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What Does BA, MA & PhD Mean in Degrees?

by Heather Dennull

Learn the difference among bachelor of arts, master of arts and a Ph.D. so you can help determine the best educational path for your desired career.

B.A.: Bachelor of Arts

A B.A. degree is a Bachelor of Arts degree. Typically, this is a 4-year degree program within a specified departmental major. B.A. degrees are undergraduate degrees conferred upon completion of a Bachelor of Arts program or by transferring credits from an associate degree program toward the completion of a bachelor's degree program. Bachelor of Arts degrees emphasize education in the liberal arts. Students are often required to complete course credits in fields such as humanities, social sciences, natural sciences, mathematics and foreign language. Some schools may also require additional categories of course work, such as multicultural studies. To complete a B.A. degree, students must also declare a major field of concentration for the degree. The major concentration is normally associated with the humanities or social sciences.

M.A.: Master of Arts

An M.A. is a Master of Arts degree. Master of Arts degrees are graduate degree programs within a concentrated specialization pursued after the completion of a bachelor's degree. Individuals often pursue master's degrees to gain promotion in their current careers or to advance to a new career within their field. Master of Arts degrees are research degrees, as students often must complete extensive field research resulting in a master's thesis, a capstone project or a comprehensive examination. Individuals wishing to pursue doctoral studies often must complete a master's degree.

Ph.D.: Doctor of Philosophy

A Ph.D. means Doctor of Philosophy and is the highest academic degree an individual can earn within a field of study. Individuals who complete a Ph.D. receive the title of 'doctor.' A doctoral degree requires extensive research often leading to the completion of a dissertation. Ph.D. recipients can progress toward careers as college professors, researchers or other professional positions related to their field.

Selecting the Right Degree

Individuals wishing to pursue higher education degrees should consider their career goals and the objectives they hope to accomplish. They should research the career they intend to pursue and determine the level of education needed to acquire the position. Individuals should speak to academic and enrollment counselors at the prospective institutions where they wish to study before making final decisions about their education. Some careers require only a bachelor's degree while others prefer graduate degrees in the form of a master's or doctoral degree.

About the Author

Heather Dennull has been active in the education field since 2003. She teaches developmental English and introductory courses in humanities and philosophy at the college level. She has a master's degree in education and is working toward a doctorate in educational leadership.

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