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A master's degree (from Latin magister) is an academic degree awarded by universities upon completion of a course of 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. The master's degree may qualify the holder to teach at a college or university in certain disciplines.
The two most common titles of master's degrees are the Master of Arts (M.A.) and Master of Science (M.S., M.Sc., M.Si., or M.C.A.) degrees; 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 syntax in Latin, the Master of Arts and Master of Science degrees may be known as Magister artium or Artium magister and Magister scientiæ or Scientiæ 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 (M.B.A.), the Master of Health Administration (M.H.A.), the Master of IT in Business (M.I.T.B.), the Master of Business Engineering (M.B.E.), Master in European Business (M.E.B.), Master of Counselling (M.C.), Master of Divinity (M.Div.), Master of Library Science (M.L.S.), Master of Public Administration (M.P.A.), Master of Social Work (M.S.W.), Master of Public Policy (M.P.P.), Master of Laws (LL.M.), Master of Music (M.M. or M.Mus.), Master of Information (M.I.), Master of Fine Arts (M.F.A.).
Some are further general, for example the Master of Philosophy (M.Phil.), Master of Arts in Liberal Studies (M.A.L.S., M.L.A./A.L.M., and M.L.S.), and the Master of Studies (Master of Advanced Study/Master of Advanced Studies).
- Post-graduate master's degree (M.A., M.S., M.Ed., M.E.B., M.Des., M.N.C.M., M.S.N., M.S.W., M.P.A., M.P.C., M.P.P., M.P.H., M.C., M.C.A., M.Couns., M.L.A., M.L.I.S., M.Div., A.L.M., M.M., M.B.A., M.Tech., M.I.T.B., M.B.E., M.Com., M.I.B., M.I., P.S.M. and other subject specific master's degrees) is designed for anyone who holds a bachelor's degree.
- Post-graduate research master's degree (M.Res., M.A.Res., M.S.Res., M.Phil.) - 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 (E.M.B.A., E.M.S.) 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 (M.Pharm., M.Pharmacol., M.Eng., M.Math., M.Phys., M.Psych., M.Sci., M.Chem., M.Biol., M.Geol., etc.) 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. Some universities offer evening options so that students can work during the day and earn a master's degree in the evenings.
Under the Angloamerican systems many master's degrees are differentiated either as 'master (thesis)' or as 'master (non-thesis)' programs. Regardless of a de jure minimum period of a master's degree program in the same discipline, the required de facto duration to complete the program may vary highly by university. One of the main reasons of this is the fact that the required level of courses or research complexity and quality of a thesis also can vary greatly, e.g. in "very high research activity" elite universities students who are admitted to a "very high research" master (thesis), have to fulfill course and thesis level requirements at a regular PhD level, however.
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 four-year degree. Unlike a traditional M.Sc., the fourth year finishes at the same time as undergraduate degrees in the early summer, whereas traditional M.Sc. students typically spend the summer vacation completing a dissertation and finish in September. Examples include M.Math. (see also Part III of the Mathematical Tripos at Cambridge), M.Eng. and M.Sci. (not to be confused with an M.Sc.).
In the recently standardized European System of higher education (Bologna process), a master's 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 UK M.Sc./M.A. programmes tend to include 1800 hours of study (or 180 UK credits), although many claim to be equivalent to an ECTS accredited master's 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 bachelor's degree 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. M.B.A.) 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; see also under Business education#Postgraduate education). Most competitive programs also have a grade point average (GPA) that the student must have achieved in their undergraduate degree.
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 five-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, apply 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 two 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 "diplôme d'Ingénieur" 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 two-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 distinction is not made. University courses are therefore single and last five to six years, after which the master's degree is awarded (in this case referred to as Laurea magistrale a ciclo unico). The old Laurea degree (Vecchio Ordinamento, Old Regulations), which was the only awarded in Italy before the Bologna process, is equivalent to the current Laurea Magistrale.
- 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, M.A. or A. Jansen, M.Sc., 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 M.Sc. 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) is considered equivalent to the master's degree.
- In Slovenia and Croatia, during the pre-Bologna process education, all Academic degrees were awarded after a minimum of four 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 is 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.
- In Greece, the metaptychiako which means post-graduate (degree) and is normally two-year after a four-year undergraduate ptychio which means degree.
In Brazil, after a regular graduation, students have the option to continue their academic career through a master (a.k.a. stricto sensu) or specialization (a.k.a. lato sensu) degrees.
At the master's degree ("mestrado", in Portuguese, also referred as " pós-graduação stricto sensu") there are 2–3 years of full-time graduate-level studies. Usually focused on academic research, the master's degree (on any specific knowledge area) requires the development of a thesis, presented (and defended) to a board of Ph.D. after the period of research. Differently, the "specialization" degree (also referred as "pós-graduação lato-sensu"), also comprehends a 1–2 years studies, but do not require a new thesis to be purposed and defended, being usually attended by professionals looking for a complimentary formation on a different knowledge area than their original graduation.
In addition, a great part of Brazilian universities offers a M.B.A. (Master of Business Administration) degree. Those, nevertheless, are not the equivalent of US M.B.A. degree though, as it does not formally certifies the student/professional with a master's degree (stricto-sensu) but a post-graduation degree instead. A regular post-graduation course has to comply with a minimum of 360 class-hours, while a M.B.A. degree has to comply with a minimum of 400 class-hours. Master's degree (stricto sensu) does not requires minimum class-hours, but it's practically impossible to finish it before 1,5 year due the workload and research required; an average time for the degree is 2,5 years.
Specialization (lato sensu) and M.B.A. degrees can be also offered as distance education courses, while the master's degree (stricto-sensu) requires physical attendance.
Often serves as additional qualification for those seeking a differential on the job market, or for those who want to pursue a Ph.D. It corresponds to the European (Bologna Process) 2nd Cycle or the North American master's.
M.Arch., M.L.A., M.U.D., M.A., M.Sc., M.Soc.Sc., M.S.W., M.Eng., LL.M.
Hong Kong requires one or two years of full-time coursework to achieve a master's degree.
For part-time study, two or three years of study are normally required to achieve a postgraduate degree.
In Pakistani education system, there are two different master's degree programmes:
- 2 years master's programmes: these are mostly Master of Arts (M.A.) leading to M.Phil.;
- 4 years master's programmes: these are mostly Master of Science (M.S.) leading to Ph.D.
Both M.A. and M.S. are offered in all major subjects.
- Master of Arts (M.A.);
- Master of Business Administration (M.B.A.);
- Master of Computer Applications (M.C.A.);
- Master of Computer Management (M.C.M.);
- Master of Engineering (M.Eng.);
- Master of Philosophy (M.Phil.);
- Master of Science (M.Sc.);
- Master of Science in Information Technology (M.Sc.I.T.);
- Master of Technology (M.Tech.);
- Master of Statistics (M.Stat.);
- Master of Laws (LL.M.);
- Master of Commerce (M.Com.).
- M.A., M.Sc., M.B.A.: postgraduate studies in Israel require the completion of a bachelor's degree and is dependent upon this title's grades. There exists also a direct track to a doctorate degree for graduate students, which lasts four to five years. Taking this route, the students must prepare a preliminary research paper during their first year, they then have to pass an exam after which they are automatically awarded a master's degree.
- M.Eng.: It is given by the Technion – Israel Institute of Technology. Comparing to the M.Sc., it is a non-thesis track.
In Taiwan, bachelor's degrees are about four years (with honors) and there is an entrance examination required for people who want to study in master and Ph.D. degrees. The courses offered for master and PhD normally are research-based.
The most foreign-friendly programs in Taipei, Taiwan are at:
- National Taiwan University College of Management – Global M.B.A. (M.B.A. in Finance, Accounting, Management, International Business and Information Management);
- National ChengChi University – I.M.B.A.
Programs are entirely in English and tuition is less than would be paid in North America, with as little as US$5000 for an M.B.A.
As an incentive to increase the number of foreign students, the government of Taiwan and universities have made extra efforts to provide a range of quality scholarships available. These are university-specific scholarships ranging from tuition waivers, up to NT$20,000 per month. The government offers the Taiwan Scholarship ranging from NT$20,000–30,000 per month for two years. (US$18,000–24,000 for a two-year program)
- Associate's degree
- Bachelor's degree
- British degree abbreviations
- Degrees of the University of Oxford
- Diploma mill
- Educational specialist
- Engineer's degree
- European Joint Master degree in Economics
- Graduate school
- List of master's degrees
- Magister (degree)
- Master of Advanced Studies
- Master of Arts (Oxbridge and Dublin)
- Master of Arts (Scotland)
- Master of Engineering
- Master of Laws
- Master of Science
- Master's degree in Europe
- Master's degree in North America
- Master's degree non-Euroamerican
- Professional degree
- Professional Science Master's degree
- Terminal degree
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