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What Is a Master’s Degree?

A level beyond a bachelor’s degree, a master’s degree can give you career opportunities and greater earning potential.

A person who excels in a discipline is often called a master in that subject. When a cellist impeccably plays advanced pieces, a diplomat negotiates a complex peace treaty, or an author pens a Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, one might call him or her a master of his or her craft. Mastering anything is an admirable achievement and denotes a specific understanding and expertise significantly beyond one’s peers. In pursuit of becoming a master in your career field, you might consider higher education—in particular, completing a master’s degree program.

Within the hierarchy of college degrees, there are three primary categories: bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees. A bachelor’s degree typically signifies completion of a four-year undergraduate postsecondary education. If a student chooses to continue study at the graduate level, he or she would likely next earn a master’s degree, usually in the form of an MA degree, also known as a Master of Arts degree, or an MS degree, a Master of Science. Beyond that, a doctoral degree indicates the completion of the highest level of education.

What Is a Master’s Degree?

Hiring managers increasingly view a bachelor’s degree as a starting point, so a master’s degree can give you a competitive advantage over your peers. Of course, some career choices require master’s degrees for entry-level positions. Regardless, earning a master’s degree is a great option to further examine a particular discipline while positioning yourself for better career prospects.

“Ultimately, a graduate degree is something you aim for in search of better opportunities,” says Ulysesses Wilcox, a graduate of Walden University’s online MS in Leadership program. He noted that graduate school not only opens up opportunities in the workplace, but in life.

Government salary data corroborates his point. According to 2018 data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, those who complete a master’s degree make nearly 20% more in median weekly earnings than people with only a bachelor’s degree.1 Furthermore, master’s recipients made a median annual salary of $68,090 in 2017, compared to a $37,690 median for all education levels and occupations—resulting in an approximately 80% higher salary.2

Master’s degrees vary from program to program as well as between colleges and universities. How long does it take to earn a master’s? While most programs take two years to complete, some can be completed in one. For some career paths, you can find institutions that offer variations of combined bachelor’s and master’s programs, allowing students to continue their college education while earning both degrees in five years.

Depending on the degree chosen, master’s degree programs can require between 30 to 75 quarter credits for completion. These credit hours may include a combination of general coursework, electives, and courses related to your specialization, if you choose one. Your master’s program may also require completion of one or more of the following:3

  • An internship
  • Field experience
  • Comprehensive examinations 
  • Practicum labs or clinicals
  • A capstone project  

Thanks to technology and recent advances in higher education, completing a master’s degree program has never been more achievable. Today’s students can complete master’s programs in person, online, or in hybrid formats combining a mix of in-person and online courses. In particular, online universities offer students flexibility to watch lectures, work on assignments, and study in a time and place convenient to them. These online master’s degree programs enable graduate students to continue working full- or part-time jobs, providing care to their families, and exploring extracurricular activities and pursuits.

Accredited online colleges like Walden University can help you advance your career while balancing your life’s busy schedule. Walden offers a rewarding online education with a variety of master’s programs including options in business and management, communication, criminal justice, education, information technology, nursing, psychology, public health, public policy, and social work.

Walden University is an accredited university offering bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degree programs online. Expand your career options and earn your degree using a convenient, flexible learning platform that fits your busy life.


Walden University is accredited by The Higher Learning Commission,