Types of Master’s Degrees: Choosing the Best One for You

different types of master's degrees

Higher education has constantly evolved and grown, especially in the number of degrees it offers. Graduate study is usually seen as more specific than a Bachelor’s Degree, so naturally the types of Master’s Degrees that exist are many.

For those who want to go to graduate but are not sure how to choose a graduate school or what Masters Degree should they get, this article will break down the different types that exist in various institutions across the world.

The names of degrees might change depending on the continent or the educational system, but they all have an equivalent.

Based on the method of graduating, there are two types of Master’s Degrees:

  • course based or taught degrees, and
  • research based degrees

Course based degrees

Course based degrees are structured with course modules that are taught through:

  • Lectures
  • Seminars
  • Distance learning

They are similar to undergraduate degrees in the methods of teaching. The students follow a set of courses specified by their advisors and choose a field of study. The courses might require writing academic papers, doing projects, exams, and quizzes.

Research based degrees

Research based degrees are such that they require the student to conduct their own research projects in a specific field of study. The student does not have a structured set of courses to take, so they have more extended projects. Research students have mentors and advisors who help guide them throughout their work, but in general they work on their own. Research based degrees given their nature take longer to complete than course based degrees.

Besides the general distinction, there are also other types of Master’s Degrees based on subjects or fields of study.

Types Of Master’s Degrees

Master of Arts (MA)

master of arts degree in history

The Master of Arts is the degree that students get after studying in the humanities or social sciences such as:

  • Art
  • Economics
  • History
  • Music
  • Linguistics
  • Etc.

This is a course based degree which usually takes one and a half to two years to get. Assessment is done through quizzes, projects, and exams. Usually, because of the nature of the subjects that fall within this degree, students at the end might be required to do a dissertation through independent research.

Master of Science (MS, MSc)

master of science degree

The Master of Science degree is awarded to students who study more research oriented subjects such as:

  • Physics
  • Mathematics
  • Chemistry
  • Engineering
  • Computer Science
  • Etc.

It is still a course based degree because it is taught through lectures and evaluation is done through examinations. However, there is more research in the sense that students have to work in laboratories and have more projects to do.

Many students get confused on the difference between an MSc vs MS degree, but in essence they are the same. The title awarded only depends on how universities choose to name them.

The Master of Arts and the Master of Science degrees are two of the most common Master’s Degrees obtained. Many subjects such as Economics can fall in both the MA and the MS degrees depending on how the university classifies them and how they have built the curriculum.

Master of Research (MRes)

master of research degree

The Master of Research degree is a research based Master’s Degree. It is intended for students who are seeking to go into academia and conduct research throughout their careers. Most students who get a Master of Research degree continue on to also finish their PhD studies.

The MRes courses are research intensive, with the first courses covering the basics of research studies and then becoming more advanced. The MRes degree is sometimes referred to as a MS or MSc degree in certain institutions, so before deciding you should check the curriculum and courses that are given.

Master by Research (MPhil)

masters by research degree - mphil

Students who take on the degree of Master by Research are heavily invested in researching a particular topic. The degree is research based and is usually awarded to students who spend a long time discovering and conducting studies about a specific field.

The end result of the MPhil degree is the submission of a large project, which is usually used as an introduction to getting a PhD. Because of this, most students who enroll in an MPhil degree start out by testing their hypothesis and then proceed to do even more in-depth research during their PhDs.

These four types of Master’s Degrees are more general in the sense that they can take a range of topics or fields. Students who are studying Fine Arts and Economics can have the same title of Masters of Arts and the same goes for the MS, MRes and MPhil degrees.

But besides these four types of Master’s Degrees another way students can go about how to choose a graduate school is by specific field. These are more specialized Master’s Degrees which students only get if they have gone to graduate school for that subject only.

Master of Business Administration (MBA)

becoming a master of business administration

The Masters in Business Administration is one the subject based Master’s Degrees with the highest enrollment. The degree gives students a broad training to become equipped with the skills they need to manage businesses.

MBA candidates can be students who enroll immediately after they complete their Bachelor’s Degree, but most universities have a requirement and prefer candidates who have two to five years of work experience.

The MBA program is designed for those aspiring to become involved in the corporate management chain. The MBA can also have specializations in various business topics which students can choose after they complete their core courses.

Master of Public Administration (MPA)

master of public administration

Whereas the MBA is for students who want to work in the private sector mostly, the Masters in Public Administration is for those who want to become employed in the government, non-governmental organizations (NGO), or not for profit organizations. The MPA gives students skills so they can effectively govern and focus on public policy.

They take courses on budgeting, statistics, political economy, public policy and others. The courses are all highly discussion based requiring a lot of reading and writing of essays and academic papers. At the end there might also be a thesis or a dissertation that the students need to do in order to graduate.

There are different variations to the MPA, such as:

  • Master of Public Affairs (MPA)
  • Master of Public Policy (MPP)
  • Master of Urban Planning (MUP)
  • Etc.

Master of Public Health (MPH)

master of public health

The Master in Public Health is someone who is interested in combining aspects of the medical profession with public policy. These individuals graduate with the MPH degree and go on to work in the public health sector or in different NGOs. They strive to make public health more affordable, equal, and fair for all citizens of a nation.

The MPH degree can be discussion and research intensive depending on the university, and students may be required to have a medical background. However, many universities accept students with different Bachelor’s Degrees on the condition that they finish preliminary courses which teach them a few basic skills they need before starting their masters.

Master of Laws (LLM)

becoming a master of laws llm

The Master of Law is given to individuals with a legal background mostly. Students who have completed a Bachelor’s Degree in Law, their Juris Doctorate (JD) or any other law related degree can enroll in a Master of Laws program and focus on a specific aspect of the legal system or a law to further research it.

The program is designed to give students the chance to further explore their area of interest and become experts in them.

Master of Social Work (MSW)

getting a msw degree to work with disadvantaged people

The Master of Social Work is a degree given to students who aspire to become involved in improving the lives of the less advantaged individuals, groups, and communities. The degree can be a clinical degree with more focus on counseling and therapy for clients, or it can be a policy related degree.

Those who take the policy route to a Master of Social Work will work with public policy stakeholders to influence and advocate how these disadvantaged groups are treated. In general, the MSW is a degree which requires a lot of reading, writing, and research.

Master of Education (MEd, MSEd, MIT, MAEd, MAT)

earning a masters degree in education or teaching

Students enrolled in a Master of Education program are focused in all areas of education. They can go on to become certified teachers, or specialize in special education, curriculum creation, counseling, education policy and others.

The Master of Education can also include different certifications and requires intensive research in the candidate’s area of interest.

The MEd should not be confused with the Masters of Arts in Teaching (MAT). The MAT degree is an advanced graduate degree which helps teachers in improving their teaching skills as well as advance their careers.

Master of Library Science (MLS, MLIS, MSLS)

becoming a master of library sciences

The Master of Library Science will give students the skills and knowledge to be able to operate in and work efficiently in a library. The degree requires learning theory, as well as applying that knowledge in practice through internships and research to gain the professional capabilities required for the working positions.

Master of Engineering (MEng)

getting a masters degree in engineering

The Master of Engineering students can take two paths, the academic and the professional one. The academic path prepares students by teaching them theory and practice, and is quite research intensive. Students are sometimes required to produce excellent research and become published in an engineering journal.

The professional path is more focused on preparing students to work in engineering fields so it is more based on practice rather than theory. Besides doing research, students also participate in training, workshops, and do internships.

Master of Architecture (MArch)

getting a master of architecture degree

Students enrolled in a Master of Architecture program graduate and continue to become licensed architects. The program is focused on practice and students are required to do internships, exams, and thesis or final projects to receive their license of practice.

The coursework is also intense, but it can be different depending on the type and subject of architecture that students are interested in. The MArch can take different names in different universities so it is best to check the curriculum in order to decide which programs to attend.

Master of Fine Arts (MFA)

becoming a master of fine arts

The Master of Fine Arts is for the creative professions. Students can take different subjects to get an MFA. It can be fields such as painting, photography, design, creative writing, filmmaking, or theatre. The coursework is focused mostly on practice with students taking first theoretical courses and then doing projects to apply them.

The degree is awarded following the final assessment which can be done through a major project or a performance.

Related to the MFA are also specific art degrees such as a Master of Music (MM, MMus), which requires students to specialize in an area of music. This can be either a musical instrument or others such as conducting, performance, or composition.

The degree requires learning a lot of theory and being able to create or perform music which puts those theories into practice.

Master of Divinity (MDiv)

getting a amasters degree in religious studies

The Master of Divinity or Magister Divinitatis in Latin focuses on theological study, and more specifically in the Christian faith. It is the next step to take after a Bachelors of Divinity and before a doctoral degree in Divinity. The degree will prepare you in all matters that concern the Christian religion, including language and rituals. The degree will open doors for you to become a minister, pastor, priest, or take other religious positions.

If you get your MDiv degree from a secular university, it will also include teachings about other religions, while if you get it from a Christian university, it will only focus on that particular religion.

What Master’s Degree Should I Get?

Besides these types of Master’s Degrees there are many more which can be explored in university websites depending on your interests, but these are the most common ones.

The way students should go about how to choose a graduate school is to:

  • first think about their area of interest
  • look at the previous background so what field was their Bachelor’s Degree in and their work experience and
  • career opportunities for the different types of Master’s Degrees.
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