5 types of masters degrees you can do to advance your career

So you have decided to pursue a Master's degree. What should you study? What program makes most sense for you? What can you build upon? Read this guide and learn more.

Masters degree's are a key way to up your skills and get professional and/or research experience. I did my Masters degree almost a decade ago about 2 years after completing my undergrad program. My masters was probably more intense than my undergrad program and my PhD program because it was more of a sprint rather than a marathon. If you are still on the fence on whether or not to do a Masters, please check out this blog post on 5 reasons you should do one.

If you have already decided to go for a Masters then read on. I am sharing five generic types of Master's degree's for you to consider. Please note that this is a very generic way of looking at Master's programs. Make sure you do your own research into what lines up with your undergrad degree AND more importantly where it is that you would like to go with your program.

So let us dive in!

1. Research-based Masters program

As the name suggests, the Masters program will involve research and development of a Master's thesis. As with many graduate programs, there will be course work to be undertaken - often involving theories related to your program, research methodology and then some time to develop and defend your Master's thesis. A research-based Masters in the Sciences will look different from the Arts and from the Social Sciences. MSc will often involve lab-work if it is in the Life Sciences and hypothesis testing. An MA that is research based will involve testing a theory out or advancing knowledge in a particular area e.g. History, Geography etc.

Consider a research-based Masters program if

  • You are thinking about doing a PhD

  • You are thinking of academia

  • You have a direct interest in the area of research

  • You are interested in working in a field that requires research and/or can absorb your research skills

Examples: MSc, MA

2. Practicum-based Masters Program

In some ways this would be similar to the research based program except that you would do a practicum or a capstone placement in a professional setting to validate your skills. Quite similar to the research-based program there will likely be course work related to theories in the field and possibly research methodology depending on the field. Instead of doing a Master's thesis, you would do a placement and could then be required to write a paper that links the practical experience with the theory or the practice related in your field. Some MSc's and M.A.'s also involve a practicum in a professional setting as an alternative to writing a thesis.

Consider a practicum-based Masters program if:

  • You are interested in a program with practical professional application

  • You are NOT interested in a research-based program however you still would like to level-up your skills

  • You are interested in the practice related to your area

Examples of programs: Masters of Public Health, Masters of Social Work, Master of Counselling

3. Generalist Master's program

This is a program that would bring together a number of generalist skills that would then allow you to apply them into a professional setting whether it is at a public or private sector. This is quite similar to the practicum based program but differs in that a practicum placement is not mandatory and is encouraged but not required. If you have a general arts degree and you are interested in building a little bit deeper in your undergrad education then this program would be for you.

Consider a generalist Masters program if:

  • You have a lot of years of experience based on your undergraduate degree but would like to validate your experience through a Masters program

  • You are interested in changing fields from a specialist into a generalist

  • You are interested in the practice related to your area

Examples of programs: Masters of Public Policy also known as Masters in Public Administration, Masters in Public Policy and Administration; Masters in Organizational Management, Masters in Health Administration (if you're in the health field), Masters in International Development (if you're in international development); Masters in Economics

4. Professional Designation programs

The fourth category of Masters programs are those that are professional designations. These are from fields where the Masters program is recognized and often administered through a professional order.

Consider this type of program if

  • You are a seasoned executive looking to build your skills e.g. MBA

  • You are interested in becoming a specialist in your field such as Masters of Engineering

Examples of programs: Master of Laws (LLM), Master of Social Work, Masters in Business Administration, Masters in Engineering

5. Post graduate diploma

These are post-graduate programs that are not designated as a Masters but that it is a step above a bachelors degree. There are offered in a number of fields and you obtain as the name suggests a diploma. My suggestion when it comes to a Post-graduate diploma is to go the rest of the way and get the full Masters degree. Post-graduate diplomas are often equally demanding as a Masters degree save for a handful of credits. If you're going to put in that much work and effort, might as well get the Masters designation. If you already completed a Post graduate diploma, look into whether they would transfer credits - you may be able to get a Masters with just a few additional steps.

One final consideration when thinking of doing a Masters degree is how you will pay for it. I will be tackling this is in a future blog post, however here's the 5 second version:

Don't quit your job to go for more school.

If you have a full-time job I would strongly advise AGAINST quitting your job in order to go for a Masters degree. It is much easier to get a job when you have a job. It is also much easier to leverage your network from within your field, even if you are changing fields. All the best as you navigate your decision: remember that YOU GOT THIS!