A master’s degree is a highly respected qualification showing that a person is well qualified in their field of study. There are many different kinds of master’s degrees and the methods of study can vary depending on the subject field. If you aim to compare master’s degrees, it’s important to consider the career opportunities and postgraduate study options the degree program could open up.
What is a master’s degree?
A master’s degree is an advanced qualification that is one level above a bachelor’s degree. It’s sometimes possible to enroll in a master’s degree as an undergraduate, studying a much longer program. Most students, however, embark on an additional year or two years of study after graduating with a bachelor’s degree. There are master’s degrees in just about every subject imaginable, from a business-focused degree program to science degrees and humanities.
Why get a master’s degree?
Studying for a master’s degree shows commitment to the subject at hand and indicates to prospective employers that the student was willing to spend the extra time to learn the subject more deeply. Master’s degree students study at a more intense level and have to be far more self-motivated and willing to research than students who are studying undergraduate courses.
With an undergraduate course, teachers provide far more advice and guidance, and there’s a clear curriculum of study. While there is still a curriculum in a master’s degree, the student is expected to have the skills and understanding required to prioritize recommended reading, do their own research and choose their own thesis areas. These skills are things that are incredibly important and appreciated by employers.
Is a master’s degree hard?
A master’s degree is one step above a bachelor’s degree and does follow a slightly different format. There is more study involved and many master’s degree students find themselves studying year-round, doing research, or serving as a teaching assistant during the summer months instead of using that time as a holiday.
Undergraduate students spend most of their time learning about research that other people have already done. Master’s degree students often do their own research to earn thesis credit for their degree. The exact format and passing score vary between universities and indeed study fields, but in general, students can expect to put in far more study hours each week for a master’s degree than they did for their bachelor’s.
Is a Ph.D. better than a master’s degree?
A Ph.D. is a postgraduate qualification that is one step above a master’s degree and requires even more independent research and self-motivation. In most fields, a bachelor’s degree is an introduction to the field and a master’s degree focuses on honing those skills and building some level of specialization. The Ph.D. qualification takes a different focus, building critical thinking skills, evaluating research, and solving problems.
What kinds of master’s degrees are there?
Master’s degrees can be divided into two core categories. Some are course-based and have a lot of teaching, lectures, and required reading. Others are research-based and require the student to complete a research project over the course of the degree. Course-based master’s degrees are usually shorter than research-based ones.
It’s possible to earn a master’s degree in almost any field, and there can be a lot of variety in how degrees are taught even within the same subject. One university may offer an MS program that is course-based, where another university’s program could be purely focused on research. This means it’s important to consider multiple universities before applying for a degree program.
You can study for master’s degrees in most subjects, including everything from educational administration to science, history, and mathematics. Whether you’re looking to be an MBA candidate or join an MSc program, there are institutions out there that can cater to you.
Some common types of masters degree include:
Earning an MBA degree is a common route into management and the corporate world. An MBA degree is a huge selling point if you want to get hired by some of the biggest enterprises on a management career path. If you studied a bachelor’s in business administration and now want to progress to something that will benefit your career, an MBA degree program is a good option.
Until relatively recently, it was important to choose the ‘right’ university for an MBA program, with some courses being considered far more valuable than others. Today, an increasing number of companies accept people with an online MBA, taking the stance that being able to study online, consistently, shows resourcefulness and discipline.
MSc / MS Degree Programs
Those interested in science fields may wish to consider an MS Degree. In some areas, this is known as an MSc degree instead. These programs cover biology, chemistry, physics and other sciences, including engineering and some health-related fields.
There is sometimes a cross-over between the arts and sciences, and some institutions may offer two degrees, one of which is an MA, and the other an MS. In this case, the MA is more likely to be focused on a thesis and have a significant ‘taught’ component while the MS is more likely to be research-focused.
Often, the research-focused degree will be more desirable to employers. This is particularly true in engineering fields where practical skills are heavily sought-after.
Master of Studies Degrees
Some of the more prestigious universities, such as the University of Oxford and the University of Cambridge in England offer an MSt, or Master of Studies. This is a degree that includes both classroom learning and a thesis, and that is comparable in value to an MA or MSc.
At Oxford and Cambridge, an MSt is seen as being a precursor to a Ph.D. The MSt is a postgraduate qualification studied by those who earned a Bachelors at a different institution, who are looking to upgrade their skills.
The reason behind the MSt title is that both Oxford and Cambridge automatically promote Bachelors of Arts students to Master of Arts after a given number of years. Since Master of Arts already exists as an academic rank at these universities, the institutions had to find another title for the postgraduate qualification.
Oxford and Cambridge are both considered to be high quality, prestigious universities, so an MSt from either of those institutions has significant value both in academia and the professional world.
Master of Research / MRes Degrees
An MRes degree is aimed at those who wish to become a researcher and spend their career working in academia. This kind of degree has a much heavier research requirement than MA and even MSc programs and is a good precursor to a Ph.D. because of this.
Not all institutions offer an MRes degree. At some universities, the MSc program has a significant research weighting instead. Be sure to read the prospectus of each degree before applying, rather than assuming what the course content will be. It’s not always possible to tell the content of a degree by name alone.
MPhil Degree Programs
The MPhil degree program, or Master by Research, is another form of research degree aimed at advanced learners. It allows the student to focus on a highly specific topic and complete a single research project for that degree. Similar to the MRes degree, the MPhil is considered a precursor to a Ph.D. and many students use the MPhil as a way to investigate an area of study before commencing their Ph.D.
MPhil degrees can take far longer than other types of master’s degree to complete, although how long the institution allows can vary. The perceived value of an MPhil can also vary, depending on the reputation of the awarding institution.
Master of Business Administration (MBA)
The Master of Business Administration is a highly specialized qualification that is designed to equip students with the knowledge they need to succeed in the corporate world. Students learn about how businesses work at a broad level, allowing them to take on a variety of roles in a business.
It is not uncommon for people to study for an MBA later in life. Most programs require people to have a minimum of three years of professional experience before they start their MBA and many students combine their MBA qualification with a specialization such as finance or accounting so that they can progress to that specific job role after graduation. Courses such as the Master of Professional Accountancy (MPAcc) are designed with that in mind.
Master of Public Administration (MPA)
The MPA is similar to the MBA but focuses on public policy instead of corporate practice. It is a highly specialized degree qualification, and it can include additional focus on areas such as the environment, science and technology, or international issues. Graduates can move on to work for the government or work for nonprofits or NGOs.
The MPA combines academic study with the application of skills in a professional setting and focuses on public policies. There are other similar qualification options that focus on specific areas of public policy, such as the Master of International Affairs, Master of Public Health, or the Master of Urban Planning.
Master of Laws (LLM)
The Master of Laws is the next logical step for most law students after taking a professional law degree. It allows candidates to focus on a more specific area of law than they would have when they learned the basic skills covered in their bachelor’s degree.
Master of Education (MEd, MSEd, MAEd, MAT)
There are several different kinds of Master of Education degrees, each one focusing on a specific area. For example, the MAT degree includes a teaching internship and allows the student to move on to teach in public schools after graduation. Some education-related masters are aimed at student teachers while others are aimed at people who are already qualified and allow them to specialize in special education, education administration, or curriculum development.
The above are just a few examples of the different kinds of master’s degrees that are available. There are many other study options, including Master of Music (MM), which can be studied with a view to becoming a music teacher or a performer, Master of Engineering, and even Master of Fine Arts. Whatever field a person is interested in, a Master’s degree is a good foundation for a lifetime of learning or practice.
What are the entry requirements for master’s degrees?
To earn a place on a master’s degree, you will usually need some level of education and understanding of the subject at hand. That doesn’t always mean there’s a set degree requirement, however. While you are more likely to get accepted into a master’s degree program if you have an undergraduate degree in a related subject, work experience or a solid interest in the subject is sometimes enough.
In many cases, an online master’s degree program will be more flexible with their entry requirements than bricks and mortar degrees and will help mature students join the course even if they don’t have the traditional foundation. Be prepared to do lots of preparatory reading if you decide to take this route.
Does an online master’s degree require a GRE?
It is possible to study a master’s degree online, both via an online-only university and via distance learning programs at traditional universities. Many mature students feel that studying a full-time MBA would be too demanding, both financially and in terms of time commitments, for them.
Online higher education courses allow people to get the full graduate student experience while working or looking after their families. This kind of study is a particularly good option for people who study a degree that has a significant weighting towards a master’s thesis. Since the thesis is written over the course of the degree, the student can set their own hours.
You may find it hard to find an online science degree that accepts students without a GRE, due to the hands-on nature of the course. The same could be said for teacher education, where work experience is very important. If someone wishes to pursue a career in elementary education, they’ll need to get practice at local schools.
Online doctoral degrees are more common in subjects with a thesis option and lots of required reading. If you were pursuing a doctoral degree in the humanities, computer science, or business, you’re more likely to be able to find something that has more flexible requirements.
Online MBA program offerings are becoming more commonplace too since these courses can often take into account real-world experience and transferable skills, and if someone has spent a few years in industry already, it’s likely they’ll be able to get a place on a business degree.
Do You Need Experience for a Master’s Degree?
Depending on the subject matter, it is often possible to get a place on a master’s degree immediately following a bachelor’s degree in a related subject.
Master’s degrees that are research-focused are usually designed for people who have a bachelor’s in a similar subject and who have already done a significant amount of research or who have published papers on the subject.
Taught degrees with an extensive classroom and study component are usually accessible to those who studied a related subject and who have sufficient academic background to suggest they will be able to ‘keep up’ with the classroom element of the course.
Many universities offer integrated master’s degrees, which are degrees that follow directly on from an undergraduate program. Someone who has just completed their secondary-level education can start these programs and complete the undergraduate and master’s level of study all in one go. These programs are quite intensive and usually take a year longer than the standard bachelor’s course.
If a student decides they do not wish to complete the masters they can usually graduate a year early and convert the credit for the courses they have already studied to a bachelor’s. Common examples of integrated degrees include MEng, MSci and MMath.
Integrated degrees are aimed at people who are just entering undergraduate education, and therefore those students are not expected to have experience in the real world. Some courses include an extra year of work placement partway through or expect the student to complete some supervised practice time as a part of their course. This is common in education and nursing.
What alternatives to college and university degrees exist?
Masters degrees are not the only advanced learner qualifications. A lot of students find that after completing a foundation or even a bachelor’s degree program, they no longer want to pursue that kind of academic education. Rather than moving on to a graduate degree, they look at other forms of alternative education.
Many fields offer alternative certification options for people who want to specialize in a specific area. There are teaching certification programs that allow people to work in classrooms alongside qualified teachers, for example, and the computer science field is full of practical certifications that focus on specific languages, tools, or frameworks. In many areas of computer science, a good portfolio is more important than paper qualifications, so that practical experience is worth a lot.
It’s entirely possible for someone who has specific goals in mind to pursue an alternative certification program and achieve their career goals. If you’re interested in something like early childhood education, take a look at the alternative teacher certification program, for example.
Someone who has some experience in the teaching field and has decided they would like to be a special education teacher could work towards an alternative teaching certification focused on that area of practice, rather than investing the amount of time required to earn an education master’s degree. There is a lot of value to academic qualifications, but they’re not the only route into the classroom.
Is online study for you?
Online study is an affordable way of earning a master’s degree, and a good option for people who wish to work while they study, or who have family commitments. However, it is not an easy option.
Online study can be isolating and difficult for those who need the presence of a lecturer to hold them accountable or those who enjoy the atmosphere of studying with their peers. Students who struggle with time management may find the demands of an online course difficult too.
Individuals who have been out of academia for some time may find it beneficial to do a refresher course before starting a master’s, or choose a course that has a residential component or some sessions taught at a satellite or outreach college so they can have some contact with a lecturer. This may help them stay motivated and manage their workload better during the first few months, which can be the most difficult for new students.
Choosing a master’s degree
It’s important to take into account career plans or future study plans when considering a master’s degree. If you started with an associate degree in one subject and decided to continue to a higher level, perhaps pursuing a graduate degree in a more specialized area, it’s wise to seek advice about whether the course you’re considering matches your goals.
There’s certainly nothing wrong with pursuing an education program simply because it interests you, but if your goal is to become a nurse practitioner you would need a degree that is recognized and accredited by the health care providers in your area. If you’re considering a master’s program in business administration, choose an executive MBA program that is trusted by the companies you want to work for.
High-quality MBAs can be expensive. Students on a budget may wish to consider scholarships, or look for other alternative master’s degrees. An online MBA program could be far more affordable than one at a bricks and mortar university, especially for a degree with a thesis option where a remote study is a realistic option.
Make sure that the degree provider is trustworthy, however, since
What does it mean to have “Hons” written after your degree?
Some degrees have “(Hons)” after their titles. This is particularly common for bachelor’s degrees. A BSc (Hons) Computer Science, for example, means that the person is a Bachelor of Science who graduated with Honors.
To earn the Honors, the student must study certain modules with a higher weighting than others who are simply aiming for the degree without the honors. It’s important to plan carefully when choosing modules for a degree, especially with online providers that will allow students to pick and choose between a vast list of courses at each level, which may cover a variety of subjects.
Should you study for a master’s degree full-time or part-time?
While it takes less calendar time to study for a master’s degree full-time, the up-front course fees will be more expensive and it may be hard to work and study at the same time. Many people opt to go to an online business school to study a part-time MBA while also gaining valuable work experience. This allows them to spread the cost of the degree over a longer period and earn while they learn.
It’s not uncommon for those in other fields, such as the sciences, to do something similar, working in an entry-level graduate role while studying for their MS degree or other qualifications. There’s merit to both full-time and part-time study, and the final decision is one of personal preference, taking into account the existing personal and work commitments of the student.
Financing a Masters Degree
A lot of students take out substantial loans to obtain their bachelor’s degrees. The prospect of getting into more debt to earn a master’s degree may be intimidating. Fortunately, there are several options for people who would like to continue their education.
Studying full-time is the quickest route, and those who can obtain more loans, a scholarship, or financing from an employer may wish to take this route. For others, studying an online MBA or a master’s in another subject via an alternative online education provider makes a lot of sense.
Many employers offer sponsorship for continuing education, or the option to ‘earn while you learn’ as a part of their employment packages. A nurse practitioner could work part-time while pursuing a more advanced qualification. Teachers have the option of working in a traditional classroom environment while studying to specialize or advance their careers.
Over the full length of the course, part-time studies will cost more than studying for one or two years, but since the cost is spread and the student has the ability to work while studying, this option is more attainable for many people.
Funding is often available from the universities themselves, as well as from grant-making organizations that focus on specific fields or minority groups. While full scholarships are relatively rare, partial scholarships can greatly offset the cost of a master’s degree and it may be possible to obtain grants from more than one organization.