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A master's degree is an academic degree granted to individuals who have undergone study demonstrating a mastery or high-order overview of a specific field of study or area of professional practice. Within the area studied, graduates possess advanced knowledge of a specialized body of theoretical and applied topics; high order skills in analysis, critical evaluation and/or professional application; and the ability to solve complex problems and think rigorously and independently.

In some languages, a master's degree is called a magister, which is Latin for master (teacher), and magister or a cognate can also be used for a person who has the degree. There are various degrees of the same level, such as engineer's degrees, which have different names for historical reasons. See List of master's degrees.

There has recently been an increase in programs leading to these degrees in the United States; more than twice as many such degrees are now awarded as compared to the 1970s.

Types and titles

The two most common types of master's degrees are the Master of Arts (M.A.) and Master of Science (M.S. or M.Sc.); these may be course-based, research-based, or a mixture of the two. Some universities use the Latin degree names; because of the flexibility of word order in Latin, the Master of Arts and Master of Science may be known as magister artium or artium magister and magister scientiæ or scientiarum magister, respectively. Harvard Universitymarker and the University of Chicagomarker for instance, use A.M. and S.M. for their master's degrees and MITmarker uses S.M. for its master of science degrees. Master of Science often is abbreviated MS or M.S. in the United States, and MSc or M.Sc. in Commonwealth nations and Europe.


There are a range of pathways to the degree, with entry based on evidence of a capacity to undertake higher degree studies in the proposed field.A dissertation may or may not be required, depending on the program.

The master's is usually offered at a postgraduate level, although it is also offered as an undergraduate degree. Some university programmes provide for a joint bachelor's and master's degree after four or five years.


In the recently standardized European System of higher education (Bologna process), a master's degree corresponds to a one- or two-year postgraduate program (60 to 120 ECTS credits) undertaken after at least three years of undergraduate studies. It provides higher qualification for employment or prepares for doctoral studies. In general, though, the structure and duration of a program of study leading to a master's degree will differ by country and by university:
  • In some systems, such as those of the USAmarker and Japan, a master's degree is a postgraduate academic degree awarded after the completion of an academic program of one to six years in duration.
  • In the systems of a limited number of countries, such as England, Scotland (students entering their education after July 2007), and Ireland, a master's degree can be both an undergraduate academic degree awarded after the completion of an academic program of four (or sometimes five) years, or a postgraduate academic degree awarded after the completion of an academic program of one to two years.


In countries in which a master's degree is a postgraduate degree, admission to a master's program normally requires holding a bachelor's degree (in the United Kingdom an 'honours' bachelor degree), although relevant work experience may qualify a candidate. Progressing to a doctoral program sometimes requires that the candidate first earn a master's degree. In some fields or postgraduate programs, work on a doctorate begins immediately after the bachelor's degree, but the master's may be earned along the way, as a result of the successful completion of coursework and certain examinations. In some cases the student's bachelor's degree must be in the same subject as the intended master's degree, or in a closely allied discipline; in others, the subject of the bachelor's degree is unimportant.

Comparable European degrees

In some European countries, a magister is a first degree and may be considered equivalent to a modern (standardized) master's degree (e.g., the Germanmarker university Diplom/Magister, or the similar 5-year Diploma awarded in several subjects in Greekmarker, Spanishmarker, Polishmarker, and other universities and polytechnics).

In Italymarker the Master's degree is equivalent to the 2-years Laurea Magistrale, whose courses start after earning the 3-years Laurea Triennale (roughly equivalent to a Bachelor's degree). Architecture, Law, Pharmacy and Medicine faculties have not adopted these two degrees (commonly called "tre più due", i.e. 3+2) and are still earned after 5- and 6-years courses respectively.

In Francemarker, the previous equivalents of master degrees (DEA and DESS) have been replaced, following the Bologna Process, by both a Research Master (Master Recherche) and a Professional Master (Master Professionnel). The first was said to prepare for a PhD and the second one for professional life but the difference between these two masters tends to disappear and one would only speak about a "Master". A Research or Professional Master is a 2-year postgraduate training usually accomplished after a 3-year training, the Licence. The first year of the master is called a "Master 1" (M1) and the second year of the Master is called a "Master 2" (M2). The Grandes écoles usually recruit in the third year of the Licence and offer both the third year of the Licence and a complete 2-year master degree.

In Switzerlandmarker, the old Licence (four to five years in duration) is considered equivalent to the master's degree.

In Denmarkmarker the title candidatus or candidata (female) abbreviated cand. is used as a master's equivalent. Upon completion of for instance, a engineral master's degree, a person becomes cand.polyt. (polytechnical). Similar abbreviations, inspired by Latin, applies for a large number of educations, such as sociology (cand.scient.soc), economics (cand.polit. or cand.oecon), law (cand.jur), humanities (cand.mag) etc. A cand. title requires the obtainment of a bachelor's degree. In Sweden, the title of kand. equivalates to a bachelor's degree.

In the Netherlandsmarker the titles ingenieur (ir.), meester (mr.) and doctorandus (drs.) may be rendered by the letter M (from Master). While such titles are used before one's own name, the letter M is used behind one's own name. Since the Bologna process, they have been replaced as: MSc instead of ir., LLM instead of mr. and MA or MSc instead of drs. Those who bear the titles MSc, LLM and MA may still use the old-style titles (ir., mr. and drs.) corresponding to their field of study. Bearers of foreign Master's degree are able to use the titles ir., mr. and drs. only after obtaining a permission to bear such titles from Informatie Beheer Groep. Also, in the Netherlandsmarker there are Master's degrees specific for colleges (polytechnics or universities of applied arts/sciences) graduates, using the letter M and a shortcut of their field of study, other than A and Sc.

See also


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