Graduate programs present real opportunities for nurses looking to advance within the profession, but there’s often a bit of confusion about the differences between an MS and MA in nursing. Both degrees are readily available to nurses with a four-year degree in the profession, and they typically offer a relatively uniform series of core courses and electives that enrich the nurse’s understanding of their role in the healthcare industry. Even so, some candidates are afraid that a Master of Arts degree isn’t as “series” or as rigorous as a Master of Science alternative at a different school. So, what are the differences between these programs? Are these differences serious enough to avoid one degree or the other?
Master of Arts: A Degree Historically Focused on Theory
First and foremost, it’s important to understand where the designations “Master of Arts” and “Master of Science” came from in the first place. The Master of Arts degree has historically been recognized as a degree more focused on the academic theory of a given subject area, rather than the practical application of skills in a laboratory setting. For this reason, a large number of Master of Arts programs actually require their students to write a thesis about the profession. This thesis is often guided by careful research done over the course of two or three years of program enrollment.
At the conclusion of this degree program, graduates still have a valuable, graduate-level credential that will allow them to advance in the nursing profession. They will also, typically, have a thesis that could permit them easier admission to a Doctor of Nursing Practice program in the future. For this reason, the M.A. designation is great for future academics.
Master of Science: The Most Popular Choice for Today’s Nurses
At the other end of the spectrum from an M.A. degree is the Master of Science, which is historically regarded as the more practically applied degree in higher education. This means that many M.S.N. students will be given more time to learn advanced skills and apply them in clinical environments or on-campus labs. They may also be given more opportunities to conduct interesting research into all types of pathology and modern issues in the profession. A thesis is generally not required of students enrolled in this type of program, but most schools do require a comprehensive final examination or a final verbal examination prior to graduation. Because this degree is the one offered by most schools, it’s easier for HR professionals and recruiters to recognize. Graduates of this program might have an easier time describing their education and showcasing their advanced skills as a result.
M.A. and M.S. Programs Are Two Great Options for Today’s Nurses
It’s important to understand that both of these graduate degrees are equally essential to learning advanced skills in the profession and advancing into leadership roles at major hospitals or smaller clinics. Both degrees have roughly the same course sequence, ensuring that students of either program will be highly qualified nurses without being at a disadvantage among their peers. While the M.A. program is perhaps a slightly better fit for nurses who wish to enter academia in the future, both an MS and MA in nursing will teach advanced pathology, leadership skills, and many other essential elements of fast-paced practice in settings large and small.