Master of Arts

Ben Maples  · Dec 5th 2023

For those looking for a postgraduate qualification in either an Arts or Humanities subject, the Master of Arts is the perfect course to study.


The Master of Arts is one of the oldest postgraduate qualifications in the education world and was first developed at the University of Paris and can be traced back as far as 1179, where it was developed initially as a teaching qualification.

Since then, the degree has taken many different forms and is still one of the most popular postgraduate qualifications that any university can hope to offer.

MOA Master of Arts

What is a Master of Arts?

The Master of Arts (MA) is a postgraduate degree, it is mainly used for Arts and Humanities subjects and is also relevant to Social Sciences as well. The name is often shortened to MA, for Magister Artium, the Latin for Master of Arts.

The MA is one of the oldest postgraduate qualifications offered by universities. The MA used to be used as a teaching qualification because, as the name suggests, you are now a “master” of your subject and are therefore able to teach it, although now you would need a PhD or at least a PGCE degree.

The credits for most Masters qualifications are the same, with the length often being the deciding factor.

Sometimes the subjects that are considered for a Master of Arts change depending on the university offering the degree, with some universities offering MAs in Mathematics or Natural Sciences.

At the University of Oxford, the University of Dublin and the University of Cambridge, the Master of Arts is only attained after a certain number of years studied. As a result, these universities allow for the abbreviated name of the university (Oxon, Cantab or Dubl) to be added to the MA, so for example, you could introduce yourself as “John Smith, MA (Oxon)”.

Master of Arts Scotland

Which countries accept the MA?

The MA is a huge part of most educational systems in the world. The MA holds particular reverence in the UK, as it is seen as a Level 7 qualification, which is equivalent to the MSc, the MBA, MRes and other postgraduate qualifications that fall in the National Qualifications Framework (NQF).

In Europe, the Master of Arts is generally considered to be a second-cycle qualification (postgraduate qualifications) and is standardised set by the Bologna Process. The MA has become a more standard postgraduate qualification in Europe along with the MSc.

The Master of Arts is studied in the United States of America and Canada as a postgraduate qualification, however, the degree can also be used to form the first part of a longer graduate programme that can eventually yield a PhD.

However, in Scotland, the Master of Arts degree is still offered, but the degree is an undergraduate degree and is a four-year course and is offered by the University of Aberdeen, the University of Edinburgh, the University of Glasgow, the University of St. Andrews (all of which are the ancient universities of Scotland), the University of Dundee and Heriot-Watt University. It is common for students who study arts, divinity, humanities and social sciences subjects to receive the MLitt instead.

The name is often shortened to MA, for Magister Artium, the Latin for Master of Arts.

How long is an MA?

The length of an MA depends on how you are studying the course and also depends on where you are studying the course. If you are studying full-time, then the course will take a year to complete.

However, if you are taking the course part-time, then the course will take two years to complete, although it is possible to extend it to three years if need be. If you are studying it as part of a distance learning course, perhaps as a part of the Open University, then you may be given as much as ten years to complete the course!

You will also be tasked with writing a dissertation as well; you will be asked to pick an original topic and you will then be assigned a supervisor who will assist you where necessary.

M.A. Master of Arts

How many credits is a Master of Arts worth?

Credit systems are a big part of most educational programmes, most countries weigh up the value of a qualification with their own credit system. This is not the same as UCAS Tariff Points, which are used as a means of applying to university.

Credit System Points/Level
CATS 90-120 (length dependent)
AQF Level 9

The credits for most masters qualifications are the same, with the length often being the deciding factor. With the MA, a part-time course is worth 90 CATS points, whereas the full-time one is worth 120.

As for the ECTS, this is easily worked out as it will always be half of the points of the CATS.

The length of an MA depends on how you are studying the course and where you are studying.

What are the entry requirements?

The university entry requirements, will depend on the university you are applying to. You will need to have an undergraduate level qualification prior to applying, however, as the Master of Arts is a postgraduate degree.

For the most part, you will generally need a 2:2 in a relevant subject degree, you may also need some kind of industry experience, though this is very rare and will only be for more niche qualifications than the Master of Arts degree.

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