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In short: Master's degrees are typically awarded after one to three years of postgraduate or graduate study. Admission to a master's program is usually contingent upon holding a bachelor's degree. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, master's degree holders may earn an average of $2.5 million over a 40-year working life, while bachelor degree holders average $2.1million, and high school graduates can expect to earn about 1.2 million.
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Options for your Master's Degree

Earning a master's degree generally requires one to three years of study after earning a bachelor's degree in the United States. Many colleges and universities offer master's degree programs in addition to undergraduate degrees.

There are a number of reasons to earn a master's degree. For the academically pure, earning a master's is merely an extension of following their passion for a certain field of study. Intellectual curiosity on a subject compels these students to go beyond a subject's surface and delve into it fully. To really know a subject inside and out has its advantages. If the topic is marketable, people might pay a lot of money for expert advice--which is another big reason why some choose to earn their master's. A great many law and business graduate students will readily admit that their major reason for earning a master's is to land a high paying job. For some students, earning a master's degree is just another stepping stone to earning a doctorate degree or Ph.D. For example, most states require practicing psychologists to hold PhDs in their field. Earning a master's in psychology without continuing on to earn a doctorate limits occupational choices upon graduation.

Master's degree students generally have a much less rigid academic schedule than undergraduates. Because they've already earned bachelor's degrees, they've proven themselves able to withstand the rigors of academic life, and covered most of the basic courses in their field of study. Graduates students are thus given a little more academic freedom when it comes to choosing courses and planning their academic goals. On the other hand, many graduate programs require students to write long original works, called theses, on a chosen topic in their field. These projects can be very time consuming and difficult.

There are two basic types of masters degree programs offered in the U.S. -- Master's of Arts and Master's of Science. The Master's of Arts is a post-baccalaureate degree awarded upon completion of at least 30 semester hours of graduate credit, usually in the humanities or social sciences. This degree may or may not include research and a thesis, depending on the field of study. The Master's of Science is similar to a Master's of Arts with regards to the credits and hours required, and the potential for having to do research and write a thesis. The main difference, of course, is that students work within a science field. Within these two basic fields, there are a number of subfields. Here is a sample list of many of the master's degrees students can earn in the U.S.

  • MAED - Master of Arts in Education
  • MSN - Master of Science in Nursing
  • MPA - Master of Public Administration
  • MSW - Master of Social Work
  • MFA - Master of Fine Arts
  • MA - Master of Arts
  • MAE - Master of Architecture Engineering
  • MAG - Master of Agriculture
  • MAR - Master of Architecture
  • MBA - Master of Business Administration
  • MEN - Master of Engineering
  • MM - Master of Music
  • MS - Master of Science
  • MSCIS - Master of Science in Computer Information Systems
  • MJA - Master of Justice Administration
  • MSIA - Master of Science in Information Assurance

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, those with master's degrees earned on average $1,102 per week, which is almost $200 on average more per week than those who hold bachelor's degrees. This statistic alone is encouragement for anyone thinking about going back to school to earn a graduate degree.

Bureau of Labor Statistics

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