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What is a Master of Arts Degree?

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  • Written By: M.C. Huguelet
  • Edited By: Heather Bailey
  • Last Modified Date: 31 October 2016
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A Master of Arts degree, often abbreviated as MA degree, is a qualification which is generally awarded to those who have completed a master’s program in some area of liberal arts, humanities, or social sciences. The exact requirements of a Master of Arts degree can vary greatly by discipline, university, and country. Often, however, students in a Master of Arts program must attend lectures, perform research, and complete a final project or thesis. As individuals in Western countries earn college degrees in ever greater numbers, many feel that a Master of Arts degree is fast becoming a necessity for entry into relevant jobs.

The programs of study which can lead to a Master of Arts qualification are quite diverse. Generally, however, they fall within the realm of liberal arts, humanities, or social science. English, philosophy, and psychology are examples of subjects which may be studied for this degree.

Like most master’s degree programs, a Master of Arts degree program is generally undertaken by individuals who have already earned an undergraduate degree, and is usually more specialized and intensive than an undergraduate program. Upon earning a Master of Arts degree, some individuals go on to earn a doctoral degree by becoming further specialized in their subject of interest. Thus, a master’s degree may be seen as ranking between an undergraduate degree and a doctoral degree.

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Specific requirements of a Master of Arts degree can vary widely by discipline, university, and country. Masters of Arts programs commonly take one to two full-time years to complete, however. In addition, many involve a combination of classes and a heavily weighted final assessment. This final assessment may take the form of exams, a final research project, a fairly lengthy thesis or portfolio, or a combination of these. Some countries, such as Ireland, award the Master of Arts qualification for completion of a relevant program that is primarily classroom-based, and the Master of Philosophy (M.Phil) qualification for the completion of research-based study of the same subject.

In the late 20th century, individuals in Western nations began gaining access to college-level education in increasing numbers. Economic recessions and periods of widespread unemployment have also driven many individuals with undergraduate degrees to enroll in advanced degree programs to make themselves competitive in the job market. For these reasons, many feel that a Master of Arts degree is becoming a necessity for entry into jobs in the areas of liberal arts, social sciences, and humanities.

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