Master’s Degrees – Postgraduate Academic Degrees
Almost every discipline that offers a degree program in the US and UK also has some form of Master’s degree. These are typically two-to-three year programs designed to take the basic training and knowledge provided in a Bachelor’s setting and shape it into a specialised and more nuanced understanding of a specific focal area within the discipline. For example, taking an English degree further, by specialising in rhetoric, literary interpretation, or creative writing.
What is a Master’s Program?
At its core, a master’s program is designed to strengthen the student’s skill set and elaborate that student’s knowledge in a particular discipline and to teach that discipline’s established professional methods. Because of that, it can be difficult to pin down a single program description that holds true across all master’s programs. After all, degrees in the sciences, arts, fine arts, and specialised programs like business, all have very different needs and focuses, and this means that they will be specifically formulated to reflect the kinds of work done in those disciplines.
There are a few key features to master’s programs overall that are worth noting, especially to students who do not know what to expect from an advanced degree program:
- No general education requirements: As an add-on to a bachelor’s program, most master’s programs do not require you to start at the basic educational level. Rather, they build on the things you have learned and go deeper from there. Although you may have prerequisites for your specific area of study, there are no general education requirements once you have completed your Bachelor’s degree.
- Better student/teacher ratios: The program is intended to take people with an established base of knowledge in the field, whether it be from a Bachelor’s degree or the equivalent field experience, to the next level. As there may be fewer students with such a solid base, postgraduate classes tend to be smaller, with more direct student/teacher contact.
- Project opportunities and experiential learning: Whether it is through internships and assistance programs or through opportunities to engage with research, professional projects and on-the-job opportunities make up a larger portion of graduate instruction than they do in undergraduate programs. This means you get more hands on approach in your chosen field.
- Methodology and enculturation: Many master’s programs are the building blocks for a PhD, or serve as the terminal degree in a field. This means that the programs are a more in-depth look at the philosophy of the field, and you have more opportunities for creative thinking and broader boundaries for research during your course of study.
What are the Benefits of Getting a Master’s?
Getting a master’s gives you the primary benefit of a more specialised skill set that makes you more competitive within the field. For many career areas, this does not necessarily translate to an automatically higher pay grade or title, but it does provide one with the toolkit necessary to advance more quickly, especially in practical fields like business. For some employers and positions, a master’s is absolutely necessary, and students will find themselves unable to advance without it.
It is also important to note that the master’s degree is the minimum requirement for teaching in most disciplines at the college level, which means that students whose career goals include an eventual professorship or time spent as a lecturer will find the master’s degree to be absolutely essential. It is also commonly viewed as a prerequisite to a doctoral program, and many PhD programs in the US and UK will place special emphasis on accepting candidates who not only have high test scores, but also have previous postgraduate degrees. This is true even when the master’s degree and the PhD program are not in the same discipline.
What Kind of Career Can You Expect with a Master’s?
Students who successfully complete a master’s within their desired discipline can expect advantages and opportunities that allow them access to more specialised and highly skilled jobs within their careers. These jobs are the difference between being on the line and in management in some areas like Engineering. In other fields, they are necessary steps toward becoming an independent practitioner or toward a teaching career.
Whether the master’s degree represents the end of your educational career or a middle step as you approach a full professional degree, it is a rare achievement that marks you as the bearer of a certain set of skills, one that requires more attention and more direct practice than the skills usually symbolised by a Bachelor’s credential. As such, a candidate holding a master's degree will often be iinterviewed first for positions of higher responsibility within an organization, even when it is not a requirement for the job.