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Career Information for a Master of Arts Program

A Master of Arts is a respected degree that can boost an individual's salary considerably and lead to increased opportunities for employment and career advancement. Students who have obtained a Master of Arts degree can work in a broad range of fields, including counseling and teaching at the postsecondary level.

Master of Arts programs involve extensive study in a particular branch of the liberal arts. There are many topics of study available at the master's degree level, and they can lead to a variety of professions. Counseling and postsecondary teaching are two career paths for people who have earned a Master of Arts degree.

Essential Information

A Master of Arts (MA) is a graduate-level degree focused on a specific subject in the humanities. Classes are usually discussion-based seminars, and most programs do not require students to write a master's thesis (although there are programs with thesis options). Earning one of these degrees can provide students with the educational background necessary for a wide range of careers, including jobs as counselors and educators at two-year postsecondary institutions.

Counselor Postsecondary Instructor
Required Education Master of Arts (usually in psychology or a related field) Master of Arts (for jobs in junior/community colleges), PhD (for jobs in 4-year universities)
Other requirements License (requirements depend on the state) None
Median Annual Salary (May 2015)* $56,490 $72,470
Job Growth (2014-2024)* 8% 13%

What is a Master of Arts Degree?

A Master of Arts degree certifies that the holder has completed exhaustive study in a concentration within the liberal arts. Admission to a Master of Arts program usually requires a bachelor's degree with high undergraduate grades, good test scores and letters of recommendation from undergraduate professors. Humanities disciplines offering Master of Arts degrees also generally require an example of academic writing.

Significant portions of the degree program, which can last between two and three years, include seminar-based coursework, but some Master of Arts students will also be required to write a thesis based on original research.

Career Options for Master of Arts Graduates

Counselors

After finishing a master's degree in psychology or a related subject, aspiring counselors must gain state licensure before they can practice. Licensure requirements vary by state, but prerequisites for taking the state licensure exam typically include a master's degree in a relevant subject and a certain number of supervised practice hours.

Counseling professionals often specialize in one specific area, such as drug and alcohol, youth or marriage. However, the nature of the work is broadly similar across these fields of specialization. Counselors help people to overcome problems or situations with family, sexuality, education, drugs or mental health.

Some counselors even advise on career decisions. Depending on the exact specialty, counselors may work in schools, colleges, clinics, hospitals, physicians' offices, private offices or the homes of clients. Most counselors are required to hold a license or be certified in the state where they practice.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employment prospects for school and career counselors are expected to grow by 8%, or about as fast as the average for all occupations, from 2014-2024. Elementary and secondary schools account for the greatest employment of educational, school, guidance and vocational counselors, followed by colleges, universities and professional schools. The BLS reported an average annual salary among all school, guidance and vocational counselors of $56,490 as of May 2015.

Teachers at Junior/Community Colleges

Teachers with a Master of Arts degree hold most of the arts teaching jobs in 2-year community colleges. Teachers prepare lessons and assign tasks to students to be completed for grading. They improve students' skills and knowledge and may help students with techniques during practical sessions. Teachers with higher seniority may be responsible for designing curricula for their departments and supervising or evaluating the performance of junior teachers. Positions may be found in 2- and sometimes 4-year colleges, adult education centers, private schools and training consultancies. However, for most four-year university positions, applicants must have a PhD.

Employment opportunities for postsecondary teachers will grow at a rate approximately equal to the average of all occupations, at 13%, from 2014-2024, according to the BLS. Earnings also vary according to subject and employer, but the median annual salary for all postsecondary teachers was $72,470 in May 2015.

Counselors and postsecondary teachers both typically hold Master of Arts degrees in order to enter their fields. An MA is sufficient for teaching jobs at a junior or community college, while licensed counselors can practice as family counselors, school counselors or specialize in another subject of interest.

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