Earning a master's degree is standard for an array of advanced careers in fields ranging from business to health care. And based on findings from one report, it's becoming more popular. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, in 2010-2011, there were close to 731,000 master's degrees awarded in the U.S., representing an increase of over 250,000 from just a decade earlier. The most popular field for master's degrees in 2010-11 was business (187,213), followed by education (185,009) and health-related services (75,579).
There are a number of different master's degrees that students can earn depending on the major they choose to pursue. These include:
- Master of Science (M.S.) - The M.S. is a graduate level degree that is earned through the completion of a program in science, health, or some social science fields. M.S. programs tend to place an emphasis on research-based courses.
- Master of Arts (M.A.) - Students who earn this degree typically graduate from a program in one of the humanities, such as English, communications, philosophy, history or fine arts.
- Master of Fine Arts (M.F.A.) - The M.F.A. is earned by students studying majors such as creative writing, visual arts, filmmaking, dance and theatre. Coursework may be primarily made up of workshops which culminate in a large performance or composition instead of a dissertation.
- Master of Business Administration (MBA) - This master's degree immerses students in courses attuned to the general business world, but students can often choose between many different concentrations. These may include marketing, finance, accountancy, international business, project management and information technology.
- Master of Education (M.Ed.) - This degree is earned by educators who are looking to advance their careers and continue gaining knowledge.
Master's degree programs allow students to dig deeper into their preferred field of study, and may help lead to career advancement or higher pay. In general, master's degrees require more in-depth work than bachelor's degrees and focus on preparing students to be original contributors to their discipline. While classes in a bachelor's degree program may be primarily lecture based, classes in a master's degree program likely incorporate more discussion.
Depending on the program, a master's degree can typically be completed in one to three years. Longer master's degree programs usually involve workshops, labs or independent research. In rare cases, such as in M.F.A. programs, the degree may take up to four years, though the time is generally filled with creative work and studio workshops.
Master's degree students are generally taught both theory and application in their chosen field, and are asked to evaluate course material at a high level. In academic fields such as history, English or psychology, students may be required to conduct original research for a final thesis project. Master's degrees in business or education often include a professional internship or practicum instead of a thesis. Some schools offer accelerated master's degree programs that combine bachelor's and master's degree requirements. These programs typically take five years of dedicated coursework and may allow highly motivated students to get an earlier start on their master's thesis and/or the opportunity to further specialize in the undergraduate years.
Master's degrees are available in a diverse range of fields, so most students should be able to find a program that aligns with their personal and professional goals. For students pursuing an advanced degree in hopes of advancing their current career, online master's programs may provide the flexibility needed to balance a full-time job with graduate studies.
While earning a master's degree can be a large investment of time and money, it could potentially pay off. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the national median weekly wage of a master's degree holder was $1,300 in 2012, compared to $1,066 for a bachelor's degree holder. Additionally, the unemployment rate for individuals with master's degrees was only 3.5 percent in 2012.
Note: Bls.gov data is for individuals age 25 and older. Estimated earnings are for full-time workers.
To learn more about available online master's degree programs, request information from one of the schools below.
"Employment Projections: Education Pays," Bureau of Labor Statistics, January 28, 2013 http://www.bls.gov/emp/ep_chart_001.htm
"Master's degrees conferred by degree-granting institutions, by race/ethnicity and field of study: 2009-10 and 2010-11," Digest of Education Statistics, National Center for Education Statistics, June 2012, http://nces.ed.gov/programs/digest/d12/tables/dt12_304.asp
"Master's degrees conferred by degree-granting institutions, by race/ethnicity and sex of student: Selected years, 1976-77 through 2010-11," Digest of Education Statistics, National Center for Education Statistics, June 2012, http://nces.ed.gov/programs/digest/d12/tables/dt12_303.asp