Definition of Master’s Degrees
A master’s degree is the next academic step after a baccalaureate degree, and it can lead to a more prestigious career with better pay than a bachelor’s degree will yield. Students who obtain master’s degrees are expected to possess advanced knowledge of a specialized body of theoretical and applied topics. Some of these include a high ability in analysis, critical evaluation or professional application, problem solving, and to think rigorously and independently. Master’s degrees can lead to higher salaries, better job opportunities, and an overall higher knowledge in a subject area. Sometimes people seek out a master’s degree if they’re interested in a career change and wish to study something completely different from their undergraduate degree. Master’s programs allow students the opportunity to develop expertise in a new field, and to gain a higher job title while doing so.
Types of Master’s Degree
There are two common types of master’s degree, the Master of Arts (MA) and Master of Science (MS, M.Si, or M.Sc.). Both MAs and MSs are course and research based. There are also “tagged degrees,” which include a master’s degree with the actual discipline on the end of the name. Examples of these titles include: Master of Music (MM), Master of Communication (MC), Master of Physician Assistant Studies (MPAS), Master of Arts in Teaching (MAT), Master of Engineering (M.Eng.), Master of Fine Arts (MFA), or Master of Social Work (MSW). There are also Master of Business Administration (MBA) titles, as well, which require a minimum of two to three years of professional experience and are open for people with previous academic backgrounds in any field. The various master’s degrees in business differ in terms of title reputation, demographics, career purpose, and tuition fees.
Almost every subject in the world has a master’s degree available. A few of the most popular online master’s degree subject areas include:
- Computer Programming
- Criminal Justice
- Health Care
- Hospitality Management
- Human Resources
- Information Technology
- International Business
- Public Administration
- Sales and Marketing
- Social Work
- Website Design
What are the Prerequisites for a Master’s Degree Program?
Each school’s program and specialization has different prerequisites for entry. Overall though, all programs are looking to identify promising applicants who will become important researchers or leaders in the field of study. They want eager, gifted, and highly motivated individuals who can work independently and take direction, supervision, and constructive criticism.
Generally the following criteria are what most master’s degree programs look for in admissions:
- Undergraduate GPA: Most programs will especially be looking at the last two years of your undergrad college achievements to determine whether you’re a good candidate for their program. Grades are a long-term indicator of how well you perform as a student. They reflect motivation and your ability to do good or bad work. Grades aren’t the overall deciding factor, but good grades definitely help in the application process.
- Graduate Record Exam (GRE) scores: Because the GRE exam is standardized, graduate study programs like to look at these scores to compare you up to other applicants. Some departments use cutoff of GRE scores, or use them as criteria for research assistantships and other forms of funding. Sometimes admissions departments overlook GRE scores though if all the other areas of an application are very strong, so don’t panic too much if your scores aren’t ideal.
- Recommendation letters: These provide programs with a context within an applicant’s life. It is therefore important to have faculty members who know you very well to write your letters of recommendation. Additionally, letters written by professors known to committee members carry more weight than letters written by unknown professors.
- Personal statement/Admissions Essay: This is a statement of purpose and personal goal statement in which you should introduce yourself, speak directly to the admissions committee, and prove why you are the best student for their program. Personal statements are taken very seriously and are possibly the most closely read document. Essays are an indicator of your writing ability, motivation, ability to express yourself, maturity, passion for the field, and judgment, and so if your letters doesn’t have the qualities and attitudes need for success, the program will most likely weed out your application.
What does a Master’s Degree Entail?
A master’s degree is definitely a time commitment. Usually getting a master’s degree full-time takes two years, although it can be extended to three years, and even longer if only attending school part-time. Occasionally there are accelerated master’s programs, such as an accelerated MBA program that takes one-year to complete. These accelerated programs have a very high admissions standard, require a higher volume of coursework, and can’t be taken part-time. There are also five-year joint bachelor’s and master’s degree program where one extra year is tacked onto a 4-year baccalaureate degree. You must know you want to pursue this path when beginning your undergrad, otherwise you’ll have to return to school for a master’s program lasting 2 years. Ultimately, the overall time commitment to a master’s degree depends on the subject area, school, whether you’re attending part-time or full-time, and your ability to learn the information and be self-motivated to finish the online courses.
Master’s degree programs have classes set up much like undergraduate programs do, although these classes will be more advanced and more specialized in a certain subject. Professors tend to expect a higher level of analysis and critique in master’s classes, and you will be taking classes with peers at the same level of knowledge and education as yourself. Many master’s programs require a master’s thesis at the end of study. A thesis is an extended research paper on a specific topic, usually of your choosing or unique interest. Sometimes there are alternatives to master’s thesis, including written comprehensive exams or written projects. Fields like clinical and counseling psychology or social work usually offer a practicum or internship where you learn applied skills for how to perform therapy within your field.
What are the Best Master’s Degrees for the Current Job Market?
According to a 2008 American Community Survey from the US Census Bureau, 29% of Americans 25 years of age and older have a bachelor’s degree—an increase of 5% since 1998. Young people ages 25 to 29 hold bachelor’s degrees at an even higher percentage of 31, and 7% of 25 to 29 year olds have received master’s degrees. Undergraduate degrees are becoming more common, which means many students are choosing to continue their education to be “set apart.”
If you’re looking to get a master’s degree, it’s important to know what the best ones for the current job market are. Currently in all fields there is a high demand for competent, well-trained and highly skilled professionals who can manage a lot of responsibility. Counseling though is one of the fastest growing fields of work that requires a master’s degree. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors will be especially high in demand through 2018, with the field expected to grow by 21%. The field of mental health counseling, dealing with issues like depression, anxiety, trauma, stress, and grief, is supposed to grow by 24%. Social work is also a high growing occupation, with a 22% growth expected by 2018. Physical therapy employment has been predicted to increase by 30%, and is a path that requires a license to practice, which can be more easily achieved by someone with a master’s degree. Environmental scientists and specialists can have a wealth of employment opportunities through 2018 with the field expected to grow by 28% because of the extra stress placed on the environment due to the growing population.