3 February, 2016
A master’s is an academic degree awarded to individuals who have undergone study demonstrating a mastery or high-order overview of a specific field of study or area of professional practice. Within the area studied, graduates are posited to possess advanced knowledge of a specialized body of theoretical and applied topics; high order skills in analysis, critical evaluation or professional application; and the ability to solve complicated problems and think rigorously and independently.
In some languages, a master’s degree is called a magister, and magister or a cognate can also be used for a person who has the degree.
There are different degrees of the same level, such as engineer’s degrees, which have different names for historical reasons.
There has recently been an increase in programs leading to these degrees in the United States; more than twice as many such degrees are now awarded as compared to the 1970s. In Europe, there has been a standardization of conditions to deliver the master’s degrees and most countries present degrees in all disciplines.
The two most common titles of master’s degrees are the Master of Arts (M.A.) and Master of Science (M.S., M.Si., or M.Sc.); these may be course-based, research-based, or a mixture of the two. Some universities use the Latin degree names; because of the flexibility of word order in Latin, the Master of Arts and Master of Science may be known as magister artium or artium magister and magister scientiæ or scientiarum magister, respectively. Harvard University and MIT, for example, use A.M. and S.M. for their master’s degrees. More commonly, Master of Science often is abbreviated MS or M.S. in the United States, and MSc or M.Sc. in Commonwealth nations and Europe.
Other master’s degrees are more specifically named and include the Master of Music (M.M. or M.Mus.), Master of Communication (M.C.), Master of Physician Assistant Studies (M.P.A.S.), Master of Arts in Teaching (M.A.T.), Master of Engineering (M.Eng.), and the Master of Fine Arts (M.F.A.); some are similarly general, for example the M.Phil. and the Master of Studies. See List of master’s degrees.
Full time post-graduate master’s degree (MA, MEng, MS, MSc, MBA, MCom, MBus and other subject specific master’s degrees) is structured for anyone who holds a bachelor’s degree.
Executive master’s degree (EMBA, EMS) is a master’s degree designed specifically for executive professionals. Admission, graduation requirements, and structure of executive master’s degrees differ from that of the regular full-time program.
There are a range of pathways to the degree, with entry based on evidence of a capacity to undertake higher degree studies in the proposed field. A dissertation may or may not be required, depending on the program. In general, the structure and duration of a program of study leading to a master’s degree will differ by country and by university.
In some systems, such as those of the USA and Japan, a master’s degree is a strictly postgraduate academic degree. Particularly in the US, in some fields / programs, work on a doctorate begins right after the bachelor’s degree, but the master’s may be achieved along the way as a ‘Master’s degree “en route”‘, following successful completion of coursework and certain examinations. Masters programs are thus one to six years in duration.
By contrast, in some cases, such as the Integrated Master’s Degree in the UK, the degree is combined with a Bachelor of Science, as a 4 year degree. Unlike a traditional MSc, the fourth year finishes at the same time as undergraduate degrees in the early summer, whereas traditional MSc students typically spend the summer vacation completing a dissertation and finish in September. Examples include MMath (see also Part III of the Mathematical Tripos at Cambridge), MEng and MSci (not to be confused with an MSc).
In the recently standardized European System of higher education (Bologna process), a master’s degree corresponds to 60 – 120 ECTS credits (one- or two-year full time postgraduate program) undertaken after at least three years of undergraduate studies. It offers higher qualification for employment or prepares for doctoral studies.
In countries in which a master’s degree is a postgraduate degree, admission to a master’s program normally needs holding a bachelor’s degree, and in the United Kingdom, Canada and much of the Commonwealth, an ‘honors’ bachelor degree. In both cases, relevant work experience may qualify a candidate. In some cases the student’s bachelor’s degree must be in the same subject as the intended master’s degree (e.g. a Master of Economics will typically require a Bachelors with a major in economics), or in a closely related, “cognate”, discipline (e.g. Applied Mathematics degrees may accept graduates in physics, mathematics or computer science); in others, the subject of the bachelor’s degree is insignificant (e.g. MBA) although, often in these cases, coursework in specific subjects may be needed (e.g. some M.S.F. degrees require credits in calculus for admission, but none in finance or economics).