What Types of Master's Degrees Are Available?

Learn about the many types of master's degrees available, including the Master of Science, Master of Fine Arts, Master of Arts and professional master's degree programs. Find out about online options.

What are Master of Arts and Master of Science Degrees?

According to the U.S. Department of Education, the most commonly awarded master's degrees are the Master of Arts (M.A.) and Master of Science (M.S.); these may be referred to as research master's degrees (www.ed.gov). They are often available in disciplines that are more academic in nature, such as English, history, linguistics, physics, psychology, chemistry or biology. Some M.A. and M.S. programs are not terminal, and prepare students to go on to a Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) program in the same or a related field.

Academic Master's DegreesMost common are Master of Arts and Master of Science
Professional Master's DegreesPrepare for application in the workplace, such as the Master of Business Administration, or Master of Fine Arts
Online OptionsIncreasingly available as either a hybrid program, completion program, or fully online
Career BenefitsOften required for work in advanced disciplines, professional licensure, or leadership roles

What's a Professional Master's Degree?

Some master's degree programs are only available for specific fields. These professional degrees signify the same subject mastery as an M.A. or M.S., but they're typically designed for application in the workplace. In some cases, like the Master of Fine Arts (MFA), a professional master's degree is terminal. Examples of professional master's degrees are:

  • Master of Music (M.M. or M.Mus.)
  • Master of Social Work (MSW)
  • Master of Business Administration (MBA)
  • Master of Architecture (M.Arch.)
  • Master of Library Science (M.L.S.)
  • Master of Divinity (M.Div.)
  • Master of Urban Studies (M.U.S.)

Are There Master's Degree Programs Online?

Master's degree programs are becoming increasingly available online. You can take blended online and on-campus programs or you can find options that allow you to take all of your coursework virtually. Online master's degree programs are available in many disciplines, including criminal justice and education.

What Can I Do With a Master's Degree?

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), many careers - such as medical and health services management - require a master's degree as the basic credential. Some careers, such as those in social work, may have entry-level positions for those with just a bachelor's degree, but offer increased opportunities for advancement with a graduate degree. Some careers, like counseling and public school teaching, may require licensure that includes a master's degree as a criterion in some states. The BLS further indicates that even where a master's degree isn't required, it is still often highly valued (www.bls.gov).

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