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Academic and Professional Master's Degrees: What's the Difference?

By Joe Aguilar

The National Center for Education Statistics reports that in 2005, almost 13 million Americans held master's degrees. If you want to join the ranks of people with graduate-level educations, you may first need to make key decisions such as selecting your degree type. There are two main styles of master's degrees: professional and academic. Try to pick the option that best suits your career goals.

Joining the Workforce: Professional Master's Degrees

Professional master's degrees are "terminal," which means that they give the highest certification level in their field. Some examples of professional master's degrees may include the Master of Fine Arts (MFA), the Master of Business Administration (MBA), and the Master of Education (MEd). Because professional master's degrees teach career-oriented skills, people who earn professional degrees may usually enter the workforce right after graduation.

Ph.D. Preparation: Academic Master's Degrees

While professional master's degrees focus on building job skills, academic master's degree programs are centered around research. You might study for your Master of Arts (MA) or Master of Sciences (MS) degree in the humanities, sciences, or fine arts. During your program, you may gather field research, take courses in your specialty, and prepare an original thesis. Academic master's degrees are especially handy for people who want PhD degrees--some of which are available as online doctoral programs. Whether you want to earn your doctorate in English, mathematics, or foreign languages, your master's studies may prepare you for a stellar career in academia.

If you currently work a full-time job, you may want to think about online master's degree programs. Online master's degrees may allow you attend school during your free time, and you may be able to complete coursework from any computer with an Internet connection.

Sources

National Center for Education Statistics


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