What is a Master’s Degree?

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An online master’s degree is the same as a traditional master’s degree, but with some or all of the coursework having been completed online.

A master’s degree is a graduate-level degree that some people chose to pursue after earning a bachelor’s degree. (Note: Some unique programs offer students the option to pursue a bachelor’s and master’s simultaneously.)

An online master’s degree typically takes 1.5-2 years of full-time study to complete, and during that time you will dig deeper into the field, perhaps even choosing an area of specialization.

There are many reasons people choose to pursue their degrees in masters programs online. In some fields, a graduate degree is required for licensure, or for anything beyond an entry-level position. In others, it may not be required but could offer a competitive edge when it comes to earning a promotion or pay raise.

But why would someone choose to earn this degree online?

Well, there are a number of advantages, including:

  • Flexible class schedules that can fit your busy schedule
  • Accelerated programs can help you complete the program faster
  • The ability to study anytime, anywhere
  • Access to schools around the world
  • No commute
  • Reduced tuition costs (depending on the program)
  • Access to accredited programs and financial aid

If you are self-disciplined enough to stay on task, an online program could be a great fit!

Most Common Types of Masters Degree Programs

There are several options for earning a master’s degree online, and the degree you choose is highly dependent upon your field of study.

Master of Arts (MA)

An MA degree program focuses on studies related to the Arts and Humanities. While some fields within the arts require a PhD in order to reach top career positions, an MA degree is an excellent step towards a lucrative professional career.

Examples of Master of Arts degree programs include:

  • Visual Arts
  • Communications
  • Education
  • Languages
  • History
  • Music

Master of Science (MS)

An MS degree program focuses on studies related to science, technology, or mathematics – the STEM fields. In some cases, a field may fall under both the arts and sciences categories, with some schools offering an MA and others offering an MS. Generally speaking, the programs are equivalent, but in some cases, the MS program may have a stronger research component.

Examples of Master of Science degree programs include:

  • Computer Science
  • Finance or Accounting
  • Engineering
  • IT
  • Marketing
  • Business
  • Economics

Master of Fine Arts (MFA)

An MFA degree program focuses on creative studies. In many cases an MFA is a terminal degree, meaning it is the highest degree available in the fields. Admission requirements for an MFA program often include a portfolio of work or a performance audition.

Examples of MFA degree programs include:

  • Graphic Design
  • Creative Writing
  • Visual Arts
  • Theatre
  • Cinematography
  • Photography
  • Dance

Master of Business Administration (MBA)

An MBA is a versatile degree program focused on business and management that is often pursued by mid-career professionals. Most programs require 1-3 years of experience. MBA students may choose an area of specialization that is applicable in many industries or one that is specific to one particular industry.

Examples of MBA degree program specializations include:

  • Accounting
  • Advertising
  • Business Management
  • Economics
  • Healthcare Management
  • Human Resources
  • Project Management

Master of Engineering (ME, MEng)

An ME or MEng is a graduate degree program in the field of engineering.

At some schools, the program is more academic – heavy in research and theory and designed for students who will continue on to a Ph.D. program. At others, it is more professional – focused on practical coursework and preparing students for work in the engineering field. Some are a combination of both.

Examples of ME / MEng degree program specializations include:

  • Biomedical Engineering
  • Construction and Engineering Management
  • Robotics
  • Sustainable Infrastructure
  • Software
  • Transportation Engineering

Master of Education (MEd)

A Master of Education degree prepares students for a career in education. It can open the door to specialized, higher paying positions inside the classroom, as well as administrative and leadership roles.

Examples of MEd degree programs include:

  • Educational Leadership
  • English as a Second Language
  • Literacy
  • Special Education
  • Sport Coaching and Leadership
  • STEM education

Master of Laws (LLM)

A Master of Laws is a secondary degree available to lawyers who have already passed the bar exam. The program serves as a scholarly credential for those who want to gain an expertise in a particular area of U.S. or international law.

Examples of LLM degree program specializations include:

  • Agriculture and Food Law
  • Corporate Law
  • Environmental Law
  • Estate Planning
  • Intellectual Property Law
  • International Taxation
  • Legal Theory

Master of Architecture (MArch)

A Master of Architecture is a professional degree that prepares students for professional accreditation and licensure. Because students may come into this program with undergraduate degrees in any field, there is a particularly wide breadth of knowledge and experience within the student body.

Examples of MArch degree program specializations include:

  • Commercial Architecture
  • Residential Architecture
  • Landscape Architecture
  • Interior and Spatial Design
  • Green Design
  • Urban and Regional Planning

Master of Public Administration (MPA)

A Master of Public Administration is a prestigious credential for leaders in the public and nonprofit sectors. This program focuses on the design and implementation of public policies to reach specific goals within government, non-governmental organizations, non-profit organizations, or other sectors.

The training and coursework for an MPA often overlap with the Master of Public Policy (MPP) degree program, so some schools have combined the two.

Examples of MPA degree program specializations include:

  • Non-Profit Management
  • Criminal Justice
  • International Affairs
  • Public Policy
  • Emergency Management
  • Community Development

Master of Public Health (MPH)

A Master of Public Health prepares students to improve the health of a specific population through awareness, education and policy.

Examples of MPH degree program specializations include:

  • Epidemiology
  • Disaster Management and Emergency Preparedness
  • Global Health
  • Women’s and Reproductive Health
  • Child and Adolescent Health
  • Food Nutrition and Health

Master of Public Policy (MPP)

A Master of Public Policy is a prestigious, multi-disciplinary program that focuses on policy analysis and evaluation. Graduates may work for government, for non-profit organizations, in the private sector or as consultants.

The training and coursework for an MPP often overlap with the Master of Public Administration (MPA) degree program, so some schools have combined the two.

Examples of MPP degree program specializations include:

  • Environmental Policy
  • Health Policy
  • Urban Policy
  • Economic Policy
  • Education Policy
  • Public and Nonprofit Management

Master of Social Work (MSW)

A Master of Social Work prepares students for careers focused on improving the health and well-being of individuals, families and communities. Some MSW programs offer two pathways: one for those who intend to provide specialized counseling in a clinical setting, and another for those who are more broadly focused on public advocacy or community organization and may work as administrators, researchers or policymakers.

Examples of MSW degree program specializations include:

  • Disaster, Crises and Intervention
  • Children and Families
  • Medical and Psychiatric Social Work
  • Mental Health
  • Organization and Community Practice
  • Social Justice and Diversity

What is the difference between a degree and a master’s degree?

A master’s degree is a specific type and level of degree. A master’s degree is a graduate-level degree that some people chose to pursue after earning a bachelor’s degree. It can give candidates a competitive edge when applying for a job, help them earn a promotion or a raise, or enable them to pursue employment in a new and different field.

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Elizabeth Abner
WRITTEN BY Elizabeth Abner

Elizabeth is pursuing a Doctor of Philosophy in Foreign Policy and earned her master's degree in business administration. For her undergraduate studies, she earned a Bachelor of Arts in Business Administration with a concentration in international business. Elizabeth's research is focused on universities offering online degree programs.