Master of Arts

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A Master of Arts (Latin : Magister Artium or Artium Magister; abbreviated MA or AM) is a type of master's degree awarded by universities in many countries. The degree is usually contrasted with the Master of Science. Those admitted to the degree typically study linguistics, history, communication studies, diplomacy, public administration, political science, or other subjects within the scope of the humanities and social sciences; however, different universities have different conventions and may also offer the degree for fields typically considered within the natural sciences and mathematics. The degree can be conferred in respect of completing courses and passing examinations, research, or a combination of the two.


The Master of Arts traces its origin to the teaching license or Licentia docendi of the University of Paris. [1]



In Germany, the traditional equivalent of the postgraduate Master of Arts was the Magister Artium. This degree, which usually required 5 years of studies, did exist in former West Germany and in reunited Germany, but not in former East Germany where all degree courses led to Diplom degrees. Traditional Magister degrees were granted in social sciences and most of the humanities (International Business, Affairs, European Studies and Economics included), with the exception of visual and performing arts such as music and theatre.

The Magister Artium was either a double major degree or a combination of one major and two minors. German postgraduate Master's of Arts and Master's of Science degrees were introduced in 2001. Therefore, the new Master of Arts and the old Magister Artium degrees existed side by side until the phase out of the old degrees since 2010; Magister Artium degrees are still awarded (as of 2014). The new Bachelor of Arts and Master of Arts degrees together also require 5 years of studies, which is the reason why the new Master of Arts and the old Magister Artium degrees are considered equivalent.


In the Netherlands, the master of Arts and the Master of Science degrees were introduced in 2002. Until that time, a single program that led to the doctorandus degree (or the ingenieur degree in the case of technical subjects) was in effect, which comprised the same course load as the Bachelor and Master programs put together. Those who had already started the doctorandus program could, upon completing it, opt for the doctorandus degree (before their name, abbreviated to 'drs.'; in the case of ingenieur, this would be 'ir.'), or simply use the master's degree (behind their name) in accordance with the new standard (so, 'MA' or 'MSc'). Because these graduates do not have a separate bachelor's degree (which is in fact – in retrospect – incorporated into the program), the master's degree is their first academic degree.


The Polish equivalent of Master of Arts is "magister" (its abbreviation "mgr" is placed before one's name, like dr). At the technical universities, one is awarded with inżynier (engineer) after three years and then with "magister" after completing another two years of study and graduating. Such persons use titles "mgr inż". In the 1990s, the MA programs usually lasting 5 years were replaced by separate 3-year bachelor's and 2-year master's programs. The degree is awarded in the arts (literature, foreign languages, filmmaking, theatre etc.), natural sciences, mathematics, computer science fields, and economics. The completion of a research thesis is required. All master's degrees in Poland qualify for a doctorate program.

Nordic countries

In Finland, Denmark and Norway, the master's degree is a combined taught/research degree, awarded after 2 years of studies after completing the bachelor's degree. The student is required to write a scientific thesis.

In Finland, this master's degree is called a filosofian maisteri (Finnish) or filosofie magister (Swedish) degree, and it is abbreviated as FM or "fil.mag.".

In Sweden, there is still an intermediate degree between the Bachelor (kandidat) and Master called magister which only requires one year of studies, including a scientific thesis after completing the bachelor's degree. This fourth year typically constitutes the first half of Master programme. If not, it may be supplemented by a fifth year and a Master's thesis to obtain a master's degree in the field of study.

United Kingdom and Ireland

Most universities

The MA is typically a "taught" postgraduate degree, involving lectures, examination, and a dissertation based on independent research. Taught master's programs involve one or two years of full-time study. Many can be done part-time as well. Until recently, both the undergraduate and postgraduate master's degrees were awarded without grade or class (like the class of an honours degree). Nowadays, however, master's degrees are normally classified into the categories of Fail, Pass, Pass with Merit, or Pass with Distinction. This education pattern in the United Kingdom is followed in India and many Commonwealth Nations.

The Master of Laws (LLM) is the standard degree taught for law, but certain courses may lead to MA, MLitt, Master of Studies (MSt), and the Bachelor of Civil Law (BCL) at Oxford. All of these degrees are considered substitutes to one another and are thus generally equivalent.


In the ancient universities of Scotland, the degree of Master of Arts is awarded in universities as a four-year undergraduate degree, see Master of Arts (Scotland).

The Master of Arts is awarded in arts, humanities, theology, and social sciences. However, some universitiesparticularly those in Scotlandaward the Master of Letters (MLitt) to students in the arts, humanities, divinity, and social sciences.

Oxford, Cambridge, Dublin (conferred)

At Oxford, Cambridge and Dublin, the MA is conferred after a certain number of years without further examination to those who are Bachelors of Arts.

The title of Master of Arts may also be awarded, in the case of the oldest British universities only, without further examination to those who have graduated as Bachelor of Arts and who have the requisite years' standing as members of the university or as graduates. This happens, in England, only at the universities of Oxford, four years after completing a bachelor's degree, and Cambridge, six years after the first term of study. It is also the case at the University of Dublin in Ireland. The abbreviated name of the university (Oxon, Cantab or Dubl) is therefore almost always appended in parentheses to the initials "MA" in the same way that it is to higher degrees, e.g. "John Smith, MA (Cantab), PhD (Lond)", principally so that it is clear (to those who are aware of the system) that these are nominal and unexamined degrees. [2]

The MLitt is a research degree at the University of Cambridge, where the Master of Philosophy (MPhil) is the name given to the standard one-year taught degree with a unique research element, in contrast to the use of MPhil at other institutions for a research degree.


In February 2011, Labour MP for Nottingham East, Chris Leslie, sponsored a private member's bill in Parliament, the master's degrees (Minimum Standards) Bill 2010–12, in order to "prohibit universities awarding Master’s degrees unless certain standards of study and assessment are met". The Bill's supporters described the practice as a "historical anachronism” and argued that unearned qualifications should be discontinued in order to preserve the academic integrity of the taught MA. Further, they warned that the title gave Oxbridge graduates an unfair advantage in the job market.

Research by the universities watchdog, the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education, in 2000, showed that two-thirds of employers were unaware that the Cambridge MA did not represent any kind of post-graduate achievement involving study. [3]

On 21 October 2011, the master's degrees (Minimum Standards) Bill 2010–12 received its second reading. The Bill failed to complete its passage through Parliament before the end of the session, meaning it made no further progress. [4]

Oxford, Cambridge (earned)

A number of different master's degrees may be earned at Oxford and Cambridge. The most common, the Master of Philosophy (MPhil), is a two-year research degree. The Master of Science (MSc) and the Master of Studies (MSt) degrees each take one year. They often combine some coursework with research. The Master of Letters (MLitt) is a pure research master's degree. More recently, Oxford and Cambridge offer a Masters of Business Administration. Master's degrees are generally offered without classification, though the top five percent may be deemed worthy of Distinction. [5] Both universities also offer a variety of four-year undergraduate integrated master's degrees such as MEng or MMath. [6] [7] [8]

North America

In Canada and the United States, the Master of Arts (Magister Artium) and Master of Science (Magister Scientiæ) are the basic graduate-level degrees in most subjects and may be course-based, research-based, or, more typically, a combination of the two. [9]

Admission to a master's program is normally contingent upon holding a bachelor's degree. Some programs provide for a joint bachelor's and master's after about five years. [10] Some universities use the Latin degree names, such as Artium Magister (AM) or Scientiæ Magister (SM). For example, Harvard University, Dartmouth College, the University of Chicago, MIT, the University of Pennsylvania, and Brown University use the abbreviations AM and SM for some of their master's degrees. [11] [12] A Master of Arts may be given in a scientific discipline, common at Ivy League universities.

Many universities offer Master of Arts programs, which are differentiated either as Thesis or Non-Thesis programs. Usually, the duration for a Non-Thesis option is one to two years of full-time study. The period for a Thesis option may last longer, depending also on the required level of courses and complexity of the thesis. Sometimes, qualified students who are admitted to a "very high research" Master of Arts might have to earn credits also at the PhD level, and they may need to complete their program in about three years of full-time candidature e.g. at the universities Harvard in the US and McGill in Canada.

A thesis must be a distinct contribution to knowledge. It must demonstrate ability to plan and carry out research, organize results, and defend the approach and conclusions in a scholarly manner. The research presented must meet current standards of the discipline. Finally, the thesis must clearly demonstrate how the research advances knowledge in the field.

Related Research Articles

Ancient university British and Irish universities founded before 1600

The ancient universities are British and Irish medieval universities and early modern universities founded before the year 1600. Four of these are located in Scotland, two in England, and one in Ireland. The ancient universities in Britain and Ireland are amongst the oldest extant universities in the world.

Postgraduate education, or graduate education in North America, involves learning and studying for academic or professional degrees, academic or professional certificates, academic or professional diplomas, or other qualifications for which a first or bachelor's degree generally is required, and it is normally considered to be part of higher education. In North America, this level is typically referred to as graduate school.

A Bachelor of Arts is a bachelor's degree awarded for an undergraduate program in the arts and sciences. Bachelor of Arts programs generally take three or four years depending on the country and institution. They are contrasted with Bachelor of Science.

An academic degree is a qualification awarded to students upon successful completion of a course of study in higher education, usually at a college or university. These institutions commonly offer degrees at various levels, usually including bachelor's, master's and doctorates, often alongside other academic certificates and professional degrees. The most common undergraduate degree is the bachelor's degree, although in some countries there are lower level higher education qualifications that are also titled degrees.

A master's degree is an academic degree awarded by universities or colleges upon completion of a course of study demonstrating mastery or a high-order overview of a specific field of study or area of professional practice. A master's degree normally requires previous study at the bachelor's level, either as a separate degree or as part of an integrated course. Within the area studied, master's graduates are expected to possess advanced knowledge of a specialized body of theoretical and applied topics; high order skills in analysis, critical evaluation, or professional application; and the ability to solve complex problems and think rigorously and independently.

A bachelor's degree or baccalaureate is an undergraduate academic degree awarded by colleges and universities upon completion of a course of study lasting three to seven years. In some institutions and educational systems, some bachelor's degrees can only be taken as graduate or postgraduate degrees after a first degree has been completed. In countries with qualifications frameworks, bachelor's degrees are normally one of the major levels in the framework, although some qualifications titled bachelor's degrees may be at other levels and some qualifications with non-bachelor's titles may be classified as bachelor's degrees.

Doctorate academic or professional degree

A doctorate or doctor's degree or doctoral degree, is an academic degree awarded by universities, derived from the ancient formalism licentia docendi. In most countries, it is a research degree that qualifies the holder to teach at university level in the degree's field, or to work in a specific profession. There are a number of doctoral degrees; the most common is the Doctor of Philosophy (PhD), which is awarded in many different fields, ranging from the humanities to scientific disciplines.

Master of Science Masters degree awarded for post-graduate study in the sciences, or occasionally social sciences

A Master of Science is a master's degree in the field of science awarded by universities in many countries or a person holding such a degree. In contrast to the Master of Arts degree, the Master of Science degree is typically granted for studies in sciences, engineering and medicine and is usually for programs that are more focused on scientific and mathematical subjects; however, different universities have different conventions and may also offer the degree for fields typically considered within the humanities and social sciences. While it ultimately depends upon the specific program, earning a Master of Science degree typically includes writing a thesis.

Degree abbreviations are used as an alternative way to specify an academic degree instead of spelling out the title in full, such as in reference books such as Who's Who and on business cards. Many degree titles have more than one possible abbreviation, with the abbreviation used varying between different universities. In the UK it is normal not to punctuate abbreviations for degrees with full stops, although this is done at some universities.

The system of academic degrees at the University of Oxford can be confusing to those not familiar with it. This is not merely because many degree titles date from the Middle Ages, but also because many changes have been haphazardly introduced in recent years. For example, the (medieval) BD, BM, BCL, etc. are postgraduate degrees, while the (modern) MPhys, MEng, etc. are undergraduate degrees.

A licentiate is a degree below that of a PhD given by universities in some countries. The term is also used for a person who holds this degree. The term derives from Latin licentia, "freedom", which is applied in the phrases licentia docendi meaning permission to teach and licentia ad practicandum signifying someone who holds a certificate of competence to practise a profession. Many countries have degrees with this title, but they may represent different educational levels.

A Master of Engineering is either an academic or professional master's degree in the field of engineering.

Bachelor of Philosophy is the title of an academic degree. The degree usually involves considerable research, either through a thesis or supervised research projects. Despite its name it is, in most universities, a postgraduate degree.

A Lambeth degree is an academic degree conferred by the Archbishop of Canterbury under the authority of the Ecclesiastical Licences Act 1533 (Eng) as successor of the papal legate in England. The degrees conferred most commonly are DD, DCL, DLitt, DMus, DM, BD and MA. The relatively modern degree of MLitt has been conferred in recent years, and the MPhil and PhD are now available. The degrees awarded are dependent on which of the two ancient universities, the Oxford or the Cambridge, the archbishop chooses as his model. This is also related to the nature of the academic dress used.

The Master of Philosophy is an advanced postgraduate degree. An MPhil typically includes a taught portion and a significant research portion, during which a thesis project is conducted under supervision. An MPhil may be awarded to postgraduate students after completing taught coursework and one to two years of original research, which may also serve as a provisional enrollment for a PhD programme.

The Master of Letters degree is a postgraduate degree.

The degree of Master of Arts (MA) in Scotland typically refers to an undergraduate degree in humanities or social sciences awarded by one of the ancient universities of Scotland plus the University of Dundee and Heriot-Watt University. The first two years of the Scottish Master of Arts consist of ordinary Bachelor level courses; however, after these, students who are accepted to pursue the Honours route will complete more advanced subjects and write a dissertation in their fourth year. Students who choose to do a "general" degree will complete their third year at a lower level of specialisation, and receive a Bachelor of Arts (BA) or MA without Honours. For the postgraduate degree referred to in other places as "Master of Arts", Scottish universities usually award the degree of Master of Letters (MLitt) or Master of Science (MSc). Generally, non-ancient universities in Scotland, award arts degrees as Bachelor of Arts.

A magister degree is an academic degree used in various systems of higher education.

The Bologna process for standardisation of European higher education specified an undergraduate degree of at least three years called the "licence" or bachelor's degree, followed by a two-year diploma called the master's degree, then a doctorate, meant to be obtained in at least three years. Because of these indicated schedules, the reform is sometimes (erroneously) referred to as "3-5-8". The system applies to the European Higher Education Area.

Doctor of Philosophy Postgraduate academic degree awarded by universities in many countries

A Doctor of Philosophy is the highest university degree that is conferred after a course of study by universities in most countries. PhDs are awarded for programs across the whole breadth of academic fields. As an earned research degree, those studying for a PhD are usually required to produce original research that expands the boundaries of knowledge, normally in the form of a thesis or dissertation, and defend their work against experts in the field. The completion of a PhD is often a requirement for employment as a university professor, researcher, or scientist in many fields. Individuals who have earned a Doctor of Philosophy degree may, in many jurisdictions, use the title Doctor with their name, although the proper etiquette associated with this usage may also be subject to the professional ethics of their own scholarly field, culture, or society. Those who teach at universities or work in academic, educational, or research fields are usually addressed by this title "professionally and socially in a salutation or conversation." Alternatively, holders may use post-nominal letters such as "Ph.D.", "PhD", or "DPhil". It is, however, considered incorrect to use both the title and post-nominals at the same time.


  1. Herbermann, Charles, ed. (1913). "Master of Arts"  . Catholic Encyclopedia . New York: Robert Appleton Company.
  2. Debretts Correct Form (2013 edn) - Academics
  3. "Oxbridge students' MA 'degrees' under threat". Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 2 January 2013.
  4. "Parliamentary business". UK Parliment. Retrieved 2 January 2013.
  5. "Graduate courses A-Z listing - University of Oxford".
  6. "The structure of undergraduate courses at the University of Cambridge". University of Cambridge. Retrieved 28 May 2016.
  7. "Mathematics". University of Oxford. Retrieved 28 May 2016.
  8. "Engineering Science". University of Oxford. Retrieved 28 May 2016.
  9. Structure of the U.S. Education System: Master's Degrees, International Affairs Office, U.S. Department of Education, February 2008, retrieved 2010-02-25
  10. See, for example, the program run by Claremont Graduate University for graduates of the Claremont Colleges
  11. "Degree Programs - The Graduate School of Arts and Sciences". Harvard University. Retrieved 13 June 2013.
  12. "Degree Abbreviations - Harvard University". Harvard University. Retrieved 3 October 2015.