Differences between an MS Degree & an MA Degree

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If you have completed your undergraduate degree, there is always an urge to proceed to postgraduate level. At the postgraduate level, you might get torn between taking an MA Degree or an MS Degree. You have to make an informed decision in order to choose the correct academic path between these two Master’s Degrees. You can achieve this only by knowing what each entails and their differences as well.

Before exploring the differences between the two degrees, it is important to understand what they mean.

What is an MA Degree?

MA in MA Degree stands for Master of Arts. This is a basic postgraduate degree that takes between 1 and 2 years to earn. It is awarded in humanities and arts-related disciplines such as history and literature. For MA Degree, prospective students should be ready to study in fields such as – Education, English, Art, Languages, Communication, among others.

What is an MS Degree?

MS in MS Degree is an abbreviation of Master of Science. Similar to an MA Degree, an MS Degree is a basic postgraduate degree that takes one to two years to complete. It focuses on scientific disciplines such as Biology and Physics. If you choose to venture into such a program, there are various fields at your disposal, such as Economics, mathematics, computer science, biochemistry, public health, and engineering. You should also brace yourself for engaging scientific research, lab work, data evaluation, and analysis.

MA Degree and MS Degree Eligibility in the USA

MS Degree and MA Degree DifferenceBefore you worry about which of these two programs is best for you, it is important to check your eligibility. There are some conditions that you have to fulfill to quality for admission to any institute in the USA. Among these conditions are the following:

1. Transcripts

You should present relevant and valid mark sheets form all the educational institutes that you attended after high school. It is one of the requirements to qualify for admission for a master’s degree in any American institute.

2. 16 Years of Previous Education

You are also needed to have 16 years of educational experience across different levels.

3. Practical Experience

For some MS programs such as medicine, technology, and even education, practical experience is a requirement. You generally need to have some level of experience in your preferred field; a prior internship could come in handy.

4. Standardized Test Scores

To get admitted for a master’s degree in any college or university, you will also need to have valid test scores in the Graduate Record Exam (GRE) and English Proficiency Tests such as TOEFL and IELTS.

5. Other Requirements

Other parameters that may come in handy during your admission include academic records, research work, published work, work experience, and extracurricular activities.

Differences between an MS Degree and an MA Degree

The best way to get the answers to the questions, what is an MA, and what is an MS, is to get the differences between the two. These differences come in handy to establish a clear distinction between the two while expounding more on what each entails. Some of the differences between the two Master’s Degrees include the following:

1. Differences in Majors

One significant difference between an MA and an MS is the majors you are likely to explore in both. An MS is outright science-oriented, and you are likely to venture into science-related topics. Engineering, biology, chemistry, and physics are some of the majors you will encounter. This degree is constrained specifically to Engineering and Science field.

An MA degree, on the other hand, focuses on artistic and cultural topics. If you take an MA, you are likely to explore History, Literature, English, Languages, among other art-related majors.

2. Different Modes of Teaching

There are major differences between the two degrees in the way they are taught. MS programs emphasize on technical and practical research with intensive reading. MA programs adopt a liberal approach that combines research with desk classes. MA is mainly theoretical, while MS is purely practical. Consequently, MS is more involving and way harder to achieve than an MA.

As an MA student, you will be needed to do extensive research on the critical scientific phenomenon. You will be needed to collect data, analyze, evaluate, and come up with results. Moreover, you will partake in countless lab works, and do multiple tests. The idea is to write and defend a thesis on account of experiments, tests, and intensive research.

For most MA programs, there might not be much research and fieldwork. Most are theoretical and learned in a seminar like classes with advanced level reading. A formal written thesis might not be a requirement.

3. Differences in Courses

Each Master’s Degree program comes with several related courses, and these differ in the two programs. If you major in an MS program, you are bound to encounter technical and research courses that demand top skills. If you venture into computer science, for instance, you are likely to cover programming, computer virus, computer repairs, and security courses.

For MA prospective students, the courses are less involving and demand little technical skills. Taking a Master’s Degree in Literature, for example, is bound to expose you to poetry and linguistics classes.

4. Different Purpose and Prerequisites

The two programs might be on the same level of the academic journey, but they differ significantly on purpose and prerequisite grounds. MA programs tend to adapt a broad-spectrum approach to relevant disciplines. A student grains a deep comprehension of a preferred field that they might have pursued as undergraduates. However, they are allowed to adopt an entirely new field and focus on it. The disciplines involved are not as complex compared to those in MS programs.

With MS programs, the focus is on hard-science aspects of a field and technical skills. Moreover, to be considered for an MS, a student has to have a bachelor’s degree in the preferred discipline. The technicalities of these programs demand significant prior knowledge of the discipline to grasp it fully. The disciplines are outright more sophisticated and require more input than MA programs.

5. Fieldwork and Thesis Difference

In both programs, there is an extra practical component that is mainly taken during the last year of study. For MS programs, there is a practical project or a thesis to be made. For instance, if you are a computer science student, you might be required to study the effectiveness of a specific computer program or even the working of a particular computer component.

With MA programs, the projects are relatively smaller and less involving research-wise. In an art-related discipline, a student could be doing some art designs to display their abilities. In others, like education programs, a little fieldwork comes in handy.

The research engagements in MS programs are further way more expensive than typical MS projects. An MS program research could be demanding the use of high tech equipment and more involving fieldwork in a bid to prove, determine, or establish aspects of scientific phenomenon.

6. Terminal Degree

While exploring MS degree meaning and MA degree meaning, the terminal aspects of both should be on your mind. It is imperative to know what the fate of each at the end is. A terminal degree means the highest level an individual can get in a specific field. There is no other level beyond it.

MA programs are terminal degrees, and at the end of the study, there is a specific field. If, for instance, you are venturing in liberal arts or design, an MA degree is the ultimate level.

MS programs, on the other hand, are a stepping stone to doctoral degrees. Students taking these programs can proceed to pursue their PhDs in their relevant fields. For scientific and technical programs, the doctoral degree is the ultimate level.

However, this may not apply to all fields. Many MA students still hold their PhDs while MS students also dive into their careers after this level.

7. Time

Both MS and MA programs are expected to run for two years. However, MS programs tend to extend and consume more time. They come along with additional requirements that are bound to stretch beyond the two years. There are extensive research and engaging lab work that may demand more time and other resources to complete.

8. Job Market

The job market for these two programs also differs extensively. An MS program is majorly a prerequisite for individuals looking to pursue their PhDs. However, those in practitioner fields such as health and forensic psychology can seek entry-level careers in relevant fields.

An MA degree is a terminal degree that flaunts many practitioner options with a wide variety of scope. A graduate can fit in the education system, mental health fields, and private entities. An MA is described as a program for individuals who have established what career to focus on. For instance, if you want to venture into a mental health-related career, clinical psychology or counseling would be perfect for you.

Furthermore, with an MA, if you are not clear on a specific career, there are many general programs that you can take. You can take a program that has both practical and theoretical aspects to widen your career options.

9. Differences in Orientation

Master of Science programs exposes you to fields that primarily concentrate on the science or highly technical fields. However, depending on institutions, this may differ. Specific programs may be classified as scientific in one institution and art in another. Nevertheless, MS programs, as opposed to MA ones, are mainly about specialization. MA programs tend to be broad and may cover a vast field. Hence, MS can be broken down into multiple programs. Let’s assume that you are exploring the psychology field. With MS programs, you can focus on developmental, learning, experimental, or cognitive psychology individually. With an MA, on the other hand, you can cover more than one of those individual fields in a single program. For example – developmental and learning psychology.

10. Different Levels of Involvement

Both MS and MA programs are equally important since both are based on an individual’s interest. You choose what interests you. However, the levels of engagement in both differ significantly. MS programs demand more focus and involvement than MA once. They focus on advancing research in specific fields and deriving certain results. You could be tracking migratory patterns of bird species, establishing the effect of climate change on certain species based on comparative research.

An MA degree might not require a similar level of commitment and engagement. Such programs are mainly theoretical with limited fieldwork and research.

11. Differences in Admission

There is a small difference when it comes to MA and MS programs admission. While both may demand some prior knowledge on the area of specialization, MS requires academic or research experience in the preferred field.

MA admission is relatively less strict than MS. For an MA degree, you can have a bachelor’s degree in a similar field, take a language test, or provide relevant texts that prove you have what it takes to pursue your relevant field.

With MS admission, on the other hand, a bachelor’s degree is the best proof of your suitability to pursue your degree.

Benefits of a Master’s Degree

Pursuing a Master’s Degree, either an MS or an MA degree, comes with some benefits that can reflect positively in the job market. Such could include the following:

1. Specialized Knowledge

Pursuing a master’s degree comes in handy to add to your store of knowledge. It helps you to not only improve your expertise but also to build credibility in a specific field. If, for instance, you focus on one particular field, you become more competitive in that field.

A master’s program further helps you to perfect your abilities as well as learn new skills. You can also transit into a new field via a master’s degree.

2. Career Advancement

A master’s degree is the perfect way to advance your career into a more senior position. You get a chance to assume a position of leadership or management if you acquire a master’s degree. Organizations prefer individuals with advanced degrees and often recognize those with master’s degrees.

Furthermore, in most fields in the job market, the best way to gain a promotion or get specific jobs is by acquiring a master’s degree.

3. Increase Earning Potential

Acquiring a master’s degree increases your chances of earning higher pay. In the US, bachelor’s degree holders earn an average of $65,400, while those with master’s earn around $80,200 on average per year. There is a 23% difference between the two levels. The difference is bound to be even bigger between master’s holders and individuals with other lower education qualifications.

4. Lifelong Learning

A master’s degree program also comes in handy to perfect your research and fieldwork skills. This makes you better suited to solve challenging problems as well as enable you to tackle complex projects. Even better, the program arms you with lifelong lessons as well as adds to your knowledge on different issues related to your field.

5. Build professional Networks

A master’s program class is the perfect platform to build beneficial networks that may be helpful in the future. You not only get a chance to interact with highly learned individuals but also connect with professionals. Establishing such connections is vital in the job market. Such professionals are bound to contribute positively to your job search endeavors.

6. Secure Your Career

When you acquire a master’s degree, you gain an edge over other candidates in the job market. You are likely to be considered more in case of job opportunities. Even better, you are likely to be eligible for more jobs.

A master’s degree will also come in handy to secure your job in case of warranted layoffs. Organizations may not be willing to let go of their most qualified personnel.

Some of the most common MA programs in the USA include the following:

  • Master's of Arts
  • Master's of Arts Economics
  • Master's of Arts Psychology
  • Master's of Arts Theology
  • Master's of Arts Cultural Studies
  • Master's of Arts Communication
  • Master's of Arts Language Studies
  • Master's of Arts Political Science
  • Master's of Arts History
  • Master's of Arts Mental Healthcare
  • Master's of Arts Film Studies
  • Master's of Arts Area Studies
  • Master's of Arts Teaching
  • Master's of Arts International Relations
  • Master's of Arts Media

Some of the most common MS programs in the USA include the following:

  • Master of Science Computer Science
  • Master of Science Marketing
  • Master of Science Engineering
  • Master of Science Information Systems
  • Master of Science Data Science
  • Master of Science Business
  • Master of Science Finance
  • Master of Science Information Technology
  • Master of Science Mechanical Engineering
  • Master of Science Biology
  • Master of Science Accounting
  • Master of Science Management
  • Master of Science Economics
  • Master of Science Mental Healthcare
  • Master of Science Psychology


There might be apparent differences between MS and MA degrees, but both are equally important in their relevant fields. Both degrees offer their holder appealing benefits that prove their worth.