MS vs MA Degree
MS vs. MA Degree
There are several ways in which institutions of higher learning differentiate between a Master of Science and a Master of Arts Degree. Most of the undergraduate designations for degrees in the humanities or liberal arts are designated as Bachelor of Arts degrees, while degrees in the sciences, in technology and in technical fields such as engineering are Bachelor of Science degrees. The same rule extends, in general, to the graduate level.
However many graduate programs offer both an MS and an MA in the same discipline. Usually the difference is a slightly higher level of academic requirements for the MS degree. Increasingly, graduate programs in the sciences are allowing undergraduates to enroll in PhD programs and are no longer offering a master's degree as a terminal degree option. Virtually all Departments of Psychology in traditional universities have rigorous PhD programs but do not offer a master's degree program. A school that offers a Master of Arts in Psychology is generally offering a degree in counseling that may or may not qualify the recipient for licensure as a counselor; but will not qualify anyone as a certified Clinical Psychologist. That position requires a doctorate.
There has been some creativity in rejuvenating the MS in the sciences: one example in chemistry is a department that has introduced a limited program for the Master of Science in Chemistry with a specialization in product development. That degree is the direct result of developments in biotech and in electronics where chemistry professionals are needed for business purposes and not for research. Another example of an academic discipline where the master's degree has become a necessity is the field of computer science. A student with a bachelor's degree can enroll in the PhD program, but most schools make a Master of Science in Computer Science or in Electrical Engineering & Computer Science available. Some schools offer two variations of the degree: one for students who have a background in the field and one for students who do not.
The MA degree is granted in education and social science programs: a Master of Arts in Education (MAEd) is still the required degree for teaching in several states. It has become customary in many schools to eliminate the mention of the word "Arts:" thus the Master of Education (M.Ed.) degree granted by many schools which is the same as the MAEd. The same can be said for some MS degree programs as well. Some schools award the commonly used Master of Social work, while some still offer the Master of Science in Social Work (MSSW) or the Master of Science in Social Administration (MSSA).
The Master of Fine Arts (MFA) degree is a close relative of the Master of Arts degree but used to designate graduate studies in one of the several fine arts options such as painting, writing, sculpting, metalwork, ceramics, etc. There are also specializations such as the Masters in Music which is a fine arts degree, and the Master of Arts in Writing which is often awarded in creative writing programs, whereas it would be an MFA in Writing at an academy for the arts.
The number of degree titles for academic accomplishments in the United States has doubled since the 1970s. There are not a lot of conclusions to be drawn about the differences between an MA degree and an MS degree other than the academic discipline to which they are linked. And you can be sure that there are specialized uses for these designations, spun off as academic fields of endeavor have become more complex and multifaceted.