After obtaining an undergraduate degree, some graduates may desire to seek further study as graduate students. There are a number of degrees one may choose to pursue as a graduate student, for example, a Master of Arts, frequently referred to as an “MA,” or a Master of Science (MS). Some students pursue a Master’s because they want more instruction and experience in their chosen field, while some students go onto graduate school to pursue studies entirely different than what they studied during undergrad, and some students decide to get a Masters to score a higher annual salary.

Differences between an MA and an MS

The MA and MS are different in that they apply to two different fields. Students interested in careers related to history, language, writing, and liberal arts should pursue a Master of Arts while students interested in careers related to engineering, biology, chemistry, and technology should pursue Master of Science degrees. The coursework of each program will be specific and unique to these subject matter areas. For example, a graduate student pursuing a Master of Arts in Writing might take courses like Journalism, Photojournalism, Magazine Writing, Writing for the Web, and perhaps even Scientific Writing. But a student pursuing a Master of Science in Engineering might take courses like Electrical Circuits, Intro to Computer Programming, Coding, and maybe even Speech. While there are often some crossover courses, the majority of student coursework will relate specifically to a particular degree. However, crossover courses are intended to help students become well-rounded individuals and usually provide unique, experiential anecdotes for job interviews.

Students may also find that the structure of their courses is unique to their program. For example, Master of Arts students spend a lot of time in the classroom, in lecture and seminar halls, and in small group-discussion-based classes. Meanwhile, Master of Sciences students will find themselves in labs or settings more conducive to research. Both degrees usually culminate in a final project involving some level of research, extensive writing, and a presentation of findings to a review panel. These are usually referred to as “Thesis Projects.” These projects are normally completed during a student’s final year in the program, but many students meet with their advisors up to a year in advance to discuss their options. Some argue that thesis projects for the MS degree are more rigorous and demanding than a thesis project for the MA.

You might now be wondering, can a student pursue a degree after completing their Master’s? In some cases, a Master’s degree is the highest level of certification a student can achieve in a particular program. Other times students can go on to pursue further education culminating in a Ph.D. Some people even pursue multiple Masters in order to gain a breadth of experience in multiple fields.

If you are considering the pursuit of graduate studies but are hesitant, keep in mind that graduate programs usually take less time to complete than undergraduate ones. While undergraduate degrees take about four or five years to complete, graduate degrees only take around two or three. Some institutions even offer “accelerated” Master’s programs, which allow students to complete a graduate degree in one year. Ultimately, a higher degree usually means a higher salary further down the road and is worth the investment. Either way, prospective students should always take care to do ample research and try to connect with a professional from their program of interest before committing to a program.


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