What is a Master’s Degree?

What’s covered:

The most important things you need to know about master’s programs, including various types, the pros and cons of working, and the highest-paying jobs available today to MS degree holders.

A master’s degree is an educational qualification that’s conferred at a graduate level to individuals who have earned a bachelor’s degree.

A master’s degree program allows students to further their knowledge of a specialized area of study, either theoretically or via applied practice.

24.1 million individuals have a master’s degree in the US according to the Census Bureau.

Here’s what you need to know if you are thinking about postgraduate degree.

Master’s Degree Types

Master’s degrees can either be course-based or research-based. Some have both components, with one being more substantial than the other.

Usually, master’s degrees that involve research take longer to complete, with the students doing research independently.

Master’s degrees can also be classified according to area or specialization, each of them designed to deepen the knowledge of degree-seekers in their chosen areas of study.

By Coursework Type

First, let’s check out the different types of master’s degrees based on the courses students must take to graduate.

It’s worth noting that their names and course content, too, may have variations from one university to the next.

Master of Arts (MA)

In most instances, an MA is awarded in disciplines in humanities and social sciences, including history, communications, languages, linguistics, literature, geography, political science, and public service.

Usually, an MA program is completed through attendance of lectures and seminars, culminating in an exam based on a research program conducted by students independently.

Master of Science (MS, MSc)

While an MA is conferred as a result of studies about human society and social relationships, an MS, on the other hand, is granted for studies in the field of science, such as biology and chemistry, as well as medicine and engineering.

Some universities may also confer a master’s degree within certain areas of humanities and social sciences, which is why an MS is often compared with an MA in numerous situations.

Master of Studies (MSt)

An MSt degree is comparable to both an MA and MS. That’s because it also involves the same components to earning it, including attending classes as well as conducting research and acing an exam.

However, it’s not as popular as the said master’s degree.

As a matter of fact, there are only a handful of postsecondary institutions that award an MSt, including the University of Oxford and the University of Cambridge, both of which are in the UK.

Master of Philosophy (MPhil)

What makes an MPhil degree different from most other master’s degrees is that it’s more like a PhD.

So much so that the completion of an MPhil program may, in some cases, serve as provisional admission to a PhD program.

However, obtaining an MPhil is pretty much the same as getting one’s hand on a more popular master’s degree, which means that there are classes involved and a significant portion of research conduction.

Master of Research (MRes)

As the degree’s title suggests, an MRes is a program that entails a lot of research for meeting the completion requirements.

It’s awarded not only to individuals who wish to become researchers but also to those who wish to pursue a PhD.

Because of the nature of the program, MRes students get first-hand experience of doctoral study.

Many countries outside the US recognize MRes, including Australia, Singapore, and the UK.

By Specialization or Area

There are numerous types of specialized master’s degree types. Below, we’ll take a look at some of the most commonly conferred ones.

Of course, classifications, as well as courses, can vary depending on the institution and also country.

Master of Business Administration (MBA)

More often than not, MBA students are individuals who are already professionals but want to further the business and management roles they currently have through the acquisition of training in various aspects of business.

Numerous MBA programs require applicants to meet minimum experience requirements, usually being at least three years in the industry.

An MBA can also be combined with a specialization for a more focused master’s degree.

Master of Engineering (MEng)

Those who are interested in pursuing an MEng degree may choose to focus on a couple of options: academic (theories and practice of engineering) and professional (preparation for an engineering profession).

Some universities offering an MEng degree program require applicants to have field experience and/or published works in industry journals — some institutions require both, although some require either.

Master of Fine Arts (MFA)

It goes without saying that an MFA is a creative master’s degree awarded to students who pursue disciplines such as visual, studio, and performing arts, ranging from creative writing, photography, and painting to filmmaking.

MFA coursework typically consists of applied or performing components, typically culminating in some form of performance or exhibition.

It usually takes two to three years to complete an MFA degree program.

Master of Public Administration (MPA)

Unlike MBA students who are more interested in the private sector, MPA students focus more on the public sector, with the intent of working for the federal or state government, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and non-profits.

Some of the specializations that those who are working on an MPA degree include environment, healthcare, science and technology, economic development, criminal justice and international administration.

Master of Public Health (MPH)

Given that it consists of both academic and professional components, an MPH degree is an interdisciplinary educational qualification, often available to those with medical degrees in some countries.

Needless to say, an MPH program is concerned with public policy, teaching students how to assess, diagnose, monitor and regulate the health concerns of members of the community.

Those who are pursuing it may have specializations, too.

Best Postgraduate Degree Jobs

According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), the employment rate for individuals aged 25 to 34 with a postgraduate degree is 87%.

Meanwhile, that’s 80% for those who attended college but earned no undergraduate degree and 74% for those whose highest educational qualification is a high school diploma.

Among those with degrees, master’s degree holders make a median salary of $74,600 per year — that’s $61,600 per year for bachelor’s degree holders and $45,000 per year for associate degree holders.

Indeed says that the following are the highest-paying master’s degree jobs for 2023:

Job TitleAverage Annual SalaryJob Growth Rate
Chief executive officer$213,0206%
Chief financial officer$213,0206%
Nurse anesthetist$202,47040%
Information technology director$162,93016%
Engineering manager$158,9702%
Marketing manager$153,44010%
Petroleum engineer$145,7208%
Computer scientist$142,65021%
Chemical engineer$121,84014%
Software engineer$120,99025%
Healthcare administrator$119,84028%
Physician assistant$119,46028%
Industrial production manager$117,7803%

Master’s Degree: Pros and Cons

From 2010 to 2021, the total number of master’s degrees awarded at American universities increased by 19%, from 730,900 to 866,900, according to data provided by NCES.

So, in other words, earning a master’s degree is more popular these days than years in the past among bachelor’s degree holders.

Before you jump on the bandwagon, however, it’s important to take your time in weighing the advantages and disadvantages of going to graduate school to complete a master’s degree program.

For some, spending resources on procuring a master’s degree may be more harmful than helpful.


  • Earning specialized knowledge
  • Improved critical thinking skills
  • Professional networking
  • Increased job prospects
  • Job advancement opportunities
  • Higher earning potential
  • Personal growth
  • Increased levels of happiness


  • Competitive admissions
  • Additional time spent in school
  • Expensive
  • Time- and energy-consuming
  • Increased stress levels
  • Potential for being overqualified
  • Delayed work experience
  • Does not guarantee career success

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent those of the College Reality Check.

Similar Posts