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The most common postgraduate qualification is a Master's degree. This is the usual name in the USA; in traditional British Higher Education, it is more usual to refer to the particular degree, in the abbreviated form: "She has an MA [pronounced, as the an suggests, 'em eh']" and "He is studying for an MSc ['em ess see'] in Physics." Occasionally a Master's degree may be awarded to a doctoral candidate who has not satisfied the examiners, but is seen as having come close to the required standard.

In the UK, a Master's degree is usually awarded after a course of study lasting for one or two years, whereas the other common forms of postgraduate degree, the doctorate, lasts for at least three years. (Practice varies in other countries. For an overview, see [[1]], which lists some 88 different 'master' titles.) There are two basic forms of Master's degree:

  • A taught Master's course is one which is basically like an undergraduate degree, albeit at a higher level. Students attend lectures and classes, carry out laboratory work and other research under supervision, and are assessed by coursework assignments and examination.
  • A research Master's represents a more independent approach to learning. It is more akin to a PhD, in that it is awarded for the student's own research. In the UK, a research Master's is usually assessed by a Dissertation, where a doctorate is examined by a Thesis: the use of these terms varies in different cultures.
Most Master's degrees have some element of mixing these two, with varying weightings for teaching and research.

The most common Master's degrees in the UK are:

  • MA, which is a Master of Arts. (The abbreviation was originally for the Latin magister artium. Because of the nature of Latin grammar, it is just as possible - and correct - to reverse the word order, so that in some universities, notably Harvard, the degree is abbreviated as AM (artium magister. 'of arts, master'). For more about the arts concerned, see arts;
  • MSc, which is a Master of Science (magister scientiae). In the USA, this is more commonly abbreviated M. S., or - similarly to M.A./A.M. - S. M.. The 'Science' referred to may be one of a large number of subjects, not all of which are physical sciences - for example, Economics or Nursing.

Many other forms of Master's degrees are awarded. Some of the more common are:

  • the MBA ('em bee eh'), or Master of Business Administration, a qualification much sought after in the business world;
  • the M. Ed. ('em ed'), or Master of Education, normally earned by practising schoolteachers studying to advance their professional knowledge, or their profession;
  • the M. Eng. ('em eng'), pr Master of Engineering;
  • the Ll. M. (ell ell em'), or Master of Law[s] (in Latin, legum magister;
  • the M. Litt. ('em lit'), or Master of Letters [=literature], awarded for work in a variety of subjects in the Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences, not necessarily in literature. It is awarded in some universities, particularly those which use M. A. as an award at undergraduate level, as a general title of postgraduate study;
  • the M. Phil. ('em fill'), or Master of Philosophy, is similarly a common title in institutions that do not us the title M. A. for postgraduate study.

Among the exceptions that do not award the M. A. for postgraduate study are a very varying range of international practice, and in the UK the Scottish universities and the ancient universities of Oxford and Cambridge.