What’s the Difference Between a Master of Arts and a Master of Science Degree?

What’s the Difference Between a Master of Arts and a Master of Science Degree?
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When considering a graduate degree, one question that comes up is what is the difference between a master of arts (MA) degree and a master of science (MS) degree? While both degrees focus on theoretical and applied learning, their distinction is often found in the requirements and learning outcomes. If you’re trying to figure out which option to choose, this guide sheds light on the differences between the degrees. It also provides easy clarification to help you make the best decision for your future career.

What Is a Master’s of Arts Degree?

To put it simply, a Master of Arts degree is a graduate-level of study focused on the humanities and social sciences. The subjects where you’ll find most MA degrees, including the most affordable online Master’s of Arts Degrees, are:

The main method of learning for Master’s of Arts degrees are seminars, which are heavily based discussions regarding the subject matter. This is also the main difference between a Master’s of Arts degree and a Master’s of Science degree. The method of teaching is not the same.

When considering how long each of the degree options takes to complete, the Master’s of Arts degree typically takes two years since most of its curriculums focus on research and discussion-based learning. An MA curriculum includes more humanities courses to meet requirements for graduation. 

Another major difference between a Master’s of Arts degree and a Master’s of Science degree is the thesis option. If you’re considering pursuing an MA, many programs do not require a thesis, as they would with a Master’s of Science degree. Some programs might require the completion of an applied research project instead. 

Is a Master of Arts Worth It?

Earning a master’s degree is a financial investment, as well as a professional choice. Depending on the type of job you want to pursue, a Master of Arts degree could help you acquire more advanced skills and position you as an attractive job candidate. 

In the U.S., the number of graduate students has increased 38 percent since 2000, and some estimates show that over 20% of employers require a master’s degree for roles that historically accepted undergraduate degrees as a sufficient prerequisite. 

According to a 2012 by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, jobs that require a Master’s Degree were expected to grow 18.4 percent through 2022. Another BLS data report shows that the average median weekly earnings for someone with a master’s degree is $1,434 — that’s $236 more than an employee with a bachelor’s degree. 

Although this isn’t the case for more jobs, thinking about how the long-term benefit outweighing the costs can help you make the right decision. As part of the demand for more affordable higher education, many universities across the country offer affordable and flexible programs you can consider in your research. 

Here’s a list of some of the benefits of earning a master’s degree:

Specialized knowledge: A master’s degree can help increase your performance, as well as close your knowledge gap. Your classes will be more focused on your chosen area of study as well as allow you to develop a self-directed approach to learning. You can also identify values and curiosity that were left untapped during your undergrad years. These gains can help you become a more prepared professional. 

Higher-paying jobs: Typically, jobs that require a more advanced degree offer higher wages. Though the jobs may be more competitive (simply because they require your specialized skill), they often pay off in the end. 

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What Is a Master’s of Science Degree?

The Master’s of Science degree option is usually for programs that are more focused on scientific and mathematical subjects. These types of subjects include:

If you opt for a Master’s of Science degree, you can expect to be heavily immersed in lab work, scientific research, analysis, and evaluation. Those with strong logical and mathematical skills are best suited for this type of degree option.

The average completion time for a Master’s of Science degree is also two years, however, in some cases, it can be more. You simply need to take into consideration your career goals when choosing which degree option to take.

While it ultimately depends on the specific program, students who pursue a Master’s of Science degree typically require a thesis. The thesis can span six to nine units and require extensive research on the subject studied. You then have to defend your thesis by synthesizing the subject and other information you learned through lab work. The thesis requirement is essential to move on to a P.h.D. program, or if you’re interested in pursuing a career that requires and prioritizes research experience. 

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Master of Science vs Master of Arts

When it comes to choosing a Master’s of Science or a Master’s of Arts, students need to take into account their own career goals, according to the University of Michigan. Employers make no distinction between the two areas of study, and they hold the same prestige. If one is more suited towards humanities subjects, then the Master of Arts is best. However, if sciences are one’s forte, then a Masters of Science is a better choice. Overall though, the difference between a Master of Arts and a Master of Science degree will come down to requirements, time commitment and program focus. 

Thesis 

Most people interested in a research-heavy field will have to complete a thesis. For example if you pursue an MA with the goal of becoming a college professor, a thesis showcases your expertise to the academic administration evaluating your credentials. The goal of a thesis, if you choose a master of science, is to develop more research-based skills like data analysis and understanding concepts related to research design. Students have to pass a thesis defense for either program, which is the final presentation of their thesis. 

Time commitment

The time it takes to complete a master’s degree can vary based on the program. One factor is simply your course load. Students who choose to take more classes at once might be able to finish faster. Some schools offer accelerated degree programs if you want to speed up the completion length. But if you’re taking classes part-time, it will draw out the process — regardless of whether you’re going for arts or science. Usually, a master’s degree takes a year and a half to two years or three, in some cases, if you’re a full-time student. 

Focus

An MA will allow you to focus on literature, language, history, or social sciences. And your faculty will also reflect that through a liberal approach in most of their teaching styles. Discussions on a given topic are almost ubiquitous in most master of art degree programs, while a master of science degree will cater a more scientific approach to a subject. If you pursue an MS, expect to advance your scientific research methods. After economics, mathematics, or engineering, it will be important for you to demonstrate your knowledge through a well-researched thesis.

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Hedy Phillips

CONTRIBUTING WRITER

Hedy Phillips is a freelance journalist based in New York who covers higher education for Grad School Hub, Best Value Schools, and Criminal Justice Degree Schools. Over the past 10 years, her bylines have appeared in MSN, Yahoo, Cosmopolitan, InStyle, and more.

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Andrea Perez

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Andrea Perez is an editor at Grad School Hub who oversees our college rankings, school profiles, and other higher education coverage. A graduate school alumna of the University of South Florida, she previously served as an editor at The Simple Dollar, as well as a staff writer at Connect, USF's digital magazine.

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