What is the Difference between Masters of Arts and Masters of Science Degree?

When deciding whether to undertake graduate study or when selecting a program in your field of interest, it is important to understand what degree will be conferred in the program you choose. The type of degree indicates the focus and intent of the program—what it is intended to prepare you for.

Why should you get a Master’s Degree?

First, let’s look at the reasons why you would consider graduate study.

  • Reason #1: You want to pursue knowledge and perform research in your field. A masters degree is needed in order to obtain a doctorate degree.
  • Reason #2: You want to gain the knowledge and skills that will qualify you to practice in a profession.
  • Reason #3: You have a profession but want to further your knowledge of this field.
  • Reason #4: You’re not yet sure about a career and want to extend your education and keep future options open.

These four reasons have relevance for not only the graduate major you will seek but the type of program and the particular degree you will pursue that will open the way to your goal.​

What can you expect in a master’s degree program?

Graduate education offers greater depth of training and requires more initiative on the part of students to be self-directed and thorough in the study. Besides the lecture, there will be seminars, which are classes consisting of a small group of students. Through interaction among themselves and with the professor, they explore different topics through discussion, presentation of research, sharing of knowledge gained through reading, and other forms of exploration.

Many graduate programs provide a thesis or non-thesis option in their master’s degree programs. The thesis option is intended, but not restricted, for students who plan to continue to the doctorate. The thesis is done during the last year and requires original research. The student defends the thesis in an oral examination as part of the comprehensive final exam. The non-thesis option provides an opportunity to take elective courses instead of the thesis and culminates with a final written comprehensive examination.

What is the difference between the M.A. and M.S. degree?

The M.A. and M.S. are the traditional academic degrees awarded for master’s degree graduate study. These degrees are stepping stones to the doctorate.

The Master of Arts is usually awarded in fields such as languages, literature, history, geography, philosophy, social sciences and fine arts.

The Master of Science is the degree awarded for the natural sciences, mathematics, and for technical fields such as engineering, agriculture, and computer science. M.S. programs involve lab work, scientific research, analysis, and evaluation.

What is the terminal masters degree?

Terminal masters degrees do not lead to doctoral programs. These are usually professional master’s degrees and involve direct application of knowledge to an applied field. The common examples are the master of business administration (M.B.A.), master of education (M.Ed.), Master of social work (M.S.W.) and master of fine arts (M.F.A.).

Some other common professional degrees are M.Arch. (Architecture), M.H.A. (Health Administration), M.I.L.R. (Industrial and Labor Relations), M.I.A. (International Affairs), M.L.S. (Library Science), M.P.A. (Public Administration), M.P.H. (Public Health), M.S.N. (Nursing), Th.M. (Theology) and M.U.P. (Urban Planning).

What is a Professional Science Masters?

The PSM degree is a more recent development that was developed in concert with industry to meet the management need for technology-based companies, governmental agencies, and non-profit organizations. A two-year academic study in science or mathematics is combined with coursework in management, policy or law. Check out this program locator here.

Is there a difference between the M.A. in Accounting and the M.Accounting?

The M.A. and M.S. are used by some universities to differentiate a program that is more academic in nature, i.e., that builds knowledge of that subject, from its usual inclusion with a professional degree. An example is the M.A. or M.S. in Accounting as opposed to the M.B.A. in Accounting or M.Accounting. Another example is the M.S. or M.A. in special education with a research/advanced study focus, which is different from the M.Ed. in Special Education, an advanced degree in teaching special education.

Use of the degree designation varies from school to school. Some schools refer to the master’s degree in Engineering as the M.Engineering. Others label it as the M.S. in Engineering. The M.S. tends to be used to emphasize research and scientific knowledge over practical application. This is true for other technical fields as well. The M.S., rather than the M.A., is used more frequently for specializations in applied fields.

What are some careers and salaries with a Master’s Degree?

Does a master’s degree make a large difference in career advancement and in salary earned as differentiated from the bachelor’s degree? We can look at some examples and study the differences.

In the field of nursing, the registered nurse holds either an associate degree or a bachelor’s. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) registered nurses nationally earned a median salary of $67,490 in 2015. The job outlook for the period 2014 to 2024 is predicted to be 16 percent, or much higher than average.

If registered nurses went on to get a master’s (MSN), they made a significant jump in salary. The BLS reported that in 2015, the combined group of nurse anesthetists, nurse midwives and nurse practitioners made a median salary of $104,740. These advanced practice nurse specialists (APRNs) face a large demand for their services: their job outlook 2014 to 2024 is predicted to be 31 percent, much higher than average.

In the field of business administration, Fortune reported the 2015 predictions of the Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC), the organization that administers the GMAT. GMAC surveyed corporate recruiters and reported that the median expected salaries for new MBAs would be $100,000. The starting salary for BBAs was expected to be $55,000.

What are some funding sources for Master’s Degree students?

Graduate school can be very expensive, especially when you are attending full time. FinAidOrg reports that the average cost of a master’s degree ranges from $30,000 to $120,000. For the MBA, the average is $40,000, but at a Harvard or Stanford, might be $120,000.

There are varied sources of funding support for graduate study. The Financial Aids office of the schools to which you are applying should have a comprehensive file to help you. However, there are various independent groups not necessarily linked to particular schools that you can investigate. Also, professional organizations usually offer scholarships. The idea is to research and explore widely.