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Thread: MS or MA?

  1. #1
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    MS or MA?

    One question I've always had about Masters degrees is what the relative worth and meaning of the different initials really means. For example, is an MS better than an MA? Why would one opt for one over the other? I know that an MBA is a specialist degree for business, and kind of in a class by itself.

    But I'd like to hear from members of this board on the relative merits of having an MA vs an MS and vice versa....

    Thanks.

  2. #2
    jugador is offline Registered User
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    I know of some fields in which both a BA and a BS are offered (depending on the college). Examples are economics , biology, geography , and even art. In these cases, the BS is almost always more demanding in terms of coursework than the BA. But a BFA is almost always tougher in the arts than a BA. In the case of MA versus MS, off hand, I can't think of many departments that offers both within a field. Economics , geography and history do come to mind as possibilities. My sense is that the MS is usually tougher. Other graduate degrees differ widely by field and college. I can tell you for example, that there is a BIG difference between an MSF (Master of Science in Forestry) and an MF (Master of Forestry). The latter is considered much more demanding in those colleges that offer both. Computer science in particular is REALLY an alphabet soup. I won't even pretend to know if an MSCS is better than a MCS or an MIS or an MScCS. Maybe there's no difference. I dunno. Bottom line: It depends on the individual colleges and professions to define what their masters degrees mean.

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    vinodgopal is offline Registered User
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    Of what I have seen when you see someone with an MS degree, or Msc in India, a person has done that extra effort in studying scientific subjects viz Math, Physics, Computer Science , Biology, Chemistry, statistics etc... on the other hand an MA would have involved a candidate to read tons and tons of plain text like History , English, Civics etc... But Economics can be both text and scientific content. So MA economics holds a different meaning. Similarly there is a Mater of Commerce (MCom in India) which has accounts and other stuff which is applied mathematics. So it depends on person to person. Those who are scientific minded, would prefer an MSc over an MA and those who enjoy reading miles and miles of plain and simple textual contents would most probably prefer MA degrees. But these days a masters is a very common thing. Phd ios what everybody is aiming for. In 70's and 80's there was a lot of Bachelor's degree holder however Masters were a rarity. Those who do Masters certainly got better salaries etc... However these days there is no much difference, atleast in India.

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    CoachTurner is offline Registered User
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    If the pattern of intent and tradition were actually followed, what we would have is this:

    generalizations follow

    Master of Arts (30 hours) - a highly academic degree in any field concentrating on the theoretical and historical study of that field. Culminates with a substantial thesis. MA (literature) might be a good example.

    Master of Science (30 hours) - a highly specialized degree concentrating on the direct application of theories in a subject. Culminates with a significant research study. MSc (Biology) might be a good example.

    Master of Whatever (45 hours) - an applied degree concentrating on the very specific application of a specialized field. Culminates with a practicum/creative work/thesis. MEd and MM (music) might be good examples.

    Some Master of Whatever degrees are considered by many to be first professional and lean toward a heavy hands-on application of knowledge. MArch (architecture) is an example. These too tend to exceed the typical 30-36 hours of an MA/MSc.

    The Master of Fine Arts (MFA) is a terminal degree often requiring as little as 45 hours and as many as 90 hours beyond the BA/BS/Bxyz. Culminates with a new body of creative work.

    Add to these the Master of Liberal Arts, Master of Humanities, and other generalist degrees which tend to follow the MA pattern but not to concentrate in any one field. Some schools used to use the degree title Master of Arts and Sciences for that same type of program.

    There are certain Master of Science degrees which are earned after an MD and there is the Master of Laws degree that is often earned after the JD. These are often quite advanced.

    There is also the category of Master of Arts in Teaching (MAT) (and similar titles) which serve to provide initial certification training for teacher candidates who did not complete undergraduate studies in education .

    That said, schools name their degrees as much for convenience as for content. One program I know of recently changed an MEd program in Instructional Technology to an MSc program while leaving the curriculum essentially the same. Since it is generally expected that an applicant to an MEd program already holds a teaching certificate, they wanted to expand that program to meet corporate world needs and encourage non-teachers to enter the program.

    It seems to me, very many schools create their own method for determining what is an MA and what is an MSc.
    -----
    Carson Turner
    Myrtle Beach, South Carolina
    BA, Coastal Carolina University
    BSLS, Excelsior College
    MA, MBA, MA, Webster University
    MAIS, Western New Mexico University (due 2013)

  5. #5
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    Originally posted by CoachTurner
    ...Master of Science (30 hours) - a highly specialized degree concentrating on the direct application of theories in a subject...
    In my particular case with my M.S. in Community Health from California College for Health Sciences, this is an accurate statement.

    All of my work was based on practical applicaton of
    epidemiological theories and principles.

  6. #6
    Ian Anderson is offline Registered User
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    Originally posted by CoachTurner
    If the pattern of intent and tradition were actually followed, what we would have is this:

    generalizations follow

    Master of Arts (30 hours) - a highly academic degree in any field concentrating on the theoretical and historical study of that field. Culminates with a substantial thesis. MA (literature) might be a good example.
    -------------------------------------------
    It is also not uncommon to find MA degrees in Chemistry, Physics, Mathematics, and Astronomy.

  7. #7
    vinodgopal is offline Registered User
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    MA in those subjects were a common thing in 1970's and prior in India. I remember one of my teachers had a BA in Maths and MA in Statistics.

    During 1960's, doing a doctorate was not possible in Indian universities unless you were an authority with very high academic merits and intense research backing you up. So people went to USA and England to do Phd in those areas. There was also Bsc Math and Msc Statistics during then, but there was no option of getting an honor's in the subject preemptive of any acadamic brilliance what-so-ever. BA honors was possible on the otherhand. The reason being science bachelors did not have language papers as allied subjects. So if a person was having sound book knowledge, he used to score a cent percent. Hense they did not give that sort of credentials. Bsc Physics had an option of Astro-physics(an allied subject) and BA Physics as per my teachers had astronomy.

    Science was indeed an art until the 70's when things changed. Science was no more associated with arts and vice-versa.

    One thing is for sure. I hold an MA in English Literature. Universities can never have an Msc in English literature. I am sure! :D
    Last edited by vinodgopal; 01-15-2005 at 08:22 AM.

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    BillDayson is offline Registered User
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    Re: MS or MA?

    Originally posted by Carl_Reginstein
    One question I've always had about Masters degrees is what the relative worth and meaning of the different initials really means. For example, is an MS better than an MA? Why would one opt for one over the other?
    Hi, Carl. In general, I don't think that it matters. 'MA' is more traditional in arts and humanities subjects, and 'MS' is more traditional in the pure and applied sciences. But it's not a hard and fast rule, and some universities offer MAs in the sciences.

    When I was a biological science major at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, our department offered both BA's and BS's. The BS curriculum required that students take calculus, the physics and chemistry sequences for scientists and engineers and so on. It was the track students took to prepare for graduate school. The BA curriculum was less intense, required fewer labs and allowed more general ed, and was intended to prepare high school teachers , science writers and the like.

    So the MA/MS distinction might make a big difference at some universities, and none at all at others. San Francisco State routinely places its biology masters graduates into prominent doctoral research programs, but only offers MA degrees in that subject. No MS's.

    That's one of the reasons why graduate schools want to see applicants' transcripts. The school isn't just reacting to the letters in the degree title, they are looking at the classes that the candidate actually took.

  10. #9
    Michael Lloyd is offline Registered User
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    Wow, I was completely unaware that there even was such a thing as a MA in the physical sciences. I would have thought that a MS only would be offered in a science discipline.

    When I did my undergrad and grad in chemistry at the UW, I think they only offered a MS. I do recall that they had a BA or BS in chemistry.
    Regards,

    Michael Lloyd
    Mill Creek, Washington USA

  11. #10
    Anthony Pina is offline Registered User
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    Some years ago, I did a study of masters degrees offerred in the field of instructional technology . I look ed at coursework requirements and whether the culminating activity was coursework only, comprehensive examination, applied project or research thesis (or any combination). There was no consistent relationship between the title of degree (M.A., M.S. or M.Ed.) and what was required for the degree. There were M.Ed. degrees that required a thesis and M.A. and M.S. degrees that were coursework only or applied project.

    When I attended BYU, its elementary education degree was a bachelor of science. when I transferred to Arizona State, they offered a bachelor of arts. It is farily common for there to be differences between the B.A. and B.S. degree if they are both offered by the same program (especially in the "hard sciences"). At the masters level, the M.A., M.S. and M.Ed. are equal degrees, but are not considered to be "terminal" degrees in their fields. The M.B.A., MFA and M.Div. generally require more coursework and are considered to be terminal degrees.

    Tony Pina
    Administrator, Northeasten Illinois University

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