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When pursuing higher education, graduate school students are often in the dilemma of choosing between two popular and essential graduate-level degrees in most subjects – the Master of Arts degree and the Master of Science degree.
Depending on the selected subject, these may be research-based, course-based, or generally, a mix of the two. While both these types prepare students for different roles in their chosen discipline, the former is selected by those who want to focus on humanities and arts.
In contrast, the latter is pursued by those who wish to orient themselves toward more technical and scientific fields. It is beneficial for graduates to understand the pros and cons of both of these degrees to help them make insightful decisions leading to a rewarding career. The following sections list the benefits these two degrees can fetch you and the points you need to be aware of to make an informed choice.
What is an MA?
An MA or Master of Arts in the U.S. is a specialized degree in disciplines like philosophy, language, history, design, social science, management, fine arts, and more. It can also be awarded for subjects considered within other domains, including those with scientific orientations like geology, and behavioral psychology, among others.
The primary learning mode for Master of Arts degrees includes seminars based on debates about a relevant topic matter with research and discussion on it. Students can complete this program in two years, and depending on the choice of subject, they may be required to submit a thesis.
Some of the most common subjects in which one pursues an online master of arts degree include:
Journalism and Mass Communication
Foreign Languages, like French, German, Spanish, Chinese, etc.
Education and topics within Education, like Educational Technology, School Counselling, etc.*
Health Care Management (including subjects of Mental Healthcare)*
The MS or Master of Science is a two-year graduate study that is generally technically oriented and focused on developing problem-solving and analytical skills through coursework, laboratory and practical experience, and research.
It is mainly taken up after receiving a bachelor’s degree and is available in technology, science, law, finance, social science, and arts. Those who want to pursue more scientific or mathematical-oriented programs take up MS in computer science, engineering, mathematics, public health, biochemistry, economics, engineering, etc.
Unlike MA degrees, most MS programs require students to complete a thesis requirement. Completing a thesis requires substantial coursework and using various research methods. Students will also be required to defend their thesis by integrating what has been done in class and data obtained from lab work.
MS programs typically take two years to complete; however, some may take longer, especially if you submit a thesis toward your degree’s end.
Some of the most popular MS degrees in the U.S. include:
There are several similarities between MA and MS programs – foundational courses, internship requirements, admission criteria, and more.
Likewise, there are many differences in focus areas, subject areas, assessment methods, teaching style, and graduate outcomes. Understanding the differences between both types can help you decide which fits you better.
Master of Arts (MA)
Masters of Science (MS)
Focus on arts and humanities
Focus on scientific and technical fields. The curriculum is based on STEM subjects like engineering, mathematics, technology, and medicine. Sometimes includes social science subjects.
The learning mode in MA combines theory and research aspects. Students participate in instruction-based study, including seminars, lectures, and workshops. They are expected to supplement these with independent research.
The learning mode in MS focuses on practice-based learning, including workshops, laboratory work, experiments, and lectures. Students are required to conduct independent research and theoretical study.
Students can take up the thesis track or the non-thesis track. In most cases, a thesis is generally not required.
Students are encouraged to take up the thesis track, which is sometimes compulsory.
Considered an academic degree
Considered a professional degree
Requires an undergraduate degree, dissertation, project work, and interview as part of the application.
Requires undergraduate work, demonstration of technical and specialist abilities, work experience (in some cases), and an interview as part of the application process.
Subjects from arts, humanities, and social sciences; for example, sociology, anthropology, etc.
STEM subjects – science, technology, engineering, and math.
It can lead to broader paths. For example, MA in Media Studies can lead to work opportunities in domains like advertising, teaching, PR, etc.
More appropriate for direct career paths and related to specific fields of study. For example, studying MS in Math focuses specifically on careers in mathematics.
Which One Should You Choose?
While there is no direct answer to this question, we can look at different factors affecting your personal and professional growth that can help you choose the degree more efficiently.
Both degrees provide students with academic qualifications to help them land better jobs or pursue further academics. They both equally show a student’s dedication to their field of study.
Employers will generally not differentiate between the two degree types and regard them equally if you have the necessary knowledge and skills to do well.
To decide which program to choose, you must pick one based on how it fits your personal and professional career goals. Those who prefer taking up humanity subjects might see the Master of Arts as an ideal choice.
On the other hand, those with good mathematical and logical skills and a keen interest in STEM subjects may feel a Master of Science is more apt for them.
Obtaining a master’s degree advances your career and provides a rich and rewarding experience in terms of accomplishments.
Even though the distinction between the MA and MS degree is minor in itself, the choice you make has to be done carefully, as it could determine your future professional outcomes.
Here are four tips for choosing the right degree:
Evaluate your appropriate career goals. If you want theoretical or critical knowledge, you could opt for an MA; however, additional scientific education and training will be more appropriate through an MS.
Understand different program-related components and ask yourself:
What experiences will I gain from the courses?
How will my program enhance academic mentorship?
Can I access any career guidance post-program completion?
What kind of career goals will be fostered through my program?
Think about the kind of concentration and courses the program type offers and whether those will help you grow further.
Closely observe your seniors, industry leaders, and other peers working in your desired field and what type of degree they hold. You will need to research and understand if the degree you want to pursue will lead you to academic success.
Note: if you want to study for a terminal degree, you must pursue an MA. To take up a degree that leads to other academic programs, you would do well to pursue an MS.
Generally, employers only care a little about the type of degree. Both programs are equally recognized. However, there are some niche areas where employers expect jobseekers to hold a specific MA or MS. It is always advisable to do self-research and understand if either type of degree suits your professional goals.
Why should I do an MA?
The Master of Arts degree is mainly suited for those interested in humanities subjects like English, Teaching, Literature, Linguistics, Fine Arts, Languages, and Communications. It will serve those who enjoy discussions and debates and want to exchange views to increase knowledge. It may also benefit those who prefer not to submit a thesis or do elaborate research work, as most MA programs do not require you to write a master’s thesis. Those who want career outcomes in humanities-related fields will specifically benefit from the MA.
Why should I do an MS?
The MS is best suited for those who wish to pursue careers in the sciences, such as Biotechnology, Engineering, Economics, Mathematics, Computer Science, and Public Health. It can help them develop a flair for logical and mathematical skills, research, and analyze data. The MS is also suitable for those who want to pursue doctoral programs in their current or related fields.
Does a MA in science exist?
Yes. It is possible to pursue a science degree through the Master of Arts. You will find MA degrees in some streams of sciences, like the Master of Arts in Geology or Physics, often at par with their Master of Science counterparts. There is also a Master of Applied Science or MAS that provides a curriculum that focuses on the practical application of research and knowledge in the specific subject.
What is an MBA?
A Master of Business Administration (MBA) is a type of postgraduate degree that focuses on business administration and covers various areas like accounting, finance, commerce, and marketing. It is a top-rated graduate program in the U.S. that provides theoretical and practical training for managing one’s business or investments or working in medium to large companies.
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