, professional degree-holders have median annual salaries of more than $100,000 per year—nearly twice the median annual salary for all workers.
  • Relevant concentrations. Most MBA programs offer the chance to choose a concentration that could help you take your career to a new level. Some options might include finance, marketing, healthcare management, entrepreneurship, and more.
  • Flexible options. MBA programs are often designed for busy professionals. Potential options such as online programs and streamlined Executive Master of Business Administration (EMBA) programs could help you earn your degree while continuing to work.

Master of Education (MEd)

A Master of Education (MEd) is a master’s degree intended for educators. This program typically focuses on helping educators pursue higher-level education in their field.

Purpose of an MEd program

MEd programs are typically designed to help educators build teaching skills and enhance their knowledge of the field. Whether you’re new to teaching or have years of professional experience, you could learn new theories and concepts to apply in your classroom. MEd programs could also help educators develop their knowledge in new areas of professional interest, such as curriculum design. Finally, some candidates earn an MEd to help them prepare for a doctoral program.

Types of careers an MEd degree might help you pursue

Earning an MEd could help you learn new skills to apply in your current career or prepare to pursue a new role. Career paths an MEd degree could lead to include:

  • Instructional coordinator
  • Elementary, middle, or high school principal
  • Assistant principal
  • Elementary, middle, or high school teacher

Benefits of pursuing an MEd degree

Wondering whether pursuing an MEd is the next step for you? Consider some possible benefits of earning an MEd:

  • Meeting state requirements. Some states require teachers to earn a master’s degree after earning their teaching certification and finding a teaching job. Earning an MEd fulfills that requirement.
  • Learning new skills. Even educators never stop learning. In an MEd program, you could expand your knowledge in areas such as classroom assessment, multicultural education, educational theory, curriculum design, and a lot more.
  • Earning a higher salary. Having an MEd could help you pursue higher-paying roles. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that master’s degree-holders have annual median salaries of nearly $93,016 per year.

Master of Fine Arts (MFA)

A Master of Fine Arts (MFA) is a master’s degree that focuses on a field within the fine arts or performing arts.

Creative fields that offer an MFA degree

MFA programs may be found in a variety of creative fields—from the high-tech to the traditional. Depending on your creative interests, here are just a few of the many MFA concentrations you could consider:

  • Creative writing
  • Dance
  • Fashion design
  • Photography
  • Music
  • Graphic design
  • Video and film production
  • Video game design
  • Performing arts
  • Studio arts

The studio-based nature of MFA programs

Some MFA programs are studio-based, meaning that students spend time practicing their creative skills on campus. Whether you’re studying dance, painting, or sculpture, it could be helpful to work alongside your peers and receive in-person feedback from instructors.

However, not every MFA program is studio-based—it all depends on your field of creative study and whether you choose to earn your MFA online or on campus.

Requirements for completing an MFA program

To earn your MFA degree, you will generally need to complete between 30 and 60 credits of coursework, though this requirement may vary by program. You will likely also need to complete a dissertation and/or a culminating project such as a gallery show or performance.

Master of Laws (LLM)

A Master of Laws (LLM) is a postgraduate law degree that offers higher-level education in the field of law.

Purpose of an LLM program

An LLM program is generally geared toward candidates who have already earned a Juris Doctor (JD) degree or the equivalent in their country of origin. Earning an LLM could be a way to focus on a particular area of law, such as environmental, intellectual property, or healthcare law. By deepening your knowledge in an LLM program, you could prepare for a legal career that may call for expertise beyond the JD level.

Types of careers an LLM degree might help you pursue

By earning an LLM, you could prepare for potential career paths that include:

  • Government counsel
  • Defense lawyer
  • Environmental lawyer
  • Tax lawyer
  • Compliance coordinator
  • Professor of law
  • Policymaker

Benefits of pursuing an LLM degree

Trying to decide whether to further your legal education in an LLM degree program? Some potential benefits of earning your LLM degree include:

Focused learning. While a JD program may provide broad exposure to many areas of law, an LLM program usually offers the opportunity to focus on an area of law that interests you—whether that’s taxation, intellectual property, international law, or another concentration.
Global credibility. An LLM degree is a respected law credential that has global credibility. Whether you’ve earned a JD in the U.S. or the equivalent in your country of origin, earning an LLM could be the perfect next step in your career.
Flexible options. In many cases, LLM candidates are also working lawyers. While an LLM is traditionally designed to be earned in one year of full-time study, there are also part-time and online LLM programs that could fit into your busy schedule.

Master of Public Health (MPH)

A Master of Public Health (MPH) is a professional master’s degree focusing on health issues and policies that impact society.

Purpose of an MPH program

The purpose of MPH programs is to educate current and future healthcare professionals on public health issues such as disease prevention, occupational health, and addiction. An MPH program may cover topics such as social and environmental health issues and how to create programs and policies that lead to improved public health outcomes.

Types of careers an MPH degree might help you pursue

Earning your MPH degree could lead to potential career paths that include:

  • Epidemiologist
  • Health and safety engineer
  • Environmental scientist
  • Healthcare administrator
  • Biostatistician
  • Natural science manager
  • Public health director

Benefits of pursuing an MPH degree

Wondering if studying public health at the graduate level is a great next step? Some potential benefits of earning your MPH degree include:

  • Career preparation. Some healthcare career paths may require an MPH or a similar degree. For instance, most epidemiologists—public health professionals who study patterns and causes of disease—must earn a graduate degree such as an MPH.
  • A higher salary. Earning your MPH may be a step toward a career that pays off. Many roles that you could pursue with an MPH pay better than average. Consider biostatisticians, a type of statistician that works with healthcare data. Statisticians earned a median annual salary of $96,280 at last check, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
  • Making a difference. In an MPH program, you could study healthcare issues that have a big impact on society—from pandemics to substance addiction. You could prepare to address some of these issues firsthand or advocate for solutions that make a difference in your community and beyond.

Master of Social Work (MSW)

A Master of Social Work (MSW) is a master’s degree that focuses on social work concepts beyond the bachelor’s degree level and may involve choosing a concentration such as gerontology, mental health, or school social work.

Purpose of an MSW program

The purpose of an MSW program is to help students prepare for social work practice and research. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that while earning a bachelor’s degree in social work is sufficient for some entry-level nonclinical positions, some social work career paths require an MSW. For example, among other requirements, clinical social workers must typically complete an MSW program that focuses on clinical assessment and diagnostic skills. In an MSW, students could also deepen their knowledge of a practice area such as family services, gerontology, and more.

Types of careers an MSW degree might help you pursue

Earning your MSW degree could be the next step to potential career paths that include:

  • Clinical social worker
  • Child and family social worker
  • School social worker
  • Healthcare social worker
  • Mental health and substance abuse social worker

Benefits of pursuing an MSW degree

Earning an MSW could have many benefits, including:

  • Meeting a career requirement. Earning an MSW could help you pursue social work career paths that require a master’s degree, such as becoming a clinical social worker.
  • Deepening your knowledge. Social work is a complex and evolving field, and there’s usually something new to learn. In an MSW program, you could conduct research, choose a concentration that interests you, or even learn how to work with patients in a clinical setting.
  • Making a difference. Social workers help individuals, families, and communities solve urgent problems. By earning an MSW, you could be better equipped to tackle challenging social issues and make a difference in many lives.


If you plan to continue your higher education journey by earning a master’s degree, choosing the right program is key. After all, earning a master’s degree requires hard work, time, and financial commitment. It should be an investment in your future—one that makes sense for your career goals, interests, and talents.

While some master’s degree programs are designed to lead students down many different potential career paths, others are aimed at preparing you for a very specific career area. For instance, a Master of Arts degree could have wide-ranging applications, whereas an MEd is designed for those who want to work in the field of education.

Before embarking on your graduate education, make sure you are clear on what you hope to do once you earn your master’s degree. Focusing on your career goals could help you select the perfect program and unlock your full potential.

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