What is the Difference Between a Master’s of Arts and a Master’s of Science?

The difference between an MA and an MS degree is important for prospective graduate students to understand. The two degrees have commonalities as well as differences, and a student’s interests should be the deciding factor in the choice. All Master’s degrees involve advanced learning in a subject that is more specific and self-directed than Bachelor’s degrees. The MA degree, however, is geared towards those interested in humanities, while the MS degree is for students with more of an interest in science or mathematics.

What Do the MA and MS Degrees Have in Common?

Both MA and MS degrees require a Bachelor’s degree as a prerequisite and both take at least 2 years to complete. In both Master’s degree programs, the student will also be expected to work independently to a greater extent than in undergraduate programs. The focus will be on the practical application of knowledge, in a sense making the Master’s degree more of an active than passive educational experience.

What Makes the MA Degree Unique?

The MA degree focuses on humanities rather than science, which includes subjects like English, teaching, art and languages. Often learning will occur in seminars in which discussion is a primary method of teaching. The MA degree is most often a 2-year Master’s degree. In addition, a thesis may not always be required in these programs. The degree can be completed through coursework and research but sometimes can be completed through coursework alone (along with passing exams).

What Makes the MS Degree Unique?

The primary difference between an MA and an MS is that the MS degree focuses on science and mathematical subjects rather than humanities. These are subjects like computer science, engineering and economics. The degree is heavily research oriented as a primary method of teaching rather than discussion. Students can expect to spend many hours in the lab conducting research and doing analysis. Unlike the MA degree, the MS degree can sometimes run a course of more than 2 years. In addition, a thesis and defense of the thesis is a requirement in MS programs. Earners of this degree often go on to pursue a doctorate.

What Degree is Better?

As a psychology student considering graduate school, it is important to factor career aspirations into the decision of which graduate program to pursue.  If you are wanting to earn a doctoral degree for clinical work, research, or college teaching, you should focus on selecting an MS program.  If you are wanting to become a school psychologist, family counselor or organizational psychologist, you can consider an MA program.

All Master’s degrees have commonalities that distinguish the Master’s level of education from the undergraduate level. In a graduate program, the focus is more on practical application of knowledge and independent learning. MA degrees are for students with an interest in humanities subjects and will involve seminars and discussion. MS degrees are for students with more of a scientific mind or learning style and will involve a heavy amount of research, analysis and lab work. A student’s interests and goals should determine which degree is better for them.