A master's degree is a graduate degree that can be obtained following an undergraduate education. Generally, a master's degree requires a student to have earned a bachelor's prior to enrollment, although students do not typically need to hold a degree within the same subject. Many schools may, however, prefer candidates to have previous academic or work experience in the field of choice.
The master's degree may be a prerequisite for earning a doctorate degree at some schools, but many individuals use the master's as an independent or terminal degree, such as with a Master of Business Administration (MBA) or a Master of Social Work (MSW). These "professional" degrees have a focus on knowledge and skill acquisition rather than research, and are often used to enhance career opportunities.
Why earn a master's degree?
Students pursue a master's for a variety of reasons. Some use the degree to further their knowledge of their undergraduate field of study, while others may use it to augment their professional experience. School teachers, for instance, may pursue a master's degree in early childhood education to enhance their knowledge of teaching methodologies and assessment techniques directly relevant to young children.
Many current professionals may use a master's degree to gain experience in a different specialty altogether. MBA programs, for example, feature multiple specialties that students of various backgrounds can use to gain business and management education in subjects such as accounting, finance, and information technology, among others.
Individuals may also seek a master's degree as a path to a doctorate, or because their profession may require it for career advancement or licensure. Architects, for instance, are required to hold a professional degree in architecture, such as a Master's Degree in Architecture (M.Arch.), to fulfill part of the requirements for state licensure (BLS, 2012).
What are the advantages of earning a master's degree online?
Many students with professional or familial obligations, or those who simply cannot travel to a campus location, may benefit from distance learning or online education. Hybrid and online master's degree programs allow for a more flexible class schedule, and the added convenience of the online format can allow working professionals or busy parents to earn their master's degree without disrupting their current responsibilities.
Not all master's programs, however, can be completed entirely online, as some programs may require hands-on learning or on-site attendance. For example, online master's degrees in education, nursing and computer science may require portions of the degree to be completed on campus or at an affiliate school.
What are some types of online master's degrees?
Master of Science: An M.S. degree is typically more technical and may focus on the physical sciences, such as biology, or the social sciences, such as sociology. Online M.S. degrees can cover a number of disciplines, including information technology and community services, as well as computer science and psychology.
Master of Arts: An M.A. degree typically requires a broader range of classes outside of the specific focus. Concentrations for the degrees are often in the humanities, such as history or communications. These programs can have an emphasis on gathering and defending original research. Online M.A. degrees can be found in the education disciplines, such as teaching or early childhood development, as well as in the social sciences.
Master of Fine Arts: M.F.A. degrees typically are found in the performing or classical arts disciplines, such as theater, creative writing or dance. These degrees are often the terminal degree for the profession. Typically, M.F.A. programs are a combination of course completion as well as a student's original production.
Master of Business Administration: The online MBA can be used as a professional's degree, and offers multiple concentrations that can combine advanced management practices with real-world business acumen. MBAs are often applicable in both public and private organizations, and can help students to hone knowledge in accounting, information systems, and international business, among other topics.
Master of Social Work: The Master of Social Work (MSW) is a terminal degree for social workers, and all states require clinical social workers to have earned their MSW before being licensed or employed (BLS, 2012). The degree program can offer both a theoretical background and practical experience dealing with people who have been abused or are in need of assistance.
Connecticut State Department of Education, Maintaining Connecticut Educator Credential, 2012, http://www.sde.ct.gov/sde/lib/sde/pdf/cert/maintaining1109aw.pdf
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2012-13 Edition, Accountants and Auditors, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/Business-and-Financial/Accountants-and-auditors.htm
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2012-13 Edition, Architects, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/architecture-and-engineering/architects.htm
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2012-13 Edition, Social Workers, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/Community-and-Social-Service/Social-workers.htm