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A Master of Arts ( ) is a postgraduate academic master degree awarded by universities in many countries. The degree is typically studied for in English, Fine Arts, History, Nursing, Humanities, Geography, Philosophy, Social Sciences or Theology and can be either fully-taught, research-based, or a combination of the two.

At Oxfordmarker, Cambridgemarker and Dublinmarker, it is awarded without further examination to those who are entitled to the undergraduate degree of Bachelor of Arts after a certain number of years, and in the ancient universities of Scotland it is awarded as a first degree to undergraduates. The Master of Arts degree traces its origin to the teaching licence, or Licentia docendi, for the University of Parismarker.

North America

The Master of Arts (Magister Artium) and Master of Science (Magister Scientiæ) degrees are the basic type in most subjects and may be entirely course-based, entirely research-based or (more typically) a mixture.

Admission to a master's program is normally contingent upon holding a bachelor's degree, and progressing to a doctoral program usually requires a master's degree. In some fields or graduate programs, work on a doctorate begins immediately after the bachelors degree. Some programs provide for a joint bachelor's and master's degree after about five years. Some universities use the Latin degree names, such as Artium Magister (AM) or Scientiæ Magister (SM). For example, Harvard Universitymarker, the University of Chicagomarker, MITmarker and the University of Pennsylvaniamarker use the degree abbreviations A.M. and S.M. for some of their master's degrees.

Graduate students in the Fine Arts typically receive a Master of Fine Arts (M.F.A.), a variant of the M.A. degree specific to a Fine Arts program.


The Polish equivalent of both Master of Arts and Master of Science is "magister" (its abbreviation "mgr" is placed before one's name, like Dr). In the 1990s, the M.A. programs usually lasting 5 years were replaced by separate 3-year bachelor and 2-year master programs. The degree is awarded in the arts (literature, foreign languages, etc.), natural sciences, mathematics, computer science fields, and economics. The completion of a research thesis is required. All Master's degrees in Poland qualify for a doctorate program.


In Denmark and Norway, the candidate degree is a combined taught/research degree, awarded after 2 years of studies after completing the bachelor degree. The student is required to write a scientific thesis.

This programme was earlier called a candidate degree, abbreviated as cand. and followed by a suffix denoting the subject of study - e.g. cand.mag. (Master of Arts), cand.scient. (Master of Science), cand.psych./cand.pæd.psych. (Master of Psychology), etc.

In both Norway and Denmark, there previously existed a higher degree, the magister degree, which in Norway required 7 years of studies including a 3-year research thesis, and was roughly comparable to a PhD.

United Kingdom and Ireland

The Master of Arts (M.A.) is awarded in Arts, Humanities, Theology and Social Sciences. However, some universities—particularly those in Scotlandmarker—award the Master of Letters (MLitt) to students in the Arts, Humanities, Divinity and Social Sciences. (It should be noted that the MLitt is a research degree at the University of Cambridgemarker, where the Master of Philosophy (MPhil) is the name given to the standard one-year taught degree, in contrast to the use of MPhil at other institutions for a research degree.)

The M.A. is typically a "taught" postgraduate degree, involving lectures, examination, and a short dissertation. Taught masters programmes involve 1 or 2 years of full-time study.

In law, the standard taught degree is the Master of Laws, but certain courses may lead to the award of an M.A., MLitt, Master of Studies (MSt), and at Oxfordmarker, the Bachelor of Civil Law (BCL). These degrees are all considered susbtitutes to one another and are thus generally equivalent.

Until recently, both the undergraduate and postgraduate masters degrees were awarded without grade or class (like the class of an honours degree). Nowadays however, masters degrees are normally classified into the categories of Pass or Fail (or Pass with Distinction).

The degree of Master of Arts may also be awarded, in the case of the oldest British universities only, without further examination to those who have graduated as Bachelor of Arts and who have the requisite years' standing as members of the university or as graduates. This happens, in England, only at the universities of Oxfordmarker and Cambridgemarker (see Master of Arts ). It is also the case at the University of Dublinmarker in Irelandmarker. In Scotlandmarker, the degree of Master of Arts is awarded in some universities as a first degree to undergraduates (see Master of Arts ). The practice of awarding these degrees of Master of Arts without postgraduate examination or coursework is very ancient although, among modern universities, anomalous.

This education pattern in United Kingdom is followed in Indiamarker and many Commonwealth Nations.

Theological M.A. degrees

Graduate theological degrees are amongst the oldest and differentiated Master degrees offered by universities. The prerequisite for enrollment in the following graduate degree programs is usually a Bachelor's degree.

The Master of Arts in Theology (M.A. in Theology) is a traditional academic graduate degree which consists in the study of theology, focuses upon a specific area such as dogmatic, historical, moral, sacramental, or scriptural, and normally requires the writing and defense of a thesis.

The Master of Arts in Practical Theology (M.A.P.T.) is designed to prepare students for careers in Christian ministry. The degree is styled to offer the student practical skills in a specialized area such as spiritual formation, missions, or Christian Education combined with a background in Bible, Theology, and Church History. For this reason it is often chosen by those who intend to enter directly into church or parachurch ministry. As it requires less hours than the M.Div. degree, it is not sufficient for ordination in some denominations.Various institutions of higher education offer other variations of the Master of Arts degree focused on theology generally or a specific aspect of theology.

In addition to the M.A., there are other master's-level and professional master's degrees dealing with or related to theology. These include the Master of Divinity (M.Div.), the Master of Theology (Th.M.), and the Master of Theological Studies (M.T.S.).


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