UH's lifestyle and entertainment magazine - by students, for students

Most of us expect 17 total years of schooling. Four years of college, four of high school, three years of middle school and six or seven years of elementary school. School already takes up a massive chunk of our lives! Even so, a few of us go further than just an undergraduate career.

Enter: the master’s degree.

If someone decides that their bachelor’s isn’t enough, they may pursue their master’s degree. The years this may add to their education varies. For the most part, it’ll be another two years. But why on earth would someone return to school? And has the master’s degree always been a thing in higher education?

With a history dating back to the medieval era, the master’s degree isn’t something new. Its place in the world of academia is an integral one. Now, let’s see where it came from and how it evolved.

Humble beginnings

Something resembling a master’s degree emerged in medieval Europe in the 1200s. This was around the time the famous Cambridge University was built. Some scholars wanted to further their education in their respective fields. Once they acquired said knowledge, they shared what they learned with others.

A person allowed to teach others had earned the title of ‘Magister.’ Sound familiar? However, this title didn’t evolve into a degree until centuries later. Before then, these magisters only had a license to teach others.

The dark ages… Kinda

With the death of the magister came the actual degree. In the United States, Harvard University began offering the Master of Arts (or the magister atrium) degree soon after it was established in 1636. Many other universities in England and Scotland also began offering the degree around this time. By the 19th and 20th centuries, offering bachelor’s and master’s degrees became the norm for universities.

Oddly enough, earning a master’s degree during this time rarely required any further study. A master’s degree was awarded to anyone who passed an exam, or to bachelor’s graduates who did well in school.

This is due to the fact that scholars at this time didn’t believe in the legitimacy of the degree. People with doctorate degrees looked down on the master’s, believing it to be a mere stepping stone to the Ph.D. Some even thought it was given in pity for those unable to obtain PhDs—hence, the dark ages.

Today’s master’s degree

More time passed, and the purpose of the master’s degree evolved. By the late 20th century, thousands of master’s degrees emerged across the country. The reputation of the degree improved with the rapid changes that came to the U.S. workforce. To obtain one nowadays, students could either write a thesis, complete a project, do an exam or more. This is usually paired with rigorous coursework. There are many ways to earn this degree, and it depends on the field of study you take up.

Today, people earn their master’s for many reasons. For the most part, academics still have the same goal as they did back in medieval times. They want to expand their knowledge in a field they’re passionate about. Becoming an expert in a certain field helps with specialization in the workforce, so it absolutely comes in handy. With all of this being said, what about you? Should you get one?

The master’s degree isn’t for everyone, but knowing its origins can help with your decision to pursue one. The University of Houston alone has nearly a hundred master’s degree programs. Also, the graduation regalia for completing the degree is sick, so definitely factor that into your decision. You could be one degree hotter!

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