What is a Terminal Master’s Degree?

what-is-a-terminal-masters-degreeAs you look ahead to graduate school, you may be wondering about a terminal master’s degree and what it is. The array of terms for different types of degrees may seem confusing at first, but it’s not really too hard to sort out the distinctions between terminal and non-terminal degrees. At the most basic level, a terminal degree is what it sounds like: a degree that helps you to reach the “end” of your education. If you receive a terminal degree, whether it’s a master’s or a doctorate, it is considered terminal if it is the highest degree you can get in your field of study.

Some More About the Distinctions

Some fields of study emphasize research. When you enter those kinds of fields, it is likely that your master’s level degree will be just one step toward another, higher degree. If that is the case, it’s considered “non-terminal” because you will be expected to go on and obtain a doctorate in order to the do the kind of work you want to pursue.

In other fields, however, research is not as emphasized. A master’s degree in certain fields is as far as you will need to go in order to be considered fully prepared to enter a given profession. In those cases, when you work toward a terminal master’s degree, you may discover that the coursework you take and the way your master’s program is designed is highly practical. It may focus not just on academic knowledge but on actual skills you will need to do the job you’re about to take on. The shape of a final project in such a degree may provide you with opportunities to put those kinds of skills to use. The completion of a non-terminal degree often, though not always, requires the writing of a thesis. Although the number of required credits will vary from program to program, in both cases, terminal and non-terminal degrees, you can expect to spend between one to two years of full-time studying to complete a master’s degree.

Typical Terminal Degrees at the Master’s Level

Given these distinctions, it’s understandable that some professional fields will offer terminal degrees at the master’s level while others will not. According to MBAGrad.org, some of the most common terminal masters include the Master of Business Administration (MBA) degree, along with the Master of Education (M.Ed) and the Master of Engineering (M.Eng). Other terminal masters include the Master of Landscape Architecture (MLArch) and the Master of Fine Arts (MFA). Completing any of these degrees does not mean you can’t ever go on for further schooling, but it will mean that you will be considered prepared to enter your professional field after receiving your terminal degree.

Not all graduate programs use the words terminal and non-terminal. The most widespread use of the terms are found in academic programs in the United States. So if you are studying abroad, you may find these kinds of program distinctions discussed in other terms. Whatever words are used, however, the distinction is an important one to understand as you are considering various career options. Depending on what profession you pursue, you may decide a terminal master’s degree is the right path for you.