Masters Studies

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The Differences Between MAs and BAs

Now that you have your bachelors degree behind you and you have started your masters programme, it is good to know just what makes these two degree programmes so different. While you may have some idea, you also may be surprised to learn about some of the other key differences that set these apart.

A word of warning: don't panic when you realise the significantly more challenging work needed on your part for a masters degree.

However, of note is that idea that some of this more challenging role is now changing. MAs were originally meant to be harder than BAs and usually followed on from the completion of a BA. However, the MAs of today are often aimed at students that are coming into study from other areas or from abroad, so the gap between BAs and MAs is now shrinking in terms of difficulty.

Some MAs are now even structured like a more intense version of a BA, covering an entire discipline in a year. This better prepares students for entering the workforce at a faster rate or supplement their existing career accomplishments.

Use this knowledge to just prepare yourself for the journey ahead and know that you will be able to feel a real sense of accomplishment when you complete the programme. You never know - you just might want to try a PhD then!

Here are the primary differences to keep in mind:

Bachelors Programme

Masters Programme

BAs are three years long.

MAs are usually one year long on a full-time basis.

BAs usually require some sort of formal education be completed before applying.

MAs normally require a student to have completed a related BA

BAs usually aim to include a standard set of relevant material for the discipline taught along with various options.

MAs are more focused on lecturers' specialities. As a result, students tend to get a more specialised, expert-level education.

BAs will keep content at a level that is aimed at the average student.

In many disciplines, MAs are the only level at which students will encounter the most challenging theorists in a particular discipline.

BAs tend to stick to theoretical evidence rather than cover many real-world issues.

MAs are also more likely to deal with cutting-edge issues in a discipline.

BAs usually try to provide a more rounded approach to an entire discipline.

MAs are often (but not always) on narrower sub-disciplines than BAs. They might be linked to a particular area or a future research trajectory.

BAs are divided into First, 2:1, 2:2 and Third class.

MAs are generally marked one grade higher than BAs, and they are harder to pass. MAs are divided into Distinction, Merit, and Pass. A Pass is equivalent to a BA 2:1, so anything below a 2:1 is a fail at the MA level. Merit is equivalent to a high 2:1 or regular first, and Distinction to a high first. It is difficult to get a Distinction at the MA level.

BAs sometimes require a shorter dissertation but sometimes a dissertation is optional.

MAs normally include a requirement for an original research dissertation of some length.

A BA dissertation normally does not require extensive primary research.

At the Masters level, students are expected to be more independent in their research projects. Unless the MA is in a theory topic, an MA dissertation normally requires extensive primary research. An MA dissertation is closer to a PhD than a BA dissertation.

BAs prepare a student for careers in a general area or show a general level of study skills.

MAs are sometimes more closely related to careers in research and in specialised careers that require an academic basis. For example, some careers, such as Social Work, require an MA while PhD study normally requires an MA. In the sciences, an MA or MSc is often necessary to show that someone can actually function as a scientist as opposed to just knowing some of their field.

There are also some differences between BAs and MAs in relation to the university where these are obtained:

  • At Oxford, Cambridge and Dublin, an MA is awarded to BA graduates after a period of time, without further qualifications.
  • At some Scottish universities, an MA is a first degree that takes four years to garner.
  • These universities usually have another qualification that is equivalent to the usual MA, such as a MLitt or MPhil, whereas, elsewhere, an MPhil is closer to a PhD.
  • Most MA courses are taught courses with a research element. However, there is also such a thing as a research MA which is like a shorter PhD.

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