The Online Encyclopedia and Dictionary






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 3-year undergraduate studies and preparing either for high qualification employment, or for doctorate 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 masters before a doctorate; in others, work on a doctorate begins immediately after a bachelor's degree. Some programs provide for a coterminous master's and bachelor's degrees after about five years.


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

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 license 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.").

The Netherlands

In the Netherlands the traditional acadamic degrees were doctorandus (drs.), ingenieur (ir.) and meester in de rechten (mr.) after 4 or 5 (6 years for Medicine) years of studies. 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. In the Netherlands an MSc degree replaces the ingenieur degree. Finally, the mr. degree is comparable with the LL.M degree.

Hong Kong

MA, MSc, MSocSc, MSW, MEng, LLM

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


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

Last updated: 05-09-2005 19:11:41
Last updated: 05-13-2005 07:56:04