Higher education students study primarily for a specific qualification. These qualifications indicate both the level of complexity of the material being studied and also the fact that student has achieved the standards required for the award of an academic title. The most common academic qualifications are a bachelors degree, a Masters degree and a Doctoral degree. The Masters degree is higher than a Bachelors degree, but below the level of a Doctorate.
Different types of Masters degree
There are a number of different types of Masters degree. Originally, in pre-modern times, the name given when a degree was awarded depended on the perceived status of the subject being studied. Thus, a program of study in Theology would gain a student a Masters, while the same type of program in, say, Rhetoric, would be awarded only a Bachelors degree. Today, things are very different although, within the UK system, remnants of the old practices remain.
MPhil (Master of Philosophy) – a research degree which demonstrates a high level of capability in research methodology and a high level of knowledge of a subject area, but which does not require the student to have made an original contribution to knowledge. (That is the requirement for the award of a PhD).
MRes (Master in Research) – a program which is made up of 50 per cent taught material with a 50 per cent research component. this is often used as preparation for PhD-level study.
The taught Masters
MA , MSc or others such as MTh (Master of Arts / Master of Science / Master of Theology) – taught programs which would typically require a third of its study to be done through research. There are two types of taught Masters. Those that have the purpose of deepening knowledge and understanding in a subject which a student has previously studied and those that have the purpose of converting a student to a new subject they have not previously studied. Typically, the former will be in an academic area, while the latter will be of a more vocational or professional nature.
Hangovers from the past
In the four ancient Scottish universities (Aberdeen, Edinburgh, Glasgow and St Andrews), an MA is awarded for an undergraduate degree which elsewhere would be called a Bachelors.
If someone has the qualification MA (Oxon) or MA (Cantab), it is the award of a Masters from either the University of Oxford or the University of Cambridge and this qualification is awarded, not for additional study following a Bachelors, but for having paid a small fee 12 months after initial graduation!
Before deciding to study for a Masters program, make sure you check out both the content, the purpose and the type of Masters being offered and match it against your requirements.