Master of Science Designation: What Does IT Mean?

Graduate students have the option of pursuing different master's degree programs. Learn more about what it means to earn the Master of Science designation.

There are key differences between Master of Science programs and other master's degree programs. Master of Science programs also differ from Bachelor of Science and PhD programs.

Master of Science Designation: Overview

A Master of Science (MS) is a graduate degree designation. Master's degree programs offer advanced teaching in a given subject, allowing students to further their careers or continue their education into a Ph.D. program. A Master of Science is usually awarded in a subject within the natural science, math, medicine or engineering field. Depending on the school, programs may be available in the following subjects, among many others:

  • Biology
  • Chemistry
  • Physics
  • Nursing
  • Civil Engineering

How Do MS Studies Compare to Other Master's Degree Programs?

An MS is an academic research-focused degree, which means that students focus on advanced courses in the field and writing a research-based thesis. Therefore, MS programs differ from professional master's degree programs, like Master of Engineering (MEng) programs, which often include industry-focused classes in topics like management and business. MS programs also generally take a full two years to complete, whereas professional master's degree programs may be finished more quickly. Upon graduation, MS-holders usually pursue academic or research careers, while those who finish professional programs generally go into industry.

MS programs also differ from MA programs in the sciences. For instance, some MA programs do not require a thesis, while MS programs almost always require students to submit a thesis before graduation. MA students may also take more courses outside of the field of study. In addition, MS programs are less likely to be available in part-time formats than MA programs.

How Do MS Studies Compare to Bachelor of Science Programs?

An MS is a graduate-level degree, while a Bachelor of Science (BS) is an undergraduate degree. Although there are some exceptions, many MS programs require applicants to have previously earned an undergraduate degree program in the same field, since graduate studies typically build on the introductory courses included within undergraduate programs. For example, a bachelor's program in accounting may teach the principles of federal taxation, while a master's-level course probes deeper to include corporate, partnership and stockholder tax laws. Master's degree programs may also allow students to choose a concentration within a broader field.

How Do MS Studies Compare to Doctorate Programs?

Although both MS and PhD programs are graduate-level programs, the requirements of PhD programs are typically much more extensive, usually taking around five years to complete. Students in PhD programs need to complete two to three years of core courses, often in the form of seminars and workshops, as well as two to three years of independent research leading to a final dissertation. MS-seeking students may take many of the same advanced courses as PhD students, but the research requirements are much less extensive, and MS programs only require a master's-level thesis for graduation. It is also important to note that grants, fellowship and stipends are often provided for PhD students, while MS programs require students to pay their own tuition.

In many cases, an MS degree can serve as an educational foundation for a PhD program. Students who complete their MS before entering the PhD program may be able to complete the PhD program in less than five years. They may also be able to continue the master's-level research they have already started and use the knowledge they have gained when writing their dissertation.

When considering enrolling in an MS program, it is important to understand how the degree differs from other master's degree programs, as well as bachelor's degree and PhD programs. Differences include the amount of research required and the length of the programs.

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