Considering a master’s degree? Here are the different types.

Valentin Schinnerl and John Roman, U-Multirank

Dec 16, 2020 09:08 (CET)

Considering a master’s degree? Here are the different types.

Basically, one can distinguish between two types of master's degrees: On the one hand there are course-based (courses) and on the other hand research-based (research project) degrees. Course-based master's degrees are characterised by the fact that they are very structured with course models, lectures and seminars, whereas research-based degrees include a specialised research project. Another minor difference is that research-based master’s degrees last on average a bit longer than course-based master’s.

If you’re searching for the perfect master’s pogramme, then we want to help. This blog post aims to provide readers with information on the different types of master’s degrees available. To begin, let’s start with the course-based degrees:

Master of Arts (MA)

A Master of Arts (MA) is usually awarded to students who are categorised in art, or social science courses. Examples of courses of study are political science, communication science, linguistics, geography, literature, art and music. The structure of the programs is characterised by lectures and seminars. Students usually achieve the degree through a research paper, research project or similar project.

Tip: To explore master’s degrees in the above-mentioned study subjects, visit our Study Subject pages.

Master of Science (MS, MSc)

A Master of Science (MS,MSc) is normally awarded to students whose course of study is classified in the natural sciences. Examples are biology, chemistry, physics, engineering and health. However, there are also subjects that can be placed in both MS and MA, such as economics and social sciences. In such cases, the university may choose one type - often it is the case that a Master of Science has a stronger research component. The final exams are the same as for the Master of Arts, i.e. with final papers on a research project.

Tip: To explore master’s degrees in the above-mentioned study subjects, visit our Study Subject pages.


Now that we have introduced the course-based study programmes, we will now look at the research-based master's degrees. These are usually much more specialised and – as the name suggests - focus on research.

Master of Research (MRes)

A Master of Research serves as a training for researchers. As the name of the course says, the focus is on research. This gives students an advantage if they want to work on a PhD later, or pursue a career in research. Some universities do not award this title, but classify it as a Master of Science, so it is worth checking the study programme at the respective university carefully.

Master by Research (MPhil)

Another master's degree we would like to introduce to you is, as the name suggests, also related to research - Master by Research (MPhil). Master students are given the opportunity to focus independently, individually and in depth on a large and complex research project. This programme is also often considered a precursor to a PhD, giving students the opportunity to test themselves and see if a PhD is another follow-up option. Typically, this master takes longer than other master’s degrees, although the prestige and duration can vary greatly by institution and country.

In the following section, we would like to introduce you to master's degrees that specialise in certain professions and provide practical content for the specific profession, as well as master's degrees that deal with a specific field of study and advance career development. 

These master’s also vary in classification and content from country to country and from institution to institution.

Master of Business Administration (MBA)

We now begin with the Master of Business Administration (MBA), which is designed to provide students with explicit skills and knowledge essential for career advancement into business and management positions. Students receive a broad education in business so they can apply their knowledge to many careers. Many of these master's degrees have a requirement of at least three years of work experience. There is also the option to specialise the MBA in a particular field, such as human resources or finance. Similar master's degrees are the Master of Professional Accountancy (MPacc) or Master of Science in Information Systems (MSIS).

Tip: To explore MBA programmes, visit our Study Business Studies page.

Master of Public Administration (MPA)

The Master of Public Administration is similar to the MBA, but instead of focusing on the private sector, it prepares students for a career in public administration. Students can specialise in specific areas of study that are exciting for the public sector, such as the environment, international administration, or technology. The MPA combines academic and professional content with a focus on policy analysis and management. Graduates of this degree launch careers in the public sector or work for NGOs. Similar master's degrees include Master of Public Policy (MPP), Master of Public Affairs (MPA) and Master of International Affairs (MIA), and Master of Urban Planning (MUP).

Master of Public Health (MPH)

The Master of Public Health (MPH) programme engages academic and professional elements with the goal of providing students with interdisciplinary insight into the field of public health. The goal here is to provide students with skills to monitor, diagnose, and regulate community health concerns through public policy. Specializations are often found in epidemiology, global health and occupational health, and nutritional sciences.

Tip: To explore health programmes, visit our study subject pages page.

Master of Social Work (MSW)

The Master of Social Work (MSW) specifically prepares students for careers in social work that focus on improving the lives of individuals, groups, and communities. There are two options for specialization - one prepares students to work with clients and the other prepares students to work at the macro level, i.e., in policy advocacy groups or community organizations.

Tip: To explore MSW programmes, visit our Study Social Work page.

Master of Laws (LLM)

The Master of Law (LLM) degree is usually obtained after completion of a professional law degree. The goal of the LLM is for students to gain additional knowledge in specific areas of law, thus expanding their basic knowledge and adding a research component to their studies.

Tip: To explore LLM programmes, visit our Study International Law page.

Master of Fine Arts (MFA)

The Master of Fine Arts (MFA) degree is awarded for a creative degree. Most often in disciplines such as fine arts, performing arts, and studio arts. Students pursuing this degree study creative writing, graphic design, photography, theater, and painting, for example. The content of this degree is usually very practical and the final project in most cases is a major project.

Master of Music (MM/MMus)

The Master of Music (MM/ MMus) degree is designed for college students who wish to combine advanced music theory with advanced study in a chosen applied field. This specialty area may be music performance, conducting, or composition. The master's prepares students to teach music or arm them for the path of becoming a professional in a specialized field.

Master of Education (MEd, MSEd, MIT, MAEd, MAT)

The Master of Education degree (MEd, MSEd, MIT, MAEd, MAT) prepares students for careers in education. In many cases, students become certified to teach through this degree, and in some cases, already certified teachers are introduced to specialized skills dealing with curriculum, special education, counseling, or administration. The curriculum is course-based and includes a teaching internship so students can experience the day-to-day life of a teacher.

Tip: To explore education programmes, visit our Study Education page.

Master of Engineering (MEng)

The Master of Engineering (MEng) degree can be either academic (focusing on engineering theories and practices) or professional (focusing on preparation in the workplace). Coursework may require students to publish papers in scholarly journals, or it may include internships in the specific professional fields. There is also the possibility that both approaches must be combined in one course of study. At the end of the program, students usually complete an independent research-based thesis.

Tip: To explore engineering programmes, visit our Study Engineering pages.

Master of Architecture (M.Arch)

The Master of Architecture (M.Arch) aims directly at the education of architects. The content of the program includes internships, projects, final exams, and a final thesis that deal with subject areas such as design, building science, architectural history, building technology, and professional practice. In order to be awarded the M.Arch degree, one must pass a project or thesis that deals with the professional practice of an architect.


Now that we have introduced you to some common master's degrees, we would just like to briefly provide you with information about requirements.

Basically, there is no single answer to the question of requirements for a master's degree program, as these requirements can vary greatly. Of course, in most cases a bachelor's degree must be acquired beforehand. In some cases, professional experience is crucial, or a portfolio must be submitted or certain achievements must have been made in the bachelor's degree. Nevertheless, it is important that you inform yourself individually, since there can be differences in requirements from institution to institution, even for the same master's program.

In these places you get the opportunity to compare universities and study programs with each other. You will also find information about the countries and cities where you can study. A look at our blog can also always be worthwhile, because there various topics around the student life were taken up and treated.


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