What Are Masters Programs?

Learn about the areas of study, prerequisites and graduation requirements for a variety of master's degree programs. This graduate training is primarily offered by 4-year colleges and universities.

In a master's degree program, students can engage in graduate-level academic study in a variety of different fields.

An Overview of Master's Programs

A master's degree is one of the four basic types of degrees, which include associate, bachelor's, master's and doctoral degrees. Master's programs take 1-2 years to complete and may be offered on campus, online or in accelerated formats. They are available in many different fields of study, including:

  • Education
  • Business administration
  • Mathematics
  • Biology
  • Computer science

Degree Types

There are many types of master's degrees, including the following:

  • Master of Science (M.S.)
  • Master of Arts (M.A.)
  • Master of Business Administration (MBA)
  • Master of Fine Arts (MFA)
  • Master of Divinity (M.Div.)
  • Master of Education (M.Ed.)

Of these, M.S. and M.A. programs are the most common.

Admissions Requirements

Students interested in pursuing a master's degree must first apply to a graduate school. Admissions requirements for graduate school may include:

  • Completion of a bachelor's degree from an accredited school
  • A minimum undergraduate GPA
  • College transcripts
  • Letters of recommendation
  • Written essays about the student's educational and career goals
  • Standardized test scores from one or more of the following:
    • Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT)
    • Graduate Record Examination (GRE)
    • Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL)

Graduation Requirements

Prior to graduation from a master's program, students must complete a certain number of credit hours of coursework. Specific course requirements vary by program. In addition, many master's degree programs require students to complete a written thesis or thesis project. A thesis is a written report of a student's research findings on a topic of his or her choice. However, there are also programs that offer non-thesis options, in which students may be required to take a comprehensive exam before graduating. Such an exam tests the student's knowledge in their chosen area of study and may be composed of both oral and written components. A final project may also take the place of a thesis.

In master's degree programs, individuals who have earned a bachelor's degree pursue advanced studies through a master's degree program, which typically includes high-level coursework and may also require thesis research.

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