A master's degree is an academic degree granted to individuals who have undergone study demonstrating a mastery or high-order overview of a specific field of study or area of professional practice. Within the area studied, graduates are posited to possess advanced knowledge of a specialized body of theoretical and applied topics; high order skills in analysis, critical evaluation or professional application; and the ability to solve complex problems and think rigorously and independently. They are awarded after graduation from a university.
In some languages, a master's degree is called a magister, or a cognate can also be used for a person who has the degree. There are various degrees of the same level, such as engineer's degrees, which have different names for historical reasons. See List of master's degrees.
There has recently been an increase in programs leading to these degrees in the United States; more than twice as many of such degrees are now awarded as compared to the 1970s. In Europe, there has been a standardisation of conditions to deliver the master's degrees and most countries present degrees in all disciplines.
The two most common titles of master's degrees are the Master of Arts (M.A.) and Master of Science (M.S., MSc, M.Si., or M.C.A.); these may be course-based, research-based, or a mixture of the two. Some universities use the Latin degree names; because of the flexibility of word order in Latin, the Master of Arts and Master of Science may be known as magister artium or artium magister and magister scientiae or scientiae magister, respectively. Harvard University, University of Chicago, and MIT, for example, use A.M. and S.M. for their master's degrees. More commonly, Master of Science often is abbreviated MS or M.S. in the United States, and MSc or M.Sc. in Commonwealth nations and Europe.
Other master's degrees are more specifically named ("tagged degrees"), including, for example, the Master of Business Administration (MBA), Master of Library Science, Master of Public Administration (MPA), Master of Laws (LL.M.), Master of Music (M.M. or M.Mus.) and Master of Fine Arts (M.F.A.); some are similarly general, for example the M.Phil. and the Master of Studies (Advanced Study / Advanced Studies). See List of master's degrees.
- Post-graduate master's degree (MA, MEd, MSc, MSW, MPA, MPH, MCA, MBA, MBA Tech, MCom, MBus, PSM and other subject specific master's degrees) is designed for anyone who holds a bachelor's degree.
- Business or management master's degree (MSc, MEng, MA, MCA, MBA, MCom, MIM, MEM) contain some confusion sometimes. On the one side there are programs called Master of Science (MSc) or Arts (MA) or Commerce (MCom) in General Management. These programs are sometimes also called MIM-programs and usually do not require professional experience. Very often the MSc in Management is for people with a first academic degree in a social sciences area while the MA in Management refers to people with other backgrounds. On the other side is the Master of Business Administration (MBA) which requires a minimum of two to three years of professional experience and is open for people with academic background in any field. MEM is Master's in Engineering Management. It is specially designed course for students with engineering background.
- Post-graduate research master's degree (MRes, MARes, MScRes, MPhil) - the Master by Research is designed for those who hold a bachelor's degree with a significant research component and/or have several publications. It is designed for those wishing to pursue higher research.
- Executive master's degree (EMBA, EMS) is a master's degree designed specially for executive professionals. Admission, graduation requirements, and structure of executive master's degrees differ from that of the regular full-time program.
- Integrated master's degree (MEng, MMath, MSci) is an undergraduate degree combined with an extra master's year. The first three years of study are often the same as a bachelor's degree, followed by an additional year of study at a master's degree level. The degree is only conferred at the end of study as a full master's - an intermediate bachelor's degree is not awarded. Integrated master's are most common in scientific disciplines.
There are a range of pathways to the degree, with entry based on evidence of a capacity to undertake higher degree studies in the proposed field. A dissertation may or may not be required, depending on the program. In general, the structure and duration of a program of study leading to a master's degree will differ by country and by university.
In some systems, such as those of the United States and Japan, a master's degree is a strictly postgraduate academic degree. Particularly in the U.S., in some fields / programs, work on a doctorate begins immediately after the bachelor's degree, but the master's may be earned along the way as a 'Master's degree "en route"', following successful completion of coursework and certain examinations. Master's programs are thus one to six years in duration, with two to three years being a common length of time to complete.
By contrast, in some cases, such as the Integrated Master's Degree in the UK, the degree is combined with a Bachelor of Science, as a 4 year degree. Unlike a traditional MSc, the fourth year finishes at the same time as undergraduate degrees in the early summer, whereas traditional MSc students typically spend the summer vacation completing a dissertation and finish in September. Examples include MMath (see also Part III of the Mathematical Tripos at Cambridge), MEng and MSci (not to be confused with an MSc).
In the recently standardized European System of higher education (Bologna process), a master degree programme normally carries 90 - 120 ECTS credits, with a minimum requirement of at least 60 ECTS credits at master level (one- or two-year full-time postgraduate program) undertaken after at least three years of undergraduate studies. It provides higher qualification for employment or prepares for doctoral studies. As one ECTS credit is equivalent to 25 hours of study this means that a master's degree programme should include 2250 hours of study. Current U.K. MSc/MA programmes tend to include 1800 hours of study (or 180 UK credits), although many claim to be equivalent to an ECTS accredited master degree.
In countries in which a master's degree is a postgraduate degree, admission to a master's program normally requires holding a bachelor's degree, and in the United Kingdom, Canada and much of the Commonwealth, an 'honours' bachelor degree. In both cases, relevant work experience may qualify a candidate. In some cases the student's bachelor's degree must be in the same subject as the intended master's degree (e.g. a Master of Economics will typically require a Bachelors with a major in economics), or in a closely allied, "cognate", discipline (e.g. Applied Mathematics degrees may accept graduates in physics, mathematics or computer science); in others, the subject of the bachelor's degree is unimportant (e.g. MBA) although, often in these cases, undergraduate coursework in specific subjects may be required (e.g. some M.S.F. degrees require credits in calculus for admission, but none in finance or economics).
Comparable European degrees 
In some European countries, a magister is a first degree and may be considered equivalent to a modern (standardized) master's degree (e.g., the German and Austrian university Diplom/Magister, or the similar 5-year Diploma awarded in several subjects in Greek, Spanish, Polish, Portuguese, and other universities and polytechnics).
- In Denmark the title candidatus or candidata (female) abbreviated cand. is used as a master's equivalent. Upon completion of for instance, an engineral master's degree, a person becomes cand.polyt. (polytechnical). Similar abbreviations, inspired by Latin, applies for a large number of educations, such as sociology (cand.scient.soc), economics (cand.merc., cand.polit. or cand.oecon), law (cand.jur), humanities (cand.mag) etc. A cand. title requires the obtainment of a master's degree. In Finland and Sweden, the title of kand. equates to a bachelor's degree.
- In France, the equivalent of master's degrees is the combination of two individual diplomas the Master 1 (M1) and Master 2 (M2), following the Bologna Process. Depending on the goal of the student (a doctorate or a professional career) the Master 2 can also be called a "Master Recherche" (Research Master) and a "Master Professionnel" (Professional Master) each with different requirements. To obtain a national diploma for the Master 2 requires a minimum of one-year of study after the Master 1 however a Master 2 often requires 2-years depending on the university's unique requirements. This is often the case with the Master Recherche as it requires time to conduct research and write a thesis. A French "Ingénieur diplômé" is also the equivalent of a Master's Degree, provided the diploma is recognised by the Commission des titres d'ingénieur.
- In Italy the Master's degree is equivalent to the 2-year Laurea magistrale, which can be earned after a Laurea (a three-year undergraduate degree, equivalent to a Bachelor's degree). In particular fields, namely Law, Pharmacy and Medicine, this system (commonly called "tre più due", i.e. 3+2) was not adopted and it is awarded a single 5 to 6-year master's degree, the Laurea magistrale a ciclo unico, which does not require a previous bachelor's degree for the admission. The old 4 to 5-year degree Laurea, which was the only degree awarded in Italy before the Bologna process, is equivalent  to the current Laurea Magistrale, thence can be considered as a Master's degree.
- In the Netherlands the titles ingenieur (ir.), meester (mr.) and doctorandus (drs.) may be rendered, if obtained in the Netherlands from a university, after the application of the Bologna process, as: MSc instead of ir., LL.M. instead of mr. and MA or MSc instead of drs. This is because a single program that led to these degree was in effect before 2002, which comprised the same course load as the Bachelor and Master programs put together. Those who had already started the program could, upon completing it, bear the appropriate title (MSc, LL.M. or MA), but alternatively still use the old-style title (ir., mr. or drs.), corresponding to their field of study. Since these graduates do not have a separate Bachelor’s degree (which is in fact – in retrospect – incorporated into the program), the Master’s degree is their first academic degree. Bearers of foreign Master's degree are able to use the titles ir., mr. and drs. only after obtaining a permission to bear such titles from the Dienst Uitvoering Onderwijs. Those who received their mr., ir. or drs. title after the application of the Bologna process have the option of signing as A. Jansen, MA or A. Jansen, MSc, depending on the field in which the degree was obtained, since the ir., mr. and drs. titles are similar to a Master's degree, and the shortcut MA or MSc may officially be used in order to render such title as an international title.
- In Switzerland, the old Licence or Diplom (4 to 5 years in duration) or a postgraduate DEA is considered equivalent to the master's degree.
- In Slovenia, all Academic degrees awarded after a minimum of 4 years of university studies and a successful defence of a written thesis are considered equivalent to the master's degree.
- In Baltic countries there is a two-year education program that offers a chance to gain a master's degree in interdisciplinary issues. The system offers an education in different areas, such as humanities, environmental and social issues, whilst paying specific consideration to the Baltic Sea area. It’s a joint-degree program, which is part of a team effort with four universities. There is the University of Tartu in Estonia, the University of Turku in Finland, Vytautas Magnus University in Lithuania and the University of Latvia. The educational programs are very good; allowing students to be mobile within the system, for example one semester may be taken in a confederate school without paying additional membership or tuition fees. Subsequently after passing the qualifications provided, people may procure teaching qualifications and continue their scholastic research around doctoral studies, or carry on studying within their career in the private or public sector. Graduates of the program, within the Baltic Sea area are also given the chance to continue onwards with their studies within the postgraduate system if they have studied the social sciences or humanities field.
See also 
- Associate's degree
- Bachelor's degree
- British degree abbreviations
- Degrees of the University of Oxford
- Diploma mill
- Educational specialist
- Engineer's degree
- Graduate school
- List of master's degrees
- Magister (degree)
- Master of Advanced Studies
- Master of Arts (Oxbridge and Dublin)
- Master of Arts (Scotland)
- Master's degree in Europe
- Master's degree non-Euroamerican
- Master's degree in North America
- Master of Laws
- Master of Engineering
- Master of Science
- Professional degree
- Professional Science Master's degree
- Terminal degree
- The Australian, Michael Jackson, Qualifications Framework
- Welke titel mag ik voeren? Dutch-Flemish Accreditation Organization.
- Opleidingen en titels Dutch Department of Education, Culture and Science.
- Burgervragen Citizens' questions letter from Dutch Department of Education, Culture and Science.
- Drs. A Jansen, MBA? OnzeTaal.
- Rectors' Conference of the Swiss Universities