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Question: What Is a Master of Applied Science (MAS) Degree?

Answer: A Master of Applied Science (MAS) is graduate-level degree with a curriculum that focuses on the practical applications of knowledge and research in a scientific field. While the MAS designation is relatively rare in the US, American colleges and universities offer Master of Science, Master of Engineering, and other types of master’s degree programs that provide training and instruction in applied science.

What Is Applied Science?

Applied science refers to the practical use of existing scientific knowledge to solve real-world problems and create technological innovations in fields like engineering, medicine, and information systems. In contrast to pure research science, in which the primary aim is to make new discoveries that add to the existing body of knowledge, applied science prioritizes the functional utility of science in the everyday world. For example, the scientists who mapped the human genome were engaged in pure scientific research. The scientists who have used the knowledge gained from that pure research to develop new medical treatments are practicing applied science.

Applied science takes place across a broad range of fields and multi-disciplinary areas, including engineering, manufacturing, sustainability, biotechnology, business management, medicine, communication, and information management. It may be funded by government agencies, private companies, research universities, and/or partnerships between organizations in the public and private sectors. Formal training in applied science takes place at various levels of the higher education system, in associates, bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral programs at colleges, universities, and technical schools, and through internships, fellowships, and other types of experiential learning programs.

Master of Applied Science (MAS) Programs

Master of Applied Science, or MAS/MASc, is a formal designation for a master’s degree that focuses on the uses of scientific knowledge in a particular field, such as patient safety, agronomy, natural resources management, nanotechnology, and materials engineering. These programs are more common in Canada, Australia, and other Commonwealth nations than in the US, where Master of Science (MS) in an applied science and Master of Engineering (MEng) programs are far more prevalent. However, there are several American schools that offer MAS degrees in highly specialized areas, like population health management, spatial analysis for public health, agricultural economics, and food science. These programs are typically designed to provide working professionals with advanced skills and training in evidence-based innovations, including the latest advances in scientific research and emerging technologies. MAS programs are also typically interdisciplinary in that they integrate theories and practices from several fields of scientific research.

Master of Science in Applied Science Degree Programs

While there are only a small number of MAS degree programs in the US, there are numerous schools that offer a broad and varied range of MS in an applied science degree programs. These programs integrate theories and practices from the physical sciences, life sciences, social sciences, and mathematics into curricula that provide master’s-level training for career advancement in the applied sciences. They may also prepare students for professional certification and/or licensure in a particular field, and graduates from MS programs are generally eligible to apply to doctoral degree programs in their area of study.

Like other types of MS degree programs, applied science master’s programs are typically designed to be completed in one-to-two years of full-time enrollment, although this varies by program. They generally include a core curriculum of four or more courses that address foundational knowledge in specific areas of science, as well as elective coursework that focuses on various applications of that knowledge. MS programs commonly culminate in a master’s thesis or capstone project that challenges students to apply what they have learned to a topic or issue relevant to the area of study. Some MS programs may also include a clinical, laboratory, and/or research training component through practicums, internships, and other types of applied learning experiences.

Identifying Applied Science Master’s Programs

Applied science master’s degree programs may or may not be formally designated as “applied science” master’s programs. In fact, MS degree programs exist across the spectrum of pure, research-based science and applied science. The key component of an applied science master’s program is coursework dedicated to practical applications of scientific research and theories. There are general applied science master’s programs in fields like biology, chemistry, mathematics, and physics, and more specialized programs that focus on narrower applications of science and technology within a particular field or industry. The list below offers an overview of some of the more common areas of focus for MS in applied science degree programs:

  • Master of Science in Applied Analytics
  • Master of Science in Applied Behavioral Analysis
  • Master of Science in Applied Biological Sciences
  • Master of Science in Applied Communication
  • Master of Science in Applied Computing
  • Master of Science in Applied Economics
  • Master of Science in Applied Mathematics
  • Master of Science in Applied Physics
  • Master of Science in Applied Statistics
  • Master of Science in Applied Urban Science and Informatics
  • Master of Science in Data Science
  • Master of Science in Information Technology
  • Master of Science in Finance
  • Master of Science in Geographical Information Systems
  • Master of Science in Nursing
  • Master of Science in Organizational Leadership

MEng and MS in Engineering Degree programs

A subset of MS programs in the applied sciences fall into the category of engineering degree programs, which represent a specific type of applied science degree program. While there are some distinctions made between applied science and engineering, it is common for universities to offer applied science and engineering programs through a school or department of Engineering & Applied Science, as the two fields are closely related.

Applied science is typically thought to have a larger research component, while engineering is mainly focused on the application of scientific knowledge, mathematics, and other tools to designing, building, and improving structures, machines, systems, devices, materials, and other components in a particular field. There are MS in engineering degree programs, which typically do include a research component, and Master of Engineering programs, which often do not include a thesis but may include a final project of some kind. Common fields of study in master’s in engineering programs include:

  • Agricultural Engineering
  • Biomechanical Engineering
  • Biomedical Engineering
  • Chemical Engineering
  • Civil Engineering
  • Electrical Engineering
  • Environmental Engineering
  • Industrial Engineering
  • Materials Engineering
  • Mechanical Engineering
  • Software Engineering

Other Types of Applied Science Master’s Degree Programs

In addition to MS and MAS programs in applied science and engineering, there are several other types of master’s degree programs that may be categorized as applied science master’s programs. The crucial component of a master’s degree in an applied science is coursework that focuses on the use of scientific tools and methodologies to address practical issues and solve real-world problems. Many practice-based master’s programs are essentially applied science master’s programs. For example, a Master of Social Work (MSW) program provides instruction and training in the evidence-based practice of social work, which involves applying scientific methods and quantitative tools to solving social problems. Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) programs are similar in that regard.

Professional Science Master’s (PSM) programs are a newer type of applied science master’s program that offer interdisciplinary instruction in an applied science, technology, engineering, and mathematics fields with additional training in areas of business, professional communication, law, and policy. PSM degree programs integrate technical training in an applied science with management, leadership, and other professional and administrative skills that are applicable in companies and organizations that conduct scientific research and development.

Some of the common areas of focus for PSM degree programs include:

  • Industrial Chemistry
  • Sustainability
  • Bioinformatics
  • Biotechnology
  • Cybersecurity
  • Data Science
  • Engineering Management
  • Geographical Information Science
  • Industrial Mathematics
  • Medical Physics
  • Nanotechnology
  • Pharmaceutical Sciences
  • Toxicology

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