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Question: What Is the Difference Between a Master of Science (MS) and a Master of Professional Studies (MPS) Degree Program?

Answer: Master of Science (MS) designates a wide cross-section of graduate-level degree programs in science, mathematics, engineering, and other fields. In contrast, Master of Professional Studies (MPS) degree programs are generally confined to a narrower spectrum of fields in applied science and mathematics, and in interdisciplinary areas related to particular industries. While there is some overlap between these two types of master’s programs, MS programs may put a stronger emphasis on pure research and theory than MPS programs, which are generally practice- and/or career-based.

MS and MPS Degree Programs

Master of Professional Studies (MPS) degree programs are designed to provide professional training in specific fields, often in areas that require extensive technical expertise and interdisciplinary knowledge. They generally accommodate students who have some professional experience in the field of study and who may continue to work while attending a master’s program.

MPS programs are typically offered through schools or departments of professional studies or continuing education, and they are meant to foster proficiencies in areas that may be helpful for career advancement. There are MPS programs in a number of fields, including but not limited to the following:

  • Applied Economics
  • Clinical Psychological Science
  • Community Development
  • Design
  • Emergency and Disaster Management
  • Environmental Studies
  • Geospatial Information Sciences
  • Homeland Security
  • Information Science
  • Informatics
  • Integrated Communication
  • Project Management
  • Sports Management
  • Strategic and Organizational Leadership

Master of Science (MS) is a designation for graduate degree programs that cover a wider range of master’s-level degree programs. There are MS programs that are similar to MPS programs in that they cover skills and knowledge in applied and multidisciplinary areas of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, including cybersecurity, economics, data analytics, clinical psychology, and statistics. There are also practice-based MS programs, such as Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) and Master of Science in Social Work (MSW/MSSW) programs. And there are many MS programs that focus on theoretical and academic research, rather than on the practical applications of science and/or mathematics.

It is important to note that while MS degree programs are offered in physical/natural sciences, social/behavioral sciences, and computer/information sciences, there are also MS degree programs in areas that may not be narrowly defined as sciences. Many areas of business, for example, are covered by MS programs, including communication, human resource management (HRM), and organizational leadership. There are no formal rules governing what constitutes an MS degree in relation to an MPS or even a Master of Arts (MA) degree. However, MS programs have conventionally included a research component, laboratory work, and/or a master’s thesis requirement, and MS pedagogy focuses on employing the scientific method to solving problems and understanding complex issues.

MS vs. MPS Programs

Many schools offer MS and MPS programs that are designed to accommodate working professions by providing courses in the evenings, on weekends, and through online instructional methods. Some of these programs offer part-time enrollment options. However, there are also many traditional, campus-based MS programs that are designed for full-time students. Some MS degrees are pathways to doctoral degree programs in that field, and others are part of programs in which a master’s degree in conferred to students while they are working toward a doctoral degree.

In contrast, MPS programs are specifically designed to provide professional training, often to students who have begun their careers and are aiming to advance into more senior positions. To that end, MPS programs are more likely than MS programs to employ experience professionals as adjunct instructors, to include professional skills and/or networking workshops, and to incorporate a final capstone project or experience in lieu of a master’s thesis.

An MPS degree can provide a pathway to an eventual doctoral degree, however this varies by field of study and by the type of MPS program. In certain research and academic fields, students who graduate with an MS degree may be better positioned for acceptance into PhD or other types of doctoral programs.

Admissions to MS and MPS Programs

General admissions requirements and criteria for MS and MPS programs vary by school, by program, and by field of study. However, they are similar in several regards. Applicants to MS and MPS programs must hold a bachelor’s degree from an accredited college or university. While MS and MPS program may have specific undergraduate course prerequisites, applicants are generally not required to have majored in the same field or discipline as the MS or MPS program, although majoring in the same field or a related field may provide a competitive edge for applicants to certain MS programs.

In addition, applicants to both types of programs may be ask to furnish some or all of the following:

  • Standardized test scores (GRE or GMAT)
  • Two or more letters of recommendation
  • A short personal goals statement and/or portfolio
  • Written responses to one or more essay questions
  • An up-to-date CV

Finally, some MS and MPS programs are designed for students who already have one or more years of professional experience in the field of study. Prospective applicants to MS and MPS programs should examine admissions requirements carefully to determine which programs they are eligible for and which programs best suit their needs and career goals.

Online MPS Programs

MPS programs tend to be structured to accommodate working students who require a certain amount of flexibility. As a result, many MPS degree programs are available in online or hybrid formats that combine online and classroom-based instruction. The following schools offer online MPS degree programs.

Georgetown University: Georgetown University offers several degree programs that utilize online instruction:

  • MPS in Higher Education Administration
  • MPS in Human Resources Management
  • MPS in Project Management
  • MPS in Sports Industry Management

Georgetown’s MPS programs can be completed in one to five years. The Executive MPS program is offered in an online format but requires three on-campus residencies over the course of the 21-month program.

The George Washington University (GWU): The College of Professional Studies at GWU offers four online MPS degree programs:

  • MPS in Cybersecurity Strategy & Information Management
  • MPS in Homeland Security
  • MPS in Paralegal Studies
  • MPS in Publishing

In addition, GWU offers a hybrid MPS in Law Firm Management program, featuring some online courses and some courses that require in-person attendance. Campus courses are offered in the evenings so that students can continue to work while pursuing their MPS. GWU’s MPS programs can be completed in 16 to 24 months.

New York School of Interior Design (NYSID): NYSID offers three separate online MPS programs, two of which are available in online or hybrid formats. Students can choose from an online MPS in Healthcare Interior Design or an online MPS in Sustainable Interior Environments. Both of the online MPS programs offered by NYSID can be completed in two years.

Tulane University: Tulane University offers three online MPS programs:

  • MPS in Information Technology Management
  • MPS in Health & Wellness Management
  • MPS in Homeland Security Studies

Tulane’s MPS programs are offered through the university’s School of Professional Advancement. While there are no thesis requirements for these MPS programs, the MPS in Health & Wellness Management requires an internship.

Online MS Programs

Many schools offer online MS programs in a wide range of fields and disciplines. These include:

Arizona State University (ASU): ASU offers online MS degrees in many areas, including biomedical diagnostics and psychology. ASU’s online MS programs are designed so that students can take one immersive course per seven-and-a-half week term. Students can begin ASU’s online programs on 11 different start dates throughout the year.

University of Southern California (USC): USC offers online MS programs in many fields, including five computer science MS degrees and more than 30 MS degrees through its School of Engineering. Many of USC’s MS programs are 100% online, while others, such as those offered through School of Dentistry, are offered in a hybrid format that requires students to attend classes at USC’s Los Angeles campus.

Pennsylvania State University (Penn State): Through Penn State World Campus, Pennsylvania State University offers online MPS and MS degrees programs. The type of degree depends on the subject, with MS degrees offered in fields like mechanical engineering, and MPS degrees offered in areas like human resources, homeland security, and data analytics.

University of Nevada – Las Vegas (UNLV): UNLV offers two MS degrees: an MS in Educational Psychology program and an MS in Executive Crisis & Emergency Management (ECEM) program. Both of these programs are offered 100% online.

Additional FAQs about Degree Programs and Online Education: