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Planning Your StudiesThe Complete Guide to MA Degree

The Complete Guide to MA Degree

Stat: From 2005 to 2015, graduate degree enrollments have increased from 900,000 to 1,200,000 students, or by about 34%.

A larger number of students who have gotten their Bachelor’s Degrees are looking to further their education by getting a Master’s Degree. If you are asking why you should go to Grad School, you can go here to see the increased career potential you will get.

Stat: In 2015, around 13% of all graduate students were enrolled to get an MA degree.

You might be considering to do a Masters Degree and still researching and looking into your options. Amongst the different types of Masters Degrees, you have probably come across the MA degree and want to know more information about it. This article covers the details of the MA degree and is the complete guide to getting it:

What Is An MA Degree?

The MA degree is a course based degree and stands for Master of Arts degree or Magister Artium in Latin.

It is a Masters Degree in any of the topics of the humanities and social sciences. A Masters of Arts degree is amongst the oldest degrees that has been given and the fourth most common Master’s Degree following Business, Education, and Sciences.

There are two types of Master’s Degrees in general:

  • taught or course based, and
  • research based

Based on that classification, the MA degree falls into the course based degree. That is because most universities have a curriculum for the degree which teaches different skills and is not entirely focused on research. Despite that, most MA students are required to have some form of original research such as a capstone, thesis, or dissertation.

The MA subjects are quite diverse. They can range from geography to social sciences, anthropology, linguistics, communications, and so on. However, the most common MA degrees are:

  • MA in Political Science
  • MA in International Relations
  • MA in Arts Studies
  • MA in Media
  • MA in Communications
  • MA in Sociology

Besides the Master of Arts (MA) degree there is also the Master of Science (MS, MSc) degree. The difference between the two is that the MS degree is more focused on scientific topics such as Engineering, Mathematics, Physics, etc. However, both can be course based and very common in graduate schools.

Students who go on to do an MA degree come from different backgrounds, but most of them have done a Bachelor of Arts (BA) degree in the field which they are going to complete their MA. That is not necessarily mandatory, but it is preferable to have some basic knowledge on it. Students who have studied something different from the topic that they want to do their MA degree in might be required to first complete some introductory courses to gain the knowledge on the basic concepts.

Many MA degree holders go on to also get their Doctorate Degrees (PhD) and go into academia as researchers and professors. Others become involved in the public or the private sector as employees or open their own practices.

What Are The Types Of MA Degrees?

An MA Degree can be different based on the interests and the background of the student. Students can choose to do their MA degree as:

  • Single degree
  • Dual degrees

Single MA Degree

The single MA degree is a Masters Degree in one specific field that the student wants to gain in-depth knowledge on. These degrees are the most common ones and can be found in most universities.

Dual MA Degree

The dual MA degree on the other hand is when students have more than one interest. You can get an MA degree in sociology and anthropology for example. The fields for dual degrees are usually related to each other and can be used to research one phenomenon from two different perspectives. If you are interested in doing a dual MA degree, you will have to check with universities as not all of them offer it.

Types of MA degrees by their method of study

Another way in which MA degrees can be divided is by their method of study such as:

Full time MA degree

The full-time MA degree is when students are enrolled and are taking about 9 to 12 credits per semester to complete their degree. The number of credits per semester to qualify as a full-time student varies based on the university, but it is usually around that number.

Part time MA degree

You will be a part-time Master of Arts student if you take less than the number of credits required to be a full-time student. This is different from one institution to the other, but it is usually between 3 to 9 credits per semester.

Distance learning MA degree

The distance learning method of study to get the MA degree has been increasing in popularity. This is the online degree which students can choose to get while they are working and because they don’t have time to get an on-campus degree. The online or distance learning MA degree can be full-time or part-time depending on the obligations of the student, but it is accepted equally by employers like the on-campus full time or part time studies.

Types of MA degrees by thesis requirement

The last characteristic which can give different types of MA degrees is the thesis. Based on this there are:

  • MA degrees with thesis
  • MA degrees without thesis

MA degrees with thesis

The MA degree with the thesis means that besides the courses that students will complete, they are also required to do a Master’s thesis, capstone, or dissertation so that they can graduate. This can be done during the semesters or after all courses are completed, depending on the institution. The thesis takes 3 to 6 months to complete and at the end the students present their research in front of professors and experts as well as their colleagues. This is usually called the thesis defense.

MA degrees without thesis

The MA degree without the thesis does not require students to complete their research to graduate. Students only take the courses that are needed to fulfill the credits and then graduate. Some universities do not give an MA degree if the student does not do a thesis. Instead, they award Graduate MA Diplomas, which can also be used for employment. However, if you want to get involved in academia, you will most likely need to do a thesis and have published research.

How Long Does It Take To Get An MA Degree?

The standard length to get an MA degree is from one and a half to two years of studying. The length of the MA degree depends on the method of study and the field of study.

Many fields of studies require that students take more courses and complete more research, so they take longer to complete. Some universities expect their students to do field research.

For example, if you want to get an MA degree in anthropology, a university might require you to choose what you want to research and have you go into the field for about three to six months to collect data and make observations. This would result in you taking more than 1.5 to 2 years to get your degree, but your research would be published and would give you more academic credibility.

Also, the 1.5 to 2 years of study is for when you are a full-time student.

For part-time students, the length can be up to four years, since you will take fewer credits per semester.

Distance learning students can complete their degree as full time students so it will take them up to 2 years, or as part time students which will take them longer.

Despite this, the maximum length that it can take you to get an MA degree is no more than six years or twelve semesters. If you are interested in knowing how long other Master’s degrees take to get we have compiled an article on it.

What Are The Requirements For An MA Degree?

In order to get an MA degree, you first need to apply to the program of your choice and get accepted.

Different universities have different requirements for admitting their students, but the standard ones are:

  • You need to have a completed Bachelor’s Degree from an accredited university or
  • A number of years of work experience or published research in your field of study
  • Minimum GPA of 2.1
  • Submit essays or a research proposal
  • Have two to four letters of recommendation from previous professors, research mentors, or supervisors
  • Pass any required graduate tests such as the Graduate Records Examination (GRE)
  • Complete a successful interview with the enrollment officers
  • If you are an international student, you also need to show proof of language proficiency (for English it will most likely be the TOEFL test)

How To Get An MA Degree?

Many universities specify that meeting the required criteria for admission does not immediately guarantee that you will be accepted into the program, since there might be other requirements. However, if you are accepted then your journey to getting the MA degree begins.

Forms of MA classes

The MA classes can be given in different forms such as:

  • Lectures
  • Seminars
  • Tutorials
  • Projects
  • Exams
  • Research papers

You will need to attend all courses and complete the assignments given to you. Professors usually have office hours where you can go if you need additional explanation about something that was discussed in class. Besides professors, you can also take advantage of the tutoring center that most universities have or form a study group.


To be successful for this degree you need to follow some guidelines such as:

  • Enroll in classes – You will be assigned an academic advisor who will recommend what classes you need to take in your area of interest to graduate. Your advisor will also give you information about the credit and research requirements.
  • Complete all the readings – Most MA degrees require students to read a lot of material. This can be different books, journals, or articles.
  • Participate in class – MA classes might be structured in a way that places emphasis on discussion. After reading the required materials, students are expected to discuss and analyze them in class in an eloquent manner.

Where To Get An MA Degree?

There are different criteria you can use to select where you want to get your MA degree in. The first can be your field of study. We mentioned the most common MA degrees, but based on the broad field, there can also be sub-fields which make your studies more specific. The most popular fields and sub-fields are:

fields of study for ma degree students

more fields of study for ma degree students

In addition to the fields, there are also universities of different ranks that offer MA degrees. The types of universities where you can complete your MA degree are:

  • Ivy League Universities (Harvard, Stanford, Yale, Columbia University, etc.)
  • Public Universities
  • Private Universities
  • Online Universities

Besides fields and universities, some countries are better at MA degrees. That might be because of the curriculum, the better qualified professors, better country policies, and more employment opportunities. These countries are:

  • United Kingdom
  • United States of America
  • Netherlands
  • Germany
  • South Africa

The best cities to do your MA degree are:

  • London
  • California
  • New York City
  • Kent
  • Canterbury

The Conclusion

MA degrees are some of the oldest degrees that have been given in the educational history of Master’s Degrees. They are amongst the best degrees to get in the future which open a lot of career opportunities and are great ways to become an expert at a certain field in the humanities and social sciences.

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