Master's Degrees Programs
Graduate education is the term used in the United States for studies undertaken after the award of a bachelor's degree. It corresponds to what is called post-graduate or advanced education in some other systems. Education at this level in the United States can be of two types: (1) professional studies that require the student to have already earned an undergraduate degree; or (2) research studies following either a bachelor's degree or a professional degree.
The term "master's degree" includes a variety of awards of varying content, length, and purpose. These include:
- Master's degrees awarded as advanced research degrees in academic or professional fields of study;
- Master's degrees awarded as basic professional qualifications; and
- Master's degrees awarded as terminal degrees.
Research Master's Degrees
Master's degrees are awarded in the academic disciplines and applied research fields for study and research from 1 to 3 years beyond the bachelor's degree or the first-professional degree. The length of the program depends upon the requirements of the discipline and the institutional faculty, which may include work in several fields related to the subject being studied.
Studies for research master's degrees involve the completion and defense of an independent thesis, the passing of comprehensive examinations set by the graduate faculty, and occasionally the completion of special projects in addition to participation in advanced seminars and courses.
Professional Master's Degrees
Master's degrees awarded for professional studies generally do not have an academic research component but are largely taught degrees with the frequent addition of a supervised project or report as part of the degree requirements. In many professional fields it is possible for the student to enroll in either a professional master's degree program or a research master's degree program depending upon his or her educational goals.
Master's Degree Titles
U.S. degree titles are not governed by national laws, so an institution may exercise wide discretion in the nomenclature it uses for degrees. Accrediting associations may exert some influence on degree titles, as do the labor market and the professional academic community, but there are still a wide variety of master's degree titles in use. The best way to tell whether a master's degree represents research work or professional studies is to either be familiar with the program of the awarding institution or to examine the student's academic record to determine what type of degree requirements were met.
Some of the more common master's degree titles are:
Master of Architecture (M.Arch) (usually a 2-3 year professional degree);
Master of Arts (M.A.) (usually, but not always, awarded for research studies in a wide variety of subjects);
Master of Arts in Teaching (M.A.T.) (generally a one-year professional degree);
Master of Business Administration (M.B.A.) (nearly always a 2 year professional degree in management);
Master of Education (M.Ed.) (awarded for both professional and research studies in education subjects);
Master of Fine Arts (M.F.A.) (a 2-3 year professional degree in studio, applied, or performing arts that is often considered a terminal degree);
Master of Library Science (M.L.S.) (a 2-year professional degree);
Master of Music (M.M.) (a 2-3 year degree in music that is usually professional (performance) but may sometimes be a research award);
Master of Public Health (M.P.H.) (usually a 2-year professional degree);
Master of Science (M.S.) (awarded for both research and professional studies in a wide variety of subjects);
Master of Science in Nursing (M.S.N.) (usually a professional degree but also awarded for research);
Master of Social Work (M.S.W.) (usually a 2-year professional degree); and
Master of Theology (Th.M.) (generally a research degree but may also be professional).