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Encyclopedia > Masters of Arts

A master's degree is an academic degree usually awarded for completion of a postgraduate course of one or two 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 3-year undergraduate studies and preparing either for high qualification employment, or for doctorate studies.


United States


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 masters before a doctorate; in others, work on a doctorate begins immediately after a bachelor's degree.

Professional Degree

MBA is the highest of its own right as professional. Refer 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 licence teachers with a bachelor's degree but require a master's within a set number of years as continuing education.

United Kingdom

Undergraduate Masters

(MSci, MChem, MComp, MEng, MMath, MPhys, etc.) In the UK, many universities now have a four year undergrad 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) 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involving lectures, examination and a short dissertation, or "research" degrees (though the latter have largely been replaced by MPhil and MRes programmes, see below).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 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.

Until recently, both the undergraduate and postgraduate masters 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. For the purpose of comparison, they are considered equivalent to BA/BSc degrees of other universities. 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 faculties of Scottish universities award the BSc degree, the standard first degree in Arts 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.").

See also

  • Bachelor's degree
  • Professional Master's degree
  • MBA Master's in Business Administration
  • Licentiate
  • Engineer's degree
  • Doctorate

External links

  Results from FactBites:
Master of Arts (postgraduate) - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia (944 words)
The second is the Master of Arts in Practical Theology (M.A.P.T.) This degree is designed for those with a prior BA in Bible and Theology who desire to focus primarily on pastoral theology and sharpen skills in spiritual formation and church leadership.
The fourth is the Master of Theology (Th.M.).
The degree of Master of Arts may also be awarded, in the case of the oldest British universities only, without further examination to those who have graduated as Bachelor of Arts and who have the requisite years' standing as members of the university or as graduates.
CATHOLIC ENCYCLOPEDIA: Master of Arts (934 words)
The conferring of the degree of Master of Arts, as a title invested with certain specific academic privileges, is closely connected in origin with the early history of the University of Paris, which was the mother-university in arts as Bologna was in law.
In medieval times, the title of Master was practically synonymous with that of Doctor, the former being more in favour at Paris and the universities modelled after it, and the latter at Bologna and its derivative universities.
At Oxford and Cambridge a distinction came to be drawn between the Faculties of Law, Medicine, and Theology and the Faculty of Arts in this respect, the title of Doctor being used for the former, and that of Master for the latter.
  More results at FactBites »



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