What Is a Master’s Degree?

Written by Coursera • Updated on

Earning a master's degree could unlock a range of benefits, from career advancement to a boost in pay. Learn more about this postgraduate degree.

[Featured image] A master's degree student in a grey and black striped jacket and button-up shirt looks at his cellphone while walking across a college campus.

A master’s degree is a graduate degree that allows students to build advanced knowledge of a specialized body of theoretical and applied knowledge, forge a deeper understanding of their area of study, and develop a range of skills applicable to their trade. With a master’s degree, you can typically have more opportunities to advance your career as a valuable, knowledgeable employee or pursue further postgraduate education, such as a doctoral degree. 

How many years is a master’s degree?

Earning your master’s degree typically takes anywhere from one to three years, depending on several factors, such as your field of study and the time you wish to dedicate to your program. If you're currently on a career path, you might find that taking one or two classes a semester is more manageable and, therefore, may need three or more years to complete your program. If you're in a position to dedicate more of your time to being a full-time student, you could finish within a year or two. 

Read more: How Long Does a Master’s Degree Take?

Typical requirements to earn a master’s degree

While different universities and programs have varied requirements for earning a master’s degree, the general guidelines tend to be similar.

Common admission requirements

  • A bachelor’s degree in your subject area (some institutions are flexible about specializations)

  • Minimum GPA from your bachelor’s program

  • Prerequisite undergraduate courses in subject area

  • Entrance exams like GRE, GMAT, LSAT, or MCAT

  • Letters of recommendation

Common graduation requirements

  • 30 to 60 hours of coursework

  • Minimum GPA

  • Master’s thesis, capstone project, or internship

Types of master’s degrees

Master’s degrees fall under an array of categories, the most common being Master of Arts (MA) and Master of Science (MS) degrees. MA degrees typically focus on humanities subjects, while MS degrees tend to prepare you for technical fields. However, overlap exists between the two. For instance, you can receive an MA or an MS in special education. 

Additional types of master's degrees include:


Whether you are looking to integrate a master’s degree in your long-term student career, focus on ongoing research, or simply obtain more specialized knowledge of your field, you have many degree choices and options to pursue as a professional. 

Explore master's-level learning with a MasterTrack Certificate® from leading universities on Coursera. Earn a university certificate for your resume, and if you're admitted to the corresponding master's degree program, the certificate will count toward the full degree. Options include Business Analytics for Managers from Tufts University, Social Work from the University of Michigan, Instructional Design from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, or Health Informatics from Yale University.


What are the benefits of getting a master’s degree?

The benefits of continuing your education can be pretty similar across different career fields. These can include: 

  • Increased salary

  • More advanced job opportunities

  • Competitive edge within your career field

  • Access to new opportunities through networking activities in your field, like conferences available to graduate students

  • Focused understanding of the components of your subject

  • Chance to build skills you can utilize throughout your career, such as honing your critical thinking abilities

  • Opportunities to fully explore your passions in a practical way

Read more: Is a Master's Degree Worth It?

Earning potential for master’s degree graduates 

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, a professional with a bachelor’s degree in the United States makes an average income of approximately $69,368 a year as of 2021. [1]. The earning increase that comes from a master’s degree is about 18 percent, or around $81,848 a year on average. How much you make can vary based on many factors, including your industry, location, and previous experience.

Next steps

Experience for yourself what it's like to earn a master's degree online by enrolling in an open course from a top university on Coursera:

  • Optical Engineering, part of the University of Colorado Boulder Master of Science in Electrical Engineering

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Article sources

1. US Bureau of Labor Statistics. "Education pays, 2021, https://www.bls.gov/careeroutlook/2022/data-on-display/education-pays.htm." Accessed June 16, 2022.

Written by Coursera • Updated on

This content has been made available for informational purposes only. Learners are advised to conduct additional research to ensure that courses and other credentials pursued meet their personal, professional, and financial goals.

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