Master of Science (M.Sc)

A Master of Science (commonly abbreviated as an MS or MSc) is a globally recognized academic degree awarded to graduates for the completion of their course. The degree generally takes one to three years to complete, but will vary depend on the country, institution, subject area and courses selected.  Programs resulting in a Master of Science are generally more strictly focused on scientific and mathematical subjects where students are expected to concentrate their academic energies on mastering the technical and practical facets of their field. Typically an MS does require a thesis but this can vary from program to program. Master of Science degrees are usually offered in science, engineering and medical areas including computer science, nursing, mathematics, biochemistry, and physics.

Overview

  • Recognition. Globally recognized.
  • Duration. Typically 1-3 years.
  • Subjects. There are several fields that are almost always considered to be sciences including biology, biochemistry, chemistry, physics, earth science, social science, general science, mathematics, sport/exercise science, computer science and almost all fields of engineering.
  • Assessment. Varies based on country, university and subject. For some programs there may be continual assessment that makes the final grade.  For others, it may be a heavily weighted thesis.
  • Grading. Varies based on country, university, and subject.

Master of Arts or Master of Science?

Prospective students trying to chart their course through college might be wondering what the difference between an MA and an MS is.  The primary difference between the two types of degrees is the focus of the coursework students are required to complete in order to earn them.

A Master of Science degree typically focuses on science-related disciplines whereas a Master of Arts focuses on liberal arts programs.  However what is considered to be an art of science may vary from institution to institution.

To cite some examples:

A particular subject, for example Economics, can be awarded a Master of Science at one institution, a Master of Arts at another institution or have the option of one or the other based on the curriculum selected. The University of Nottingham allows students to tailor their module choices in the Economics program to graduate with either an MS or MA.

In the UK, the London School of Economics offers a MS degree in nearly all subject areas, even those usually associated with an arts degree.  On the other hand, University of Oxford almost exclusively awards arts qualifications. Thus, in both instances, there are historical and traditional reasons for the differences.

To cite another example, in the US, Northwestern University’s School of Communication grants MS degrees in all of its programs of study, including theater, dance, and radio/television/film. University of California, Berkeley grants a MS degree in Environmental Economics and Policy from the College of Natural Resources, but a MA degree in Environmental Economics and Policy from the College of Letters and Science.

The differences pose a very important question for students – What degree should I choose?

What degree is right for me?

Academically, both an MA and MS are equally valued.  Both offer students an opportunity to gain knowledge and skills in their area of interest, and build a platform for employment or doctorate studies.  Students need to identify which is a better fit – which track caters to their chosen subject and strengths in that major. The coursework required for a Master of Arts degree generally allows students to sharpen their communication and writing skills. By comparison, the demand of a Master of Science degree typically fosters analytical skills and a detailed understanding of subject matter.

When deciding which degree program is the best fit, students need to identify:

  • Subjects. What subject they wish to study as it may only be offered as a MA or MS
  • Curriculum. Review the course content and teaching style thoroughly, as an MA in a subject vs. an MS may vary significantly from university to university.
  • Career options. Does the degree provide the right foundation for your future job?
  • Entry requirements. Do you have the appropriate entry requirements e.g. work experience or appropriate undergraduate degree?
  • Interests. Do you enjoy the analytical classes or does your interest lie on the creative side?

A Master of Science degree offers a multitude of study options for students, and upon graduation the opportunity to enter the professional world or pursue post-graduate studies.  It is imperative that students identify what subject area their interest lies in and subsequently enroll in a program that provides the best platform for their future endeavors.

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