The difference between master's and bachelor's degrees

Updated July 19, 2017

Master's and bachelor's degrees may seem similar, separated only by a few more years at college and a lot more money. They often come in identical subjects. Yet many employers will specify the need for a master's degree (sometimes called a graduate degree) and aside from the cost students may well wonder what the differences are. They may also wonder whether those differences are worth the extra cost.


Both a master's and a bachelor's degree generally come in either an arts: - M.A. or B.A. - or a science: M.S. or B.S. There are variations in a master's degree, such as a Master of Fine Arts or a Masters of Business Arts.

Time Frame

A bachelor's degree is earned after completion of a course of undergraduate study, generally four years. A master's degree is earned after completing graduate studies, usually two years after first earning an undergraduate degree.


A master's degree is earned after extended studies, often in a more narrow field than a bachelor's degree. As a result, someone who holds a master's degree is considered to have more knowledge in their field.

Pay Scales

When it comes to earning potential and initial salaries, someone with a master's degree can usually earn more money than someone with just a bachelor's degree. However, given enough experience with a bachelor's degree, this tends to equal out.


Without earning a master's degree, a student cannot go on to earn a PhD. Some career paths also necessitate a master's degree, which makes additional education necessary.

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