What is a Master's Degree?

A master's degree is a type of graduate degree earned after completion of an undergraduate degree like a Bachelor of Arts or Bachelor of Science. Typically the master's degree requires about 30 credits of coursework and takes 2 years of full-time study beyond the bachelor's degree to complete.

The master's degree sometimes entails completing comprehensive exams and a thesis in addition to the course work and can be awarded in all fields — usually presented as a Master of Arts (MA) or a Master of Science (MS), although some fields have discipline-specific degrees such as social work (Master of Social Work) and art (Master of Fine Arts).

Application Process

Master's programs are available at most college institutions that offer bachelor's degree programs, but choosing the right school and program is important to getting the most of your post-undergraduate education, so it may not serve you well to continue from your BA directly into an MA program at the same school. 

Much like undergraduate applications, master's applications require a few basic essential documents in order to apply — namely, you'll need your undergraduate transcript, letters of recommendation, cover letter and application essay, and, of course, an application fee. 

Typically, master's applications run concurrently with undergraduate applications, so like undergrad, you should begin to apply for a master's program in the first semester of your Senior (4th) year of the program and continue shopping around until you hear back in early January to late March on whether or not you were accepted.

Difference between Master's and Bachelor's Degree Programs

Unlike the undergraduate programs, master's programs often allow students to focus in on their field of study. Long gone are the days of taking general core curriculum courses like mathematics, science, and literature. So for example, a student pursuing a master's degree in writing wouldn't be taking a biology course as part of their 30 required course hours — instead, the student would take electives in essay writing or a particular form like a memoir or novella.

Another core difference is that the amount of classes offered varies greatly between the undergraduate and graduate programs. Whereas undergraduate schools offer most general interest classes like English Literature and Chemistry, masters schools only offer courses particularly suited to the degree itself. master's programs, therefore, allow for a more specific set of classes offered like Introduction to English Literature from 1500 to 1800 as opposed to a general catch-all class like English Literature offered in undergrad.

Should You Apply?

Are you feeling burnt out from your undergraduate courseload? Feeling strapped for cash or weighed down by the crushing debt of continued education? Finding yourself lacking in passion for the field of study you chose to pursue? If you answered yes to any of these questions, chances are a master's program isn't right for you — right now. 

Still, if you find yourself stuck in a career rut because you're overqualified for some positions but underqualified and undereducated for higher positions, you may want to pursue an advanced degree in your field to provide some needed clout to your resume and job applications. 

Ultimately, it's most important to determine if you're ready to commit to another 2 years of being a full-time student because if you're not motivated to graduate, no one at grad school is going to light the fire under you to get you moving and active — it's an entirely self-motivated degree. For that reason, it's pivotal that you and you alone are ready and willing to enter a master's program. 

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Kuther, Tara, Ph.D. "What is a Master's Degree?" ThoughtCo, Jan. 29, 2020, thoughtco.com/what-is-a-masters-degree-1685883. Kuther, Tara, Ph.D. (2020, January 29). What is a Master's Degree? Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/what-is-a-masters-degree-1685883 Kuther, Tara, Ph.D. "What is a Master's Degree?" ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/what-is-a-masters-degree-1685883 (accessed January 23, 2021).