What are the Different Types of Degrees?

Kelly Muic
Kelly Muic
Grade School Principal; Ed.D. in Leadership and Administration, Point Park University, PA

After graduating with an undergraduate degree, you may find yourself questioning if you should obtain a master’s degree or other postgraduate degree. A master’s degree is an advanced college degree consisting of graduate-level coursework developing theoretical, analytical, and/or professional field expertise in a specific field of study. It is the most diverse type of academic degree. The degree itself represents that a student demonstrates a high level of expertise in a particular field of study or profession.

The master’s program or other postgraduate program you choose will provide you with advanced knowledge, skills, and techniques within a specialized area. Certain professions require this degree or highly encourage employees to obtain the degree. In other instances, you may need a master’s degree to even enter a particular career field.

While each can hold the same prestige, choosing the right postgraduate degree for you will depend upon assessing your career goals, needs, and personal finances. There are more types of programs offered than ever before. However, it is important to know that not all degrees are the same.

The type of degree differs depending upon the subject area and entry requirements to the degree program. Also, a program can be either a course-based program or research-based program. The course-based program contains lectures, seminars, sometimes lab work, and practicums. The research-based program may take longer and requires more independent work because you are asked to conduct a research project in a particular area.

Depending on the type of program and university, you will be required to develop a thesis or dissertation. The requirements to complete will be different for each type of program. In addition, the curriculum can vary widely. Please be sure the coursework in the program you choose contains what you need to attain your particular career goals.

Most importantly, you want to be sure the program you select is accredited by a nationally recognized accrediting institution recognized by the United States Department of Education (USDE).

Let’s explore the various types of graduate degrees important within the field of education.

Master’s of Arts (M.A.)

This type of degree is the most common and is awarded by most colleges and universities. This degree option would be chosen by those individuals wanting to acquire more in-depth knowledge usually within the area of humanities. It will usually take two years to complete with full-time study. Most people pursue a master’s of arts degree in the areas of communication, English, education, literature, linguistics, fine arts, history, and music. The method of teaching involves discussion-based seminar format, lectures, research, and perhaps passing an exam or completion of a thesis, which is extensive research on a particular topic that you will defend through learning and other information you gather through your research.

Master’s of Science (M.S.)

This type of degree option is more focused on scientific and mathematical areas of study. Such areas could be (but are not limited to): computer science, biochemistry, economics, and mathematics. It may take two years to complete with full-time study. The method of teaching consists of scientific research, analysis, and evaluation, in addition to lab work and will most likely require a thesis.

Master’s of Arts in Education (M.A.Ed.)

This is an advanced degree option that bridges theory with practice with a focus on building on the professional educator’s experience in education. This degree helps educators expand their skills and understanding as well as develop new pedagogical skills and strategies.

Master’s of Arts in Teaching (M.A.T.)

This degree option focuses on the process of teaching. This is the degree for those wanting to be or already are educational practitioners. The degree provides the learner with practical expertise and skills in the art of teaching. This degree will most likely require approximately 30 credit hours to complete. It is usually pursued by secondary education teachers wanting to advance their teaching skills in a certain area or subject.

Master’s of Education (M.Ed.)

This degree option is a specialized master’s degree. This degree option focuses on a specific professional area within the field of education. This degree is usually pursued by teachers and other educational practitioners who wish to gain new skills and knowledge in education. It prepares individuals for careers leading to educational professions outside of the classroom such as curriculum directors, school counselors, and school administrators.

The program of study within a master’s of education program will most likely consist of skill-based coursework with many courses and concentrations to choose from, and most often requires a practical learning experience such as an internship. This degree option can offer concentrations in a variety of educational areas such as school counseling, elementary education, secondary education, educational technology, educational administration, and school leadership, just to name a few.

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

Both degree options can include curriculum that involves advancing the educator’s knowledge and skills; however, there are a few key differences between a Doctorate of Education and a Doctorate of Philosophy in Education. Ph.D. in Education programs will focus on deeply developing the student’s knowledge in a specific area and require conducting research to enhance that specific area of education. A person pursuing this type of degree most likely would continue to teach and research at the university level.

Ed.D. programs will focus on mainly coursework to apply knowledge to solve problems within the educational system. A person in pursuit of this type of degree will likely return to the field to implement solutions through the application of skills and knowledge obtained in the doctoral program.

Educational Specialist (Ed.S.)

This is a postgraduate degree unique to the field of education. It is more advanced than a master’s degree but less involved than a Ph.D. or Ed.D. These types of education degrees are pursued by those already possessing a master’s degree but would like more specialized knowledge and skills within a specific area of education such as curriculum and instruction, educational leadership, and school psychology.

Professional Certificates and Licenses

A professional certification expresses that you completed an organized program of study, but it does not meet the requirements of a master’s degree. Post-graduate qualifications for a professional license usually include one year of full-time study requiring 18 credit hours to complete; however, some programs may require less or more credit hours depending on the type of certification.

Professional licenses are required in some states in lieu of professional certifications. To obtain a professional license, you would need to complete an approved licensure program and obtain a required number of hours of active practice supervised or mentored during actual employment and perhaps the completion of an induction program. Individuals in pursuit of a professional license have already completed a master’s or higher degree. The requirements to obtain a professional license will vary state to state.

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