Understanding the two types of programmes will help you build a more focused and relevant application for admission. Your application will easily stand out when it reflects the confidence that you have chosen the right programme based on your career aspirations and potential for success in graduate school, shares Advent Group’s Iliana Bobova, seasoned international education and career development coach. Ultimately, the type of a Master programme can make a big difference in your overall student and post-graduation experience.
1. Way of teaching
The first thought that comes into most people’s minds when thinking of the differences between an MA vs MSc is that an MA has more to do with humanitarian studies and an MSc deals mostly with hard science.
This, although somewhat true, is not exactly the case. There are many Master programmes that are offered in both MA vs MSc formats. An MA typically has a more balanced and liberal curriculum that combines desk research with class discussions, and essay writing with practical exercises in equal measure. Conversely, an MSc will focus heavily on theory, and put emphasis on doing lots of research and reading.
Still, both theory and practice are actively utilised by universities in perfecting the learning experience of Master students, regardless of the programme format. As Zornitsa Licheva highlighted in an article for the Access Masters 2018-2019 Guide, theoretical studies “helps students learn the ins and outs of their field or specialisation” while “the hands-on approach of practical learning enables programme participants to polish particular skills and techniques.”
Check out: How Master’s Programmes Differ
2. Faculty specifics
Make sure to research not only the university of your choice, but also the faculty where your desired degree is offered. A university can choose to offer a certain Master programme as an MA vs MSc. This depends on faculty policy.
As a general rule of thumb, you should be almost as interested in the reputation of the faculty as you are in the university itself. Often, a certain faculty will be more famous and offer better quality than the university as a whole. In many cases, a faculty will decide to present the same, or a similar, topic as both an MA vs MSc. For instance, the University of Westminster in London offers an MA as well as an MSc in International Economic Policy. This is another defining difference - an MA tends to be more focused on a subfield, whereas an MSc will mostly tackle the entire field. Think what you want to achieve with your Master programme – a slightly more focused overview of a specific topic (MA) or a broader, more knowledgeable understanding of an entire field (MSc).
3. Admission of Master students
Master programmes differ the least when it comes to admission processes and preparation. You can expect to be required to hold a Bachelor degree in a similar field, to take a language test such as the TOEFL or IELTS, as well as to produce some texts (essays, statement of purpose) which prove that you have sufficient qualities and existing knowledge in fields relevant to your chosen programme. In most Master programmes, universities will expect you to have at least some kind of relevant experience, but even without this it should not be a problem to be admitted if you show the necessary motivation and adequate language test scores.
The only noticeable difference between an MA and an MSc in terms of preparation, besides the obvious personal preference, is that some of the more demanding universities will expect you to have work experience when pursuing an MA, and academic or research experience when applying for an MSc.
4. Typical disciplines
Although not fixed to humanitarian studies, MA programmes do indeed tend to specialise in fields such as administration, journalism, human resources, tourism, sociology, and all kinds of subjects related to arts such as photography, music and architecture.
Master programmes in exact sciences such as information technology, mathematics and engineering are almost exclusively presented in the MSc format. The same goes for natural sciences such as physics, chemistry, biology and geology, as well as theory and research centric studies such as medicine and pharmaceutics.
However, there are Master programmes that can be found in both formats. These include major areas such as finance, marketing, political sciences and economics.
The difference lies once again in the way of teaching, how the course is organised, the desired outcome, and of course the ensuing job prospects for Master students.
5. Job prospects
Speaking of job prospects, the most significant difference between an MA and MSc is what students tend to do after graduation.
A common misperception among prospective Master students is that an MSc will make you less employable. This is not true.
Firstly, there are the typical MA and MSc fields that we discussed above. Employers will actually expect you to have the appropriate type of Master’s for your particular field. Secondly, getting an MA or an MSc in the disciplines that offer both will typically mean that you have the option to branch in two directions – a professional career for an MA degree or an academic career for an MSc degree. That is not to say that you will be stuck doing either for the rest of your life.
For instance, a Marketing MA graduate could become a New Product Manager in a growing company, and a Marketing MSc graduate could become an assistant in a university and later pursue a PhD, or alternatively seek employment as a Marketing Strategy professional in a large corporation.
This is what you need to remember about the two types of Master programmes: an MA gives you the skills and knowledge to be a great professional and an MSc gives you the skills and knowledge to understand your profession in great depth.
Ultimately, whichever type of degree programme you go for, it will not be the decisive factor for successful employment. According to the Higher Education Graduate Outcomes Statistics 2020 study, for instance, graduates from the 2017/18 academic year who were in employment or unpaid work accounted for 81% of survey respondents, including 10% who were engaged in both employment and further study. The bottom line is that your academic performance and ambition will shine through as much more important for most potential recruiters.
The best part is that no matter which format they decide on, Master students can always switch direction. Your career path will always be a matter of personal choice.
Check out: How to Finance Master’s Studies
Your comments and questions are welcome. Need more details about MSc and MA? Just ask in the comments box below.
Check out our Master programmes infographic: