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Overview of Masters Degrees

By Definition, graduate school or "grad school" is a school that awards advanced degrees, with the general requirement that students must have earned a bachelor's degree. Many universities award graduate degrees within the same institution that awarded you your bachelor's degree. Original research knowledge is often an important part of graduate studies, including the writing and defense of an original dissertation or thesis. The two graduate degrees offered in the United States are the master's degree and the doctoral degree; both involve a combination of research and coursework.

Graduate education differs from undergraduate education because it requires an increased depth of study, with greater specialization and concentration of training. Schoolwork and education are more self-directed at the graduate level than at the undergraduate level.

Graduate courses may be quite formal, consisting primarily of lecture presentations by faculty members. They may conversely be somewhat informal by placing emphasis on discussion and exchange of ideas among faculty and students. Graduate school seminars will involve smaller groups of students than lecture courses, and students are often required to make presentations as well as participate in discussions. Your performance in class and discussions will determine your success in graduate school.

Graduate school is a great undertaking, and it makes a lot of sense if you have a vision of what your career should be and possess the energy required to pursue it. Going to graduate school can expand you intellectually, and make expanded economic opportunities available to you. Before you embark on your graduate education, make keep sufficient focus or planning, otherwise, graduate school can deliver deep debt and professional frustrations. Your investment in grad school should be the conclusion of carefully considered goals and interests. If you are looking for a new challenge or want to take your education to the top, a graduate program is a great choice.

Before jumping into a program, ask yourself the following questions.

Master's Degrees: The master's degree is designed to provide additional education or training in the student's specialized branch of knowledge, well beyond the level of baccalaureate study. Master's degrees are offered in many different fields, and there are two main types of programs: academic and professional.

Academic Master's: The master of arts (M.A.) and master of science (M.S.) degrees are usually awarded in the traditional arts, sciences, and humanities disciplines. The M.S. is also awarded in technical fields such as engineering and agriculture. Original research, research methodology, and field investigation are emphasized. These programs usually require the completion of between 30 and 60 credit hours and could reasonably be completed in one or two academic years of full-time study. They may lead directly to the doctoral level.

Many master's programs offer a thesis and a non-thesis option. The degree is the same in both cases, but the academic requirements are slightly different. Students in non-thesis programs usually take more coursework in place of researching and writing a thesis, and they take a written comprehensive examination after all coursework is completed. Students in degree programs that include a thesis component generally take a comprehensive examination that is an oral exam covering both coursework and their thesis.

Professional Master's: These degree programs are designed to lead the student from the first degree to a particular profession. Professional master's degrees are most often "terminal" master's programs, meaning that they do not lead to doctoral programs. Such master's degrees are often designated by specific descriptive titles, such as master of business administration (M.B.A.), master of social work (M.S.W.), master of education (M.Ed.), or master of fine arts (M.F.A.). Other subjects of professional master's programs include journalism, international relations, architecture, and urban planning. Professional master's degrees are oriented more toward direct application of knowledge than toward original research. They are more structured than academic degree programs, and often require that every student take a similar or identical program of study that lasts from one to three years, depending on the institution and the field of study.

Professional degree programs usually require completion of between 36 and 48 units (one to two years of full-time study), and usually do not offer a thesis option. They do not always require that the bachelor's degree be in a specific field, but they may recommend a certain amount of prior study or coursework in the subject area.

Important Difference: One main difference between master's programs is whether or not they are designed for students who intend to continue toward a doctoral degree. Those that specifically do not lead into doctoral programs are known as terminal master's programs. Most professional master's degrees fall under this category. Credits earned in terminal master's programs may or may not be transferable or applicable in case you decide to continue toward a doctoral degree later on.

Some institutions restrict admission to certain departments solely to potential doctoral candidates, although they may award a terminal master's degree to students who complete a certain level of coursework but do not go on to their doctoral work. Other departments require a master's degree as part of the requirements for admission to their doctoral program.

Since policies vary from institution to institution and within various departments of each institution, it is best to check directly with individual graduate departments to determine the structure and admissions policies for their master's and doctoral candidates.

Online Masters Degree Programs

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Top FiveMasters
  1. MSIS: Systems Development Management
    30-08-2008 - Strayer University Online
  2. M.S. in Computer Science
    30-08-2008 - Walden University
  3. Master of Business Administration
    30-08-2008 - DeVry University's Keller Graduate School of Management
  4. Master of Science (MS)
    30-08-2008 - Capella University
  5. MBA/Information Technology
    30-08-2008 - Kaplan University
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