Already in college? Have your bachelor's degree? Deciding on more education? The master’s degree is an advanced or graduate degree. Find out what types of master's degrees are available and the value of getting a master's degree in this article.

The master's degree is either proposed by the institution or proposed by the student and accepted by the institution. Not every school that offers bachelor's degrees also offers master's degrees. And some schools offer a master's in a discipline for which they do not offer an undergraduate degree.

The course of study for a master's degree is generally two years, but may in exceptional cases be completed in one year. In certain cases it may take longer. Some programs, especially those geared for teachers, may be arranged so that they can be completed over a long period, sometimes using credits acquired from evening or summer coursework. Distance learning may be an alternative through an online course of study, or a residential program may offer distance courses to fulfill some of its requirements.

The master's degree differs from an bachelor's degree in that it is a graduate/advanced degree, and that it is more focused. There are no distribution requirements for a master's degree.

Types of Master's Degrees

There are a number of bachelor's degrees characteristically offered in the United States (this differs elsewhere). The two most often seen are:

  • M.A. - Master of Arts
  • M.S. -  Master of Science

But it is also common to find:

  • LL.M. - Master of Laws
  • MAR - Master of Architecture
  • MAS - Master of Accounting Science
  • MAT - Master of Arts in Teaching
  • MATESL/TEFL - Master of Arts in Teaching English as a Second Language (Teaching English as a Foreign Language
  • M.B.A. - Master of Business Administration
  • MCA - Master of Culinary Arts
  • M.Ed. - Master of Education
  • MEN - Master of Engineering
  • MFA - Master of Fine Arts
  • MHA - Master of Health Administration
  • MPA - Master of Public Administration
  • MSN - Master of Science in Nursing
  • M.S.W. - Master of Social Work
  • M.U.P - Master of Urban Planning
  • MSA - Master of Science in Administration

as well as a number of others.

One new degree that is worthy of note is the Professional Science Master's Degree (PSM). It is a career-related degree that includes special training to allow holders to enter the workforce immediately, rather than continue on to a Ph.D. program. It offers holders of a bachelor's degree in science, math, or engineering a degree that includes training for jobs that have business and communications tie-ins and provides options outside of the research laboratory.

There are a few combined bachelor's/master's programs for which both degrees are awarded. Although the student is accepted to the joint program from the start, there may be a formal passage into the master's program when the work for the bachelor's program has been completed.

The Value of a Master's Degree

The master's degree has different meanings and usefulness depending both on the institution granting it and the course of study undertaken. The institution is important because, first, some institutions are accredited and some are not. Beyond that, some accredited colleges and universities are more rigorous and of better quality than others. In general, a degree from such institutions will be more highly valued.

The course of study is of importance for several reasons. First, some courses of study are more rigorous than others. Second, depending on the course of study, the master's degree may signal different levels of accomplishment vis-à-vis the job market. There is a concept called the “terminal degree” which indicates the highest academic degree in a field of study. There are some careers for which a master's may indicate that someone is fully trained. Other vocations require training to the level of a doctorate, whether that is a Ph.D., Ed.D, M.D. J.D., etc. So a master's may be an end in itself or a stepping stone on the way to a more advanced degree.

Differences may also be drawn, in certain cases, between on-line degrees and those offered by residential institutions. Simply by looking at the field of study and considering the means of delivery, it is clear that an on-line course cannot offer certain kinds of interactive and hands-on experiences that a student at a residential institution may experience as a matter of course. In other cases, on-line work may serve well as an equivalent or substitute for residential study.

Written by Mary Elizabeth

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