How to Choose the Right Master's Based on Degree Type

Master’s programmes are the most diverse type of degree you can find, with different specialisations and majors, as well as different teaching styles. Some of them also have interdisciplinary curriculums and do not easily fall into one category. But what are these categories and what do these abbreviations like M.Sc. or M.A. mean? Not to mention abbreviations that almost sound made up like M.Phil, M.Litt, or M.Res.

Well, here are some facts about the major types of Master’s degrees to help you decide which one is right for your studies abroad:

M.Sc. degrees

Masters of Science (M. Sc.) refer to a common type of postgraduate academic master’s degree largely awarded by most universities worldwide. In combination with a 3-year or 4-year bachelor programme, master’s programmes replace old five-year study programmes such as the German Diplom or the Dutch doctorandus.

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The study duration of for this type of Master’s programme differs. You can find both 1-year and 2-year Masters of Science. You usually complete an M.Sc. by writing a scientific thesis. The Master of Science is awarded to students of universities in these areas of study: Natural Sciences, Social Sciences, Engineering Sciences, Applied Sciences, Earth Sciences and Information Technology.

You can find Masters of Science anywhere in the world, but here are some international locations with the most options:

Of course, you can find plenty of other Masters in Science anywhere else on the globe.

M.A. degrees

Masters of Arts (M. A. or Magister Artium) is the most common master’s degree along with the M. Sc. and awarded by most universities around the world. Like most Master’s programmes, the duration of a Master of Arts programme differs but usually takes 1 to 2 years to complete. The Master of Arts is typically awarded in Humanities fields such as: History, Geography, Philosophy, Fine Arts and Social Sciences.

Here are some top locations where you can find a lot of good M.A.s:

M.A.s can overlap with Masters of Science. In order to receive a Master of Arts, the completion of a dissertation based on independent research is usually required besides passing all courses.

You can now apply to Masters of Arts from universities worldwide with the help of Studyportals.


A Master of Business Administration (MBA) is by definition a general management degree designed to educate students in areas such as finances, human resources, marketing, strategic thinking and operations management. An MBA’s main characteristic is the peer-to-peer education involving successful business people and the networking among the students from diverse backgrounds. The MBA aims at a well-rounded business graduate, and not an expert in just one single aspect.

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In contrast to classical Master of Science or Master of Arts programmes that are usually consecutive to a similar Bachelor’s programme, MBAs attracts people from a wide range of academic disciplines. MBAs usually requires several years of work experience and can thus not directly started after graduating from a Bachelor’s or other Master’s programme.

Not sure where to study an MBA? Here are some of the most popular places worldwide:

Don't miss many more MBAs offered by international business schools.

Apply to MBAs worldwide

LL.M. degrees

The Master of Laws (LL.M.) is a graduate degree that you can most often get from a law school. The abbreviation LL.M. stands for Legum Magister where LL. is the Latin abbreviation for laws. The Master of Laws is the logical continuation of legal studies after a Bachelor’s programme in law (L.L.B.).

As the Bachelor of Laws is already sufficient in countries such as the UK in order to practise law, the Master of Laws has a supplementary character, standing for an advanced legal qualification in a certain subject area. In contrast to other Master degree types, the Master of Laws is not that widespread. Many countries such as Germany for example still require an additional state examination in order to be eligible for practising law. Apply to Masters of Law from our partner universities.

Pre-Master degrees

Pre-Master programmes aim at preparing and qualifying students for a Master’s programme. Deficiency courses cover topics that have not been part of the Bachelor’s education but are needed in order to proceed with a desired Master’s programme. Pre-Masters are usually needed when pursuing a Master’s programme with a different focus than the Bachelor’s programme or when changing the university level from a university of applied sciences to a general university. Find Pre-Masters worldwide.

M.Phil. degrees

The Master of Philosophy (M.Phil.) is a postgraduate research degree awarded by universities. In contrast to other Master degrees such as the M.Sc. or the M.A., the Master of Philosophy is often awarded to students during their Ph.D. The Master of Philosophy is awarded after completing the first part of the Ph.D. studies and submitting a first short report or dissertation. It is thus often seen as a formality only. However, there are also countries such as Norway, which offer the Master of Philosophy as regular first Master’s degree, comparable to a Master of Science. Check out Master’s of Philosophy worldwide.

M.Litt. degrees

The Master of Letters (M. Litt, lat: Magister litterarum) is a postgraduate research degree similar to the M.Sc. or the M.A. This type of degree is not that common and is usually awarded by select universities, mainly in the UK, Ireland and Australia. The Master of Letters is often seen as a distinction over other types of Masters. Prestigious universities such as the University of Oxford or the University of Cambridge are likely to offer M.Litt.s. Check out Masters of Letters worldwide.

M. Res. degrees

The Master of Research (M. Res) is an advanced postgraduate research degree. It is awarded in a specific academic discipline that can be also reflected in the full degree name (e.g. Master of Arts by Research). The Master of Research is especially focused on preparing students for doctoral research. The programme structure is usually more flexible and involves a comparably large dissertation based on independent research or a practice-led research project. The Master of Research can be similar to a Master of Philosophy (MPhil) and be awarded to students on the way to or instead of a Ph.D. You can now apply to Masters of Research from our application partners. 

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M. Ed. degrees

The Master of Education (M.Ed. or Magister Educationis) is a postgraduate egree awarded by many universities worldwide. It is similar to a Master of Science or Master of Arts but awarded to study programmes in the area of education. In many countries such as Germany or the Netherlands for example, the M.Ed. is a successor of state examination degrees and allows graduates to perform a profession as a teacher at public schools. The Master of Education is not entirely limited to studies that aim at educating school teachers. Interdisciplinary programmes and education-related subjects can be awarded a Master of Education. Check out Masters of Education worldwide.

M. Eng. degrees

The Master of Engineering (M. Eng. or ME) is a postgraduate master’s degree that is obtained after studying a major in an engineering science. The study duration of a Master of Engineering programme differs. There are programmes which last 1-year as well as those of 2-years.

The Master of Engineering is academically equal to the M.Sc. or MA. It is common practice to award an M.Eng. for more practically-oriented studies at universities of applied sciences. Due to the numerous specialisations in areas of engineering, there are further degree types such as the Master of Science in Engineering (M.Sc. in Eng.), the Master of Business Administration and Engineering (MBAE) or the Master of Business Engineering (MBE). Check out Masters of Engineering worldwide.

Grad. Dip.

The Graduate Diploma (Grad. Dip.) is a postgraduate qualification offering a degree between bachelor and master level. A postgraduate diploma can be normally started after the completion of a bachelor’s degree and is, typically, to be completed in half the time of a comparable Master’s programme. Most graduate diplomas can be extended in order to convert them to a full Master’s degree. Postgraduate Diplomas are gaining popularity as they are more affordable than a Master’s degree and save time for the student.

Grad. Cert.

The Postgraduate Certificate (Grad. Cert.) is a postgraduate qualification as a follow-up after completing a Bachelor’s degree. It takes usually one year of full-time study to finish and is equivalent to a Master’s degree or recognised as a foundation study for a Master’s degree. Graduate Certificates can be followed up by an MBA programme. Read more about Postgraduate Certificates and Graduate Diplomas.

Check out Graduate Certificates and Diplomas you can study abroad.

Find out more about degree abbreviations at the Bachelor's degree level.

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