A Masters degree is a postgraduate academic degree (SEE EXCEPTIONS) that can last from one to six years. It is a degree concentrated in a specific field of study, and provides higher qualification for employment or prepares for doctoral studies. In Europe, it is a degree that can be undertaken after at least three years of undergraduate study. In the US and Canada, a Masters degree entails a one- or two-year course in which students would normally enroll after completing a Bachelors degree.
There are several types of Masters degrees, like Master of Arts, Master of Sciences, Master of Business Administration, and many more. But there are two fundamental types of Masters degrees: Research Masters and Taught Masters.
A Taught Masters consists of the successful completion of modules (courses), continuous assessment and examinations. They can have elements of research, however. For example, they are usually (but not always) completed with the submission of a dissertation.
A Research Masters consists of assessment of an individual piece of research and can include training in research methods. These include little (if any) taught work, and are very oriented at individual work. These Masters are useful for people who wish to see what a doctorate is like, as research is a fundamental aspect of a PhD. Students pursuing a Research Masters will have a supervisor who will guide them in the development of their research.
EXCEPTIONSIn the UK, some universities (Oxford, Cambridge, St. Andrews University, University of Glasgow, University of Aberdeen, University of Edinburgh) award an Master of Arts (M.A.) for degrees which are constituted as 'first cycle' level, technically making them equivalent to undergraduate degrees.