In broad terms, the master's degree indicates that the recipient has mastered a program in a particular field of study to a level, which prepares the candidate to pursue original work in the specialty. Normally, degree titles indicate one of two major categories. The Master of Arts and Master of Science are generally designated as academic degrees designed to provide an introduction to scholarly activities and research. At Southeast, the Master of Natural Science also serves the same purposes. These degrees often serve the needs of individuals teaching in public schools or community colleges and/or as preparation for further graduate study. The second category leads to professional master's degrees, and, in general, consists of common degree titles such as the M.B.A., M.M.E., and M.S.A. While similar to the M.A. and M.S., these programs tend to emphasize professional practice.
Despite differences in title and objective, all master's degrees share common characteristics. The degree normally requires one to two years of full-time study (or equivalent) and the completion of a minimum of thirty-two semester hours of credit. "The degree is awarded upon completion of a coherent program which is designed to assure mastery of specified knowledge and skills, rather than a random accumulation of credits beyond the baccalaureate degree." (1:1) The basic components of the degree may vary in emphasis, but generally include a common core in the discipline; a concentration in a subfield of study; cognate courses outside the department as a means of broadening the curriculum or to provide needed skills, an integrative experience to synthesize the program's content and/or to translate theory into practice such as seminars, practice, etc; a summative experience to measure achievement and intellectual growth such as a thesis, research paper, and/or comprehensive examination. Academic credit applicable to the degree should only be awarded for those courses designed to expand and strengthen skills beyond the level of the baccalaureate degree. Degree credit is not awarded for courses which are remedial or designed to fulfill prerequisites for admission.