Master of Arts - What Is a MA?

An MA Degree is a Master of Arts degree, meaning it is a masters in an arts subject,  such as History or Philosophy. Be careful when looking into these though as some courses, like Geography for example, can be classed under both headings, so going to one university will get you an MA but another might get you an MSc.

Courses that tend to be on the borderline, or counted as the social sciences, are the most likely to vary. It’s worth checking which they are, as it will affect the teaching style. For instance, an MA in Religious Studies will be very much engaging with the concepts and texts, but an MSc is likely to be an anthropology style course.

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MA Are Typically Are A Taught Masters Degree

In the UK, an MA will typically be a  taught masters, rather than a research masters – research masters are titled things like MRes. This means it involves a taught element and a dissertation.

The taught element will typically be lectures, workshops or tutorials. Like with an undergraduate degree, these are not all compulsory (no-one takes attendance at lectures) but still highly recommend attending. Not only will they help you learn, but they’re also a useful chance to get to know tutors which is a definite advantage if you plan to do further study after your MA degree! You will be tested on these taught elements, though it may not necessarily be an exam. On some courses, you’ll be assigned coursework or short essays to assess your progress, whereas others will be exams.

As an MA degree is designed to further your undergraduate knowledge, but still be broad enough to give you a decent coverage of the subject, it’s worth checking specific syllabuses. In many cases, the courses will be designed in such a way as to have many options, to accommodate both those who have a clear area they wish to specialise in, and those who may only just be starting the subject (for instance, you may get those who go from a philosophy undergraduate to a theology postgraduate, or similar).

Generally, when choosing an arts subject for your masters, you’ll find you apply to a general course (MA History, perhaps), but then you’ll apply for a particular track or specialisation – such as Contemporary History or Medieval History. You’ll therefore be studying one area of the topic in a lot more detail than you will have done at the undergraduate level.

Masters of Arts Degree Format

As masters degrees consist of  180 credits worth of study, you’ll find this broken up in different ways depending on where you apply. Usually the dissertation (or thesis, as it may well be known) makes up 60 credits worth, and should be around 15,000 to 20,000 words. The remaining 120 credits are decided on by the university. There are core modules that you will be required to take – often things such as research methods. Depending on your course, there may be a required language, or an “Introduction to...” style module. Once your core modules are out of the way, you can move on to the optionals. Sometimes they may be lots of smaller topics, worth 20 or so credits each, and others may be larger, more in depth modules worth around 40. It’s worth looking at this when applying, and getting an idea for what sort of things you can study and how they add up.

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