The Meaning of MS After a Name

Why You Might Pursue a Master of Science Degree

Students throwing caps at graduation
Jose Luis Pelaez Inc / Getty Images

College degrees can be confusing because there are so many acronyms involved. If you meet someone with "MS" behind their name, it means they have obtained a Master of Science degree. It is a graduate-level degree that falls between a bachelor's and a doctorate.

As you might expect, this degree involves study in an area related to the sciences, such as chemistry, biology, or engineering. Another type of master's degree is a Master of Arts (MA), which involves study in topics such as English, the fine arts, or history. 

A master's degree in psychology, for example, is one step below a doctorate. While many people who earn an MS in psychology choose to pursue a doctorate, you don't necessarily need a master's to go for a Ph.D. or Psy.D. There are also career opportunities for individuals who choose to stick with an MS. 

Why Do People Complete a Master's?

In order to get a master's degree, you need to demonstrate a high level of knowledge and skill within your chosen field. Those who obtain a master's in one of the sciences will generally first hold a bachelor's degree in science (BS) before being accepted into a master's program. 

In addition, some programs allow students to complete a joint bachelor's and master's degree. After completing a master's degree, some will proceed on to a doctoral program.

People choose to complete a master's degree for many reasons. You might decide to pursue one if:

  • You have a passion for that field of study.
  • You are looking for career advancement.
  • You have a desire to participate in research.
  • You want to change to a different field of study.
  • You are interested in networking opportunities.
  • You have a desire for a greater challenge.
  • Your job requirements or goals depend on a master's.
  • You want to teach at the college level.

What Does It Take to Get an MS?

Work towards a master's degree may involve coursework or research alone or a combination of the two. Often, it involves writing and defending a thesis or doing some sort of research project. These are intended to be a representation of everything you learned in the program.

Generally, it takes about two years to complete a master's degree if you attend classes on a full-time basis. However, most students are a bit older than their undergraduate counterparts and may already be in the workforce. Due to this, master's programs tend to be quite flexible and may take longer to complete. Many programs offer online and part-time courses as well as evening and weekend classes.

MS in Psychology

Typically, a student can choose between an MS or an MA in psychology, depending on your particular interest and career goals. It's more common for people to pursue a doctorate if they have an MS in psychology rather than an MA. With either degree, students can choose to focus on experimental, industrial-organizational, forensic, clinical, social, or child psychology.

Generally, an MS in psychology is for individuals with an interest in the research or scientific side of psychology. It tends to be more oriented toward the study of how the brain works and how that relates to a person's behavior.

There are many career paths available with an MS in psychology. It often leads to employment with the government or for businesses. The scope can include clinical research, data collection or analysis, consulting, or market research. Though you generally cannot teach at the university level without a doctorate, an MS may be acceptable for teaching psychology in a community college setting.

An MS in counseling is also available and can have its own specialty. For example, you can choose to focus on substance abuse or mental health. You might also choose to work in family therapy or school counseling.

A license is often required to work with patients. It varies from one state to another in the U.S., though most require you to go through an accredited school and some require a doctorate. If this is a path you'd like to pursue, be sure to check on licensure requirements in your area.

A Word From Verywell

Deciding which degree program to pursue and how far you want to take your education is a big decision. It depends on the final goals you have for your career and this can change over time. Even if you don't get an MS now, you can choose to pursue it later. Speaking with your academic advisor can clarify your options and help you take the next step.

2 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Northeastern University Graduate Programs. How long does it take to earn a master's degree? 2019.

  2. American Psychological Association. Master’s careers in psychology. 2017.

Additional Reading

By Nancy Schimelpfening
Nancy Schimelpfening, MS is the administrator for the non-profit depression support group Depression Sanctuary. Nancy has a lifetime of experience with depression, experiencing firsthand how devastating this illness can be.