Masters Degree - Which one is right for me?

Masters Degree - Which one is right for me?

Returning to university to complete a masters degree is a popular choice. Whether we’re recent graduates, or if we’ve already spent some time in the world of work, a masters degree is an enticing option. Further study can enhance your CV, allow you to develop specialist expertise and skills, and even provide you with the opportunity to switch careers or go on to study a PhD. But there is a huge range of different types of masters degrees available ranging from MBA, LLM to MSc and M.A. So much variety can be confusing – how do you know which masters type to pick?

MastersAvenue have surveyed more than 7.5 million professionals around the world, asking them about their careers and educational backgrounds. The results show that your career prospects are strongly influenced by which masters degree you choose. Degrees that have a clear professional applications – like Business or Economics – offer a tremendous variety of career options, while masters in disciplines like Geology or Art relate to narrower professional fields. Drawing upon our research, and in-house expertise, we’ve drawn up a straightforward guide to help you through the process of choosing a masters that is right for you. If you don’t know your MEng from your MLitt, read on!


Research masters versus taught masters

You can divide all masters degrees into two, broad categories, depending upon the structure of the course they provide – taught (or course-based) masters, and research masters. Taught masters consist of seminars, lab work, lectures, distance learning or workshops, much like an undergraduate degree. As with an undergraduate degree, a taught masters has the primary goal of providing students with a theoretical and practical grounding within a specific area of study or expertise; acquiring existing knowledge here, is key. A research masters, on the other hand, is built around a project involving original research in a specialised field, conducted by the student themselves. The course exists to guide the student’s research activities, and to provide them with appropriate methodological training. Both kinds of masters degrees may also include secondary opportunities – such as industrial placements or career development training.

Taught masters are more suited to preparing students for specialist fields of work or study, or deepening their existing knowledge within that field. As such, they’re frequently chosen by those seeking to augment their CV with expertise relevant to their career path, or by students who wish to switch from one related field to another (such as a person with an undergraduate degree in Chemistry who wishes to move into Biomedical Science).

A research masters, meanwhile, is geared towards preparing students for a career in research. This can mean a PhD, but it can also lead to jobs where research plays a major role – such as in product development, pharmaceuticals companies, consultancy, and think tanks.


MA, MBA, MSc… Masters according to subject

In addition to classifying masters degrees according to the way the course is structured, universities also divide up the masters courses they offer by the content of the syllabus. This is indicated by the names (and abbreviations) by which these degrees are known.

The conventions of naming vary from country to country, and from institution to institution, so it’s well worth inquiring about any courses that draw your interest, to get a sense of how they compare to the others on offer.


  • MA – Master of Arts – A taught or research degree in arts, humanities, and social sciences. It involves a smaller research component than an MRes.
  • MArch - Master of Architecture – A professionally accredited masters in Architecture, that combines taught material, examinations, project work, and internships.
  • MBA – Master of Business Administration – A professionally-recognised masters, providing a broad training in all aspects of business and management in the private sector.
  • MEd, MSEd, MIT, MAEd, MAT – Master of Education – A professionally accredited masters that trains future educators, or provides specialist training for teachers who are already accredited.
  • MEng – A professionally-accredited masters degree in Engineering.
  • MFA – Master of Fine Arts – A practical degree that provides training in the visual and performing arts, assessed through a final project.
  • LLM – Master of Laws – A research masters suited to professional lawyers seeking to build an expert understanding of a specific field of the law.
  • MALS, MLA/ALM, MLS – Master of Liberal Arts – A taught masters providing a broad postgraduate curriculum in the liberal arts.
  • MLS, MLIS, MSLS – Master of Library Science – A professionally accredited course in library management, incorporating both practical and theoretical training for those seeking a career in libraries.
  • MM, MMus – Master of Music – A practical masters in music.
  • MPA - Master of Public Administration – A professionally recognised masters course that deals with management and administration in the public, rather than private, sector. It is similar to an MBA.
  • MPAcc – Master of Professional Accountancy – A professionally recognised masters, that is a form of MBA for those students who wish to specialise in accountancy.
  • MPH – Master of Public Health – A professionally recognised masters that incorporates both academic and professional training for people who wish to undertake a career in public health.
  • MRes – Master of Research – A research masters, where the primary goal is to provide methodological training, especially for those who wish to continue on to PhD. Involves a far smaller taught component than an MA.
  • MPhil - Master by Research – A taught or research masters, that typically involves a greater research component than an ordinary MA. Like an MRes, it acts as a precursor to PhD research.
  • MS, MSc – Master of Science – A taught or research masters in the natural or social sciences.
  • MSIS – Master of Science in Information Systems – A professionally recognised masters, that is a form of MBA for those who wish to specialise in managing IT systems.
  • MSt – Master of Studies – A taught and research masters, similar to an MA or MSc.
  • MSW – Master of Social Work – A professionally recognised masters degree, that teaches students the expertise and practical skills required for a career in social work.


Beyond these categories, there is a broader set of factors to consider regarding how to choose the masters degree that’s right for you.

No matter which masters degree you choose, the research shows that it is a sound decision in almost all cases. A new study from the OECD revealed that the benefits of a good education remain significant; including a 10% lower risk of unemployment, earnings 56% higher than they would be otherwise, as well as a lower risk of depression. With findings such as these in mind, money and time spent engaging in further study represents an excellent investment, that will continue to pay dividends throughout your career.


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