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What Earning a Master's Degree Entails

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What Earning a Master's Degree Entails
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Most college students who seek a graduate degree have a master's degree in mind. What is a master’s degree and what does it entail? Although your college professors may advise you about  graduate school, there are many more master’s degrees awarded each year than doctoral.

Why seek a master’s degree?
Many seek master’s degrees to advance in their fields and to earn raises. Others seek master’s degrees to change career fields. For example, let’s say that you’ve earned a bachelor’s degree in English, but have decided that you want to become a counselor: complete a master’s degree in counseling. A master’s degree will allow you to develop expertise in a new area and enter a new career.

How long does earning a master’s degree take?
Typically, it’s two years beyond the bachelor’s degree, but those additional two years open the door to many career opportunities that are personally, professionally, and financially fulfilling. The most common master’s degrees are the master of arts (MA) and master of science (MS). Note that whether you earn an MA or MS depends more on the school you attend than the academic requirements fulfilled; the two are different only in name – not in educational requirements or status. Master’s degrees are offered in a variety of fields (e.g., psychology, mathematics, biology, etc.), just as bachelor’s degrees are offered in many fields. Some fields have special degrees, like the MSW for social work and the MBA for business.

What does a master’s degree require?
Master’s degree programs entail classes, similar to your undergraduate classes. However the classes are usually conducted as seminars, with a great deal of discussion. The professors tend to expect a higher level of analysis in master’s classes than undergraduate classes.

Most master’s degree programs require students to complete a master’s thesis, or an extended research paper. Depending on the field, your master’s thesis may entail conducting a thorough analysis of the literature or a scientific experiment. Some master’s programs offer alternatives to the master’s thesis, such as written comprehensive exams or other written projects that are less rigorous than theses. In service-oriented fields like clinical and counseling psychology, and social work, master’s degrees usually include a practicum or internship in which you learn applied skills like how to perform therapy.

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