What are the Different Types of Degrees?

  (Updated March 21, 2022)
Lori McDonald
Lori McDonald
Elementary school teacher; Ed.D. in School Leadership/Administration
Scrolls of diplomas in the hands of a group of graduates.

When thinking about an advanced degree, beginning the search can be overwhelming, even knowing how much it will pay off. There are many different types of graduate degrees from which to choose.

For example, as you start looking into a master’s degree, you can pursue a master of arts or a master of science, and there are many different areas in which to specialize within each of those options. To break it all down and answer the question, “what are the different types of degrees?” here is a rundown of a few of the various options for advanced degrees to help guide your decision-making process.

Master of Arts

A master of arts degree focuses on areas in the humanities. This degree is available in majors such as:

  • Teaching
  • Art
  • Languages
  • English
  • Communications

Seminars are the most commonly used teaching methods in a master of arts program. This degree would focus on research and take approximately two years to complete. Most master of arts degrees do not require a thesis.

Master of Science

A master of science degree, on the other hand, focuses on subjects that are related to scientific and mathematical subjects, such as biochemistry, computer science, and economics, to name a few. A master of science also takes approximately two years to complete. Another difference in these degrees is that most master of science programs will require writing a thesis.

Education is an area that covers such a broad range of topics so the types of education degrees are available in both arts and science.

Master of Arts in Education

A master of arts in education degree can provide continual training for teachers. This is a good option for teachers who want to pursue educational leadership or continue to an educational specialist or doctoral degree.

Career opportunities for someone with this degree would include:

Master of Arts in Teaching

In contrast to the master of arts in education, the focus of this degree would be on advancing your teaching career in areas that involve working directly with students. This degree is usually pursued by those that would like to hone their teaching skills and work toward becoming an expert teacher.

This program would most likely provide a great deal of hands-on teaching experience. This degree teaches you how to teach and enriches your knowledge of methodology and pedagogy.

Specializations for this degree include:

Master of Education

A master of education is a degree that is more about the general field of study than hands-on teaching skills. This degree would be more about advancing into other areas of education, such as positions like:

Specializations for this degree include:

Doctorate of Education (Ed.D. and Ph.D.)

Ed.D. Degree

An Ed.D. degree (Doctor of Education degree) is intended for individuals with an educational experience that would like to further their careers by implementing change in their organization or a broader area of education. For this degree program, the most advanced course work is required and empirical research resulting in either a qualitative or quantitative measure presented and defended as a dissertation.

Ph.D. Degree

A Ph.D. degree in education, on the other hand, is more theoretical and research-oriented. This degree is usually for an individual interested in a career in academia and research at the university level.

Individuals pursuing this degree would emphasize being published in professional journals and seeking to change aspects of educational theory and practice based on their research. Career options for an educational Ph.D. would be academic research and  postsecondary education.

Educational Specialist

The educational specialist degree, or Ed.S., is a step beyond a master’s degree, requiring less time than an Ed.D., as empirical research and a dissertation are not required. If you pursue a degree in educational specialization, it is important to note that the course work for educational specialists and doctors of education is the same in many programs.

The only difference is that for the doctor of education, you must complete empirical research on a chosen educational topic or theory and present that in the form of a dissertation. This dissertation will need to be successfully defended to a board of educational experts working at the college level before the individual can earn the Ed.D. degree. Some who have chosen to seek an Ed.S. degree and then later decide to pursue an Ed.D. have found that you are repeating the course work.

Of course, each program is different, but it’s very important to know that if you are considering an Ed.S. degree, you may want to look into an Ed.D. or at least be aware of the differences. Some may instead enter the doctorate program knowing that the only difference will be the dissertation.

Others, of course, would rather not go through the completion of the research and defense of a dissertation and are happy to have the Ed.S. degree. Most of all, it is important to do your research and know what your options are before you begin a program.

Professional Certificates and License

Many degree programs will include a path to obtaining the necessary teaching certifications or licenses. Certifications and licenses can be in areas such as:

  • PK-Third grade
  • K-Eighth grade
  • Secondary in specific content areas
  • Special education

Some organizations will give the option of a licensure path or a non-licensure path. It depends on the ultimate career goal whether you pursue certification or not.

While the options for an advanced degree in education are vast, if you put in a little bit of time and effort to research the options, you will find the degree and path that is right for you.

Interested in furthering your education? Check out our available programs and get started on your next journey today!

*Updated March 2022
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