Master's degree

A master's degree is an academic degree usually awarded for completion of a postgraduate or graduate course of one to three years in duration. In the UK it is sometimes awarded for an undergraduate course whose final year consists of higher-level courses and a major research project. In the recent standardized European system of higher education diplomas, it corresponds to a two-year graduate program to be entered after three years of undergraduate studies and in preparation for either high-qualification employment or for doctoral studies.


North America


The Master of Arts (Magister Artium) and Master of Science (Magister Scientiæ) degrees are the basic type in most subjects and may be entirely course-based, entirely research-based or a mixture. The master's degree is intermediate between a bachelor's degree and a doctorate. In some fields, one customarily earns a master's before a doctorate; in others, work on a doctorate begins immediately after the bachelor's degree. Some programs provide for a joint bachelor's and master's degree after about five years. Some universities use the Latin degree names - A.M. instead of M.A. and S.M. instead of M.S.

MASc, MEng

The "Master of Engineering" degree is awarded to students who have done graduate work at the Master's level in the field of engineering. While in the United States, candidates in engineering are awarded M.S. degrees, in the U.K. and Canada, they are generally given M.Sc. or M.Eng. degrees.

In the province of Ontario, Canada, the M.A.Sc. (Master of Applied Science) is awarded to Master's students with a research focus (having completed work leading to a thesis), while an M.Eng. is awarded to Master's students with a coursework focus.


In the United States and Canada, a Master of Philosophy (Magister Philosophiae) or MPhil degree is sometimes awarded to ABD (all but dissertation) doctoral candidates who have completed all coursework, passed their written and oral examinations, and met any other special requirements before beginning work on the doctoral dissertation.


Coursework and practica leading to a Master of Arts in Teaching degree is intended to prepare individuals for a teaching career in a specific subject of middle and/or secondary-level curricula (i.e., middle or high school). The MAT differs from the MEd degree in that the course requirements are dominated by classes in the subject area to be taught (e.g., foreign language, math, science, etc.) rather than educational theory. Work toward most MAT degrees will, however, necessarily include classes on educational theory in order to meet program and state requirements. Work toward the MAT degree may also include practica (i.e., student teaching).

Professional Degree

"Master of Business Administration" (MBA), and Master of Public Administration (MPA), are the highest professional-oriented degrees (see professional degree).


Master of Education degrees are similar to MA, MS and MSc where the subject studied is education.

In the United States some states license teachers with a bachelor's degree but require a master's within a set number of years as continuing education.


The Master of Fine Arts (MFA) is a two to three year terminal degree in a creative field of study such as Theatre, Creative Writing, Filmmaking or Studio Art.

United Kingdom

Undergraduate Masters

(MSci, MChem, MComp, MEng, MMath, MPhys, etc.) In the UK, many universities now have a four year undergraduate programme in science courses, with a project in the final year. The awards for these are named after the subject, so a course in mathematics would earn a Master of Mathematics degree, (abbreviated to MMath), or have a general title such as MSci (Master in Science at most universities but Master of Natural Sciences at Cambridge). Although these degrees reflect a higher level of achievement than the traditional bachelor's degree, some are generally considered to rank below postgraduate master's degrees such as MSc and MA.

Postgraduate Masters

(MSc, MA, MLitt) These can either be "taught" degrees, involving lectures, examination and a short dissertation, or "research" degrees (though the latter have largely been replaced by MPhil and MRes programmes, see below). Taught masters' programmes involve 1 or 2 years of full-time study. The programmes are often very intensive and demanding, and concentrate on one very specialised area of knowledge. Some universities also offer a Masters by Learning Contract scheme, where a candidate can specify his or her own learning objectives; these are submitted to supervising academics for approval, and are assessed by means of written reports, practical demonstrations and presentations.

The most common types of postgraduate taught Masters degrees are the MA and MSc. However, some universities - particularly those in Scotland - award the MLitt (Master of Letters) to students in the Arts, Divinity and Social Sciences. [Confusingly, the MLitt is also a research degree in other UK institutions, e.g. Cambridge, where the MPhil is a one-year taught degree.]

Until recently, both the undergraduate and postgraduate master's degrees were awarded without grade or class (like the class of a bachelor's degree). Nowadays however, masters degrees are classified into the categories of Pass, Merit and Distinction – commonly 50+, 60+, and 70+ percent marks, respectively. (UK)

MPhil and MRes

The Master of Philosophy is a research degree awarded for the completion of a thesis. It is a shorter version of the Ph.D. and some universities routinely enter potential PhD students into the MPhil programme and allow them to upgrade to the full PhD programme a year or two into the course. The Master of Research degree is a more structured and organised version of the MPhil, usually designed to prepare a student for a career in research. For example, an MRes may combine individual research with periods of work placement in research establisments.

Like the PhD, the MPhil and MRes degrees are awarded without class or grade.

MAs in Oxford, Cambridge and Dublin

The universities of Oxford, Cambridge and Dublin award master's degrees to BAs without further examination, when a certain number of years after matriculation (7 in the case of Oxford and Cambridge) have passed, and upon payment of a nominal fee. It is commonplace for recipients of the degree to have graduated several years previously and to have had little official contact with the university or academic life since then. The only real significance of these degrees is that they historically conferred voting rights in University elections, and certain other privileges e.g. the right to dine at high table. The MAs awarded by Oxford and Cambridge are colloquially known as the Oxbridge MA. The University of Cambridge also offers an MA to senior staff both academic and non academic after five years employment with the university.

Until the advent of the modern research university in the mid 19th century, several other British and American universities also gave such degrees "in course".

Scottish MA

Although the science and law faculties of Scottish universities award the BSc and LLB degrees respectively, the standard first degree in Arts and Social Sciences faculties (at the four ancient universities) is the Master of Arts (MA). This is equivalent to a BA from an English university.

European Union

In order to facilitate the movement of students between European Union countries, a standardized schedule of higher education diplomas, also known as the Bologna process, was proposed: a 3-year undergraduate degree called licence or bachelor's degree, then a two-year diploma called master, then a doctorate, meant to be obtained in 3 years. Because of these indicated schedules, the reform is also referred to as 3-5-8.


In France, a traditional diploma was the maîtrise (which translates literally as "master's qualification") after 4 years of studies. This diploma becomes the first year of the Master's program, often referred to as M1. Because of this change, legal texts specifying a maîtrise (for instance, those defining the conditions for the external agrégation) had to be amended. The Master's programs subsume the former DEA, (research-oriented 1-year degree) and DESS (industry-oriented 1-year degree).


In Poland a master's degree mean completion of higher education - 5 years programme in science courses at university or other similar institution, with a project in the final year called "magisterium" (it can be translated as Master of Arts thesis) that usually require making research in given field. MA degree is called "magister" (or "mgr") except of medical education where is called "lekarz medycyny" (what should be mean as rights for physician title usage) or "lekarz weterynarii" in veterinary field. Completion of higher engineering education is called "inżynier" (engineer) degree and can be completed with MA diploma usually in the same year, and it will be called "magister inżynier" (or "mgr inż.").


In Belgium owning a master's degree means the completion of a higher education (usually university) programme of 5 years. The majority of university degrees were earned in 4 years before the Bologna process, but some 5 years programmes existed. One example in the field of education in business/management, where there was the 5 years programme of "ingénieur de gestion" (nl. "handelsingenieur" - en. "management engineer"), with an important component of mathematics and sciences, and which is a M.Sc. in Management. This degree cohabited with an undergraduate degree in business (4 years) named "licence en sciences économiques appliquées (nl. "licencie in toegepaste economische wetenschappen" - en. "licence in applied economics").

The Netherlands

In the Netherlands the traditional acadamic degrees were doctorandus (drs.) (after 4 years; 5 years for some natural sciences, 6 years for medicine), ingenieur (ir.) (after 5 years) and for Law meester in de rechten (mr.) (after 4 years). Even though universities have adopted the master's and bachelor's degree system, the old titles drs., ir. and mr. are still used (and the use of them is protected by law). The doctorandus (literally meaning "he who has to become doctor") degree is comparable with the MA degree (sometimes MSc). The ingenieur (engineer) degree is comparable with an M.Eng. or MSc degree. Finally, the mr. degree is comparable with the LL.M degree. In the Netherlands a suffix degree (MA / MSc / MEng / LL.M) can be used for holders of a prefix degree (drs., ir., mr.) instead of the prefix degree (e.g. 'ir. Jansen' or 'Jansen MSc'). The prefixes are being phased out, and it's not uncommon for people with 2 degrees to use both a pre- and postfix (e.g. 'drs. Jansen Msc'). Note that a bachelor's and master's degree in the same subject cannot be held simultaneously; the bachelor's degree is upgraded to a master's upon further study.

Hong Kong

MA, MSc, MSocSc, MSW, MEng, LLM

These are taught masters' degree that require one years of full-time coursework.

It takes normally 2 years for the part time taught postgraduate degree in HK.


As in the United Kingdom, MPhil or Master of Philosophy is a research degree awarded for the completion of a thesis, and is a shorter version of the PhD.

See also

External links

de:Master fr:Master nl:Master no:Mastergrad pl:Magister fi:Maisteri zh:硕士


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