A Field of Study (Chapter 3)
Unless you have both money and time to spend, it is not advisable to pursue a masters degree without first being sure of what you want to study and what you will do with your degree. Once you know what you want to study, you will be able to make a much better decision and will have a fuller perspective on the gains that you will receive from your investment of time, energy and money.
If you like where you are in your career and want to advance within that field, choosing which degree to pursue will be much easier. Masters degrees in certain areas, such as business administration and education, can help you learn new skills, take on new responsibilities and earn promotions and raises within your field. These degrees can also help you to switch careers.
Many people who earned masters degrees in business or education did not major in these subjects as undergraduates. But the skills that they learned as undergraduates and from work are usually sufficient for pursuit of such masters degrees. Some programs may suggest or require you to take certain prerequisite classes before enrolling; these will give you a broad, basic understanding of the field you are entering.
In general, it is possible to have a bachelors degree in 1discipline and a masters degree in another. Perhaps you majored in history, but now you are interested in pursuing a masters degree in literature. In this case, both subjects fall within the humanities and both require you to conduct research, analyze the findings and produce written works. The trick to making this kind of switch is to make admissions committees aware of what literature courses you took as an undergraduate and how the knowledge and skills that you learned in your study of history will help you succeed in pursuing a masters degree in literature.
You will have to do the same thing if you are jumping from a bachelors degree in the humanities to a masters degree in science, such as biology or physics. You may need to take additional courses to demonstrate your knowledge of and competency in this new subject area, but if you are serious about the switch, it can be well worth the time and energy.
There are almost as many types of masters degrees as there are subjects to study. This list is by no means exhaustive, but it will give you a good baseline from which to research masters degree programs. Many masters degrees within the same discipline have multiple names even though the course of study is similar, if not identical.
- Master of Arts (MA) and Master of Science (MS, MSc)A master of arts is usually granted for the fields of study that fall under the humanities or the social sciences, such as history, art history and English. A master of science is generally granted for natural, physical and computer sciences, but can sometimes include sub-fields of the social sciences. However, it depends on the institution giving the degree. Both degrees are considered primarily academic rather than professional, though they may also qualify you to pursue employment in a variety of professions as well.
If you work in education and earn an MA or MS in the subject that you teach, it may increase your hiring potential or even earn you an increase in pay. Outside of that, an MA can help strengthen your skillset, but employers will not necessarily boost your pay simply because you have an MA. On the other hand, MS degrees generally have a better chance of helping you with promotions and salary increases.
- Master of Business Administration (MBA)An MBA is a professional degree rather than an academic degree. It is designed to provide you with the practical skills to work in a business setting. Although an MBA is not required for a career in business, it has become common in order to advance in the field. There are other masters degrees that fall within business but are more specialized than an MBA and can help you to advance and earn a higher salary. Some of these include a Master in Professional Accounting (MPAcc) and a Master of Science in Information Systems (MSIS).
- Master of Education (MEd, MAT, MST MSEd)Education is a field in which you can earn a variety of masters-level degrees, including Master of Education (MEd), Master of Arts in Teaching (MAT), Master of Science in Teaching (MST) and a Master of Science in Education (MSEd). Within these degrees, there are a number of topics in which you can specialize, including curriculum and instruction, special education, administration and counseling. An MEd is partly an academic degree and partly a professional degree. If you work in education, or are interested in entering the field, this degree can help you to increase your salary, earn a promotion and stand out from other candidates.
If you are interested in pursuing a masters degree in education with a specialization in counseling, you should know that there are no fully online and accredited masters degree programs that offer this concentration. This is because a masters degree that focuses on education and counseling requires students to learn practical skills and methods of communication. These skills will be practiced in the classroom and can’t be appropriately developed online. You will find accredited programs that allow you to complete most of your coursework online in addition to attending meetings on-campus once or twice each term, or during intensive residencies.
No matter the specialization that you choose in a masters degree program for education, you should try to pursue a program that will place you in an internship or practicum at an educational setting in your community. This is especially important if you are not currently working in a classroom.
- Master of Fine Arts (MFA)An MFA is a post-graduate degree usually awarded in the visual arts, performing arts, filmmaking or writing. Because the assignments and final projects associated with an MFA are works of art or performances, such as dances, plays and films, it is not practical to pursue an MFA online.
However, for MFAs in writing, there are multiple reputable and accredited schools that offer online programs. These programs include periodic on-site meetings that occur 1 or 2 times each term or during intensive residency periods.
- Master of Library and Information Science (MLS, MILS)A Master of Library and Information Science is a professional degree that provides students with the skills and knowledge to work in a number of library settings including law, university and public libraries. Most employers require their librarians or library specialists to have a degree from a program that is accredited by the American Library Association.
- Master of Social Work (MSW)An MSW is a professional degree that allows you to begin a career as a social worker in a variety of capacities that range from working directly with children and families to developing social policy. In order to hold most jobs in this field, you need to earn a MSW from a program that is accredited by the Council on Social Work Education. In order to legally practice social work, you must also pass a licensing exam that varies according to the state where you live. There are CSWE accredited online programs, but admissions and program requirements differ between schools, so make sure to do your research.
Masters degrees in social work will generally require you to complete a certain number of hours working in the field during a practice or internship. This will be time in addition to the 2 to 3 years that you will spend fulfilling your coursework requirements.
There are some masters degree programs that simply should not be done online:
- Most MFA programs, aside from programs in creative writing, are not suitable to an online learning environment.
- For degrees that lead to jobs working with patients and clients, studying online will not give you the opportunity to learn methods of communication that you will need to know once you are on the job. In addition, many of these kinds of programs must be accredited by a special agency that oversees the profession. These agencies that are associated with the helping professions are aware of the limits to online education, and therefore don’t award accreditation to online programs very often.
For example, in the field of social work, you will find some online programs that are accredited by the Council on Social Work Education, which is the association that governs the profession. In psychology, however, there are no fully online programs that are accredited by the American Psychological Association, which is the primary psychological organization in the United States.
As a rule, be cautious when you are looking at online masters degrees that are not professionally accredited. Some schools that offer unaccredited programs take your money and give you a degree that is worthless.