What is the Difference Between an MA and an MSc degree?

What is the difference between an MA and an MSc degree? The Master of Arts (MA) and Master of Science (MSc) stand out as widely sought-after postgraduate degrees globally. However, distinguishing between an MA and an MSc, and determining the ideal choice for your studies, is a common query. This comprehensive article guide will provide all the essential information you require.

MA vs MSc – What’s The Difference?

When investigating advanced degree programs, you’ve probably encountered various acronyms representing different qualifications. This article examines the key distinctions between the MA and the MSc, delving into the characteristics of each program and outlining the prospective career outcomes after completion.

What is an MA?

MA, short for Master of Arts, is a postgraduate degree in arts, humanities, and social sciences. It may also encompass business, consulting, and management subjects. However, the specific postgraduate qualification, whether MA or MSc (Master of Science), depends on the institution and the course content within these domains.

Common MA subjects include:

  • History,
  • Sociology,
  • Anthropology 
  • English literature 
  • Languages, 
  • Philosophy, 
  • Fine art,
  • Performing art,
  • Journalism, 
  • Architecture

Master’s programs, commonly available at universities, differ in duration. In the UK, full-time MA degrees usually last one year, while part-time options take two years. In mainland Europe and the US, full-time MA programs often span two years.

Students typically pursue an MA to delve deeper into a previously studied subject. Assessments involve exams, assignments, and a dissertation. Research-focused MA degrees, known as Masters by Research or MRes, emphasize independent research and prioritize dissertations over taught-based teaching styles.

What is an MSc?

An ‘MSc degree’ stands for Master of Science, primarily concentrating on STEM subjects like mathematics, engineering, medicine, or technology, with potential inclusion of some social sciences. Postgraduate students opt for MSc programs to deepen expertise in a specific area, enhancing career readiness and professional standing through theory-heavy coursework, research, and lab work.

  • Environmental science
  • Engineering 
  • Computer science
  • Biomedical science 
  • Accounting 
  • Psychology 
  • Economics
  • Geology
  • Business and Finance
  • Physics 

MSc programs in the UK typically last one year full-time or two years part-time. However, if pursued in Europe or the US, the duration may extend to two years full-time or longer part-time.

Eligibility usually requires a bachelor’s degree, preferably in a related science field. MSc assessments are akin to MAs, with potentially more emphasis on exams and shorter dissertation word counts, both graded similarly.

MA vs MSc – the Main Differences 

The key distinction between an MA and an MSc lies in their subject orientation. An MA typically centres on humanities and social sciences, while an MSc generally emphasises STEM fields, though certain social sciences may be pursued as either an MA or an MSc. For instance, Oxford provides an MSc in Sociology, while Manchester offers an MA in Sociology.

This highlights the importance of reviewing specific master’s courses at different institutions to ensure they align with your preferences in terms of research, lectures, topics, and examinations.

While an MA degree is typically considered academic, MSc degrees are typically categorized as professional degrees. 

However, a few other differences set MAs and MSCs apart. These are: 

Subject Areas

Comparing MA and MSc degrees involves considering their subject focuses. MAs delve into arts, humanities, and social sciences, while MScs center on STEM fields and industry-oriented areas like medicine and business.

Although some social science subjects, like anthropology and sociology, are available as both MA and MSc degrees, MA degrees typically offer broader subject coverage, allowing students to specialize through optional modules.

In contrast, MSc degrees are often more specialized, focusing on a specific area, such as a Biomedical Engineering course with limited subject scope due to its inherent specialization.

Assessment Methods

When comparing MA and MSc assessments, both involve exams, coursework, essays, and dissertations, though methods may slightly differ. MAs are typically evaluated through coursework, essays, and a final dissertation, with fewer exams. MScs emphasize exams, lab work, and a shorter, more data-driven dissertation due to a focus on practical and theoretical skills.

Teaching Methods 

MA and MSc courses differ in teaching styles, with MA leaning towards more research-intensive approaches. While both involve lectures and seminars, an MA emphasizes theoretical and research aspects, requiring significant independent study.

On the other hand, an MSc focuses on taught elements, including laboratory work, experiments, and potential practical components like apprenticeships. MAs are typically more theoretical and lack internships.

Graduate Outcomes 

Choosing between an MSc and an MA involves considering your goals. While an MSc provides a technical and scientific focus, an MA is subject-oriented. Assess your career aspirations; an MSc, like in Geology, suits specific paths, whereas an MA, like in English Language, opens broader avenues like media, teaching, or HR. The MA is often considered a terminal degree in the US, though both MAs and MScs can lead to further study or careers in their respective fields.

MA vs MSc Entry Requirements

  • Ensure to verify entry requirements with your intended university, as they vary. 
  • Generally, both MA and MSc programs necessitate a related undergraduate degree with a minimum 2:1 or B grade average. 
  • Past academic work, like a dissertation, may be requested, indicating readiness for master’s level studies. 
  • Certain subjects, especially in science-based MSc programs like chemistry, might require technical knowledge or lab experience. While uncommon, specific MSc degrees might mandate relevant work experience. 
  • Some programs may also involve interviews. Always confirm the details before applying.

So which is better, an MA or an MSc?

There is no correct answer to whether an MA or an MSc is better. 

  • Both degrees hold high academic esteem and are widely esteemed by employers, signifying your commitment to career objectives.
  • Choose a postgraduate program aligning with your interests and goals, emphasizing content over the qualification title.
  • Evaluate whether an MA or MSc better suits your career aspirations; an MSc for practical industry roles, and an MA for arts and media careers.

In conclusion, the decision between an MA and an MSc depends on your career goals. Both degrees, with academic prestige and employer recognition, reflect dedication to objectives.

Prioritize program alignment with interests and goals, focusing on content rather than the qualification title. Consider an MSc for practical roles and an MA for arts and media careers.