Understanding What A Competency-Based Master’s Degree Is

    what is a competency based masters degree

    What is a competency-based master’s degree? A competency-based master’s degree focuses on mastering specific skills or competencies instead of spending a set time in a classroom. This means the focus is on showing you’ve mastered certain areas of study rather than completing a certain number of credits or hours. The aim is to give students practical skills they can use directly in their careers. These programs are flexible and suit working professionals who already know the basics in their field.

    How does this program differ from a typical master’s degree?

    A typical master’s degree program operates within a structured framework characterized by set semesters and courses. Students enrolled in these programs adhere to a predetermined schedule, attending classes, completing assignments, and preparing for exams according to established timelines. The emphasis often lies in acquiring theoretical knowledge and gaining a broad understanding of the subject area through a standardized curriculum.

    In contrast, a competency-based master’s program revolutionizes the traditional educational model by prioritizing flexibility and mastery of specific skills over fixed schedules and uniform learning paths. At the outset, students receive comprehensive course materials, allowing them to progress through the material at their own pace. This approach is particularly advantageous for individuals with prior professional experience in their field, as it enables them to bypass familiar topics and focus directly on acquiring new skills and competencies essential for career advancement.

    Rather than measuring success by the amount of time spent in class, competency-based programs assess students based on their ability to demonstrate proficiency in predefined competencies. These assessments can take various forms, such as practical demonstrations, projects, or simulations, designed to showcase the practical application of learned skills. This competency-focused evaluation ensures that graduates are not only equipped with theoretical knowledge but also possess the practical skills necessary to excel in their respective industries.

    Empowering students to tailor their learning experience to their individual needs and prior knowledge, competency-based programs foster a more personalized educational journey. This customization allows learners to delve deeper into areas of interest, accelerate through familiar material, and allocate more time to challenging concepts as needed. As a result, students can optimize their learning efficiency and relevance, making the educational experience more engaging and directly applicable to their career goals.

    Are there pros and cons to a competency-based master’s?


    • Flexibility: Competency-based master’s programs allow students to learn at their own pace, accommodating busy schedules. Unlike traditional programs with fixed schedules, this flexibility helps working professionals manage their education alongside work and personal responsibilities.
    • Cost-Effectiveness: Many competency-based programs charge a flat fee per term, potentially saving students money compared to traditional programs. By letting students progress faster based on their skills, these programs reduce overall tuition costs, making higher education more affordable and accessible. 
    • Real-World Application: These programs focus on practical skills directly applicable in professional settings. Instead of just theory, graduates are ready to contribute immediately to their careers after finishing their studies. This practical focus improves job readiness and eases the transition from school to work. 
    • Personalized Learning: Competency-based education lets students tailor their learning. They can focus on areas of interest and adapt lessons to fit their existing skills. This personalized approach boosts engagement and allows for deeper learning in specialized subjects.


    • Self-Discipline Required: While flexible, competency-based programs need strong self-discipline. Students must manage their time well and stay motivated to keep up with coursework. Without these skills, students might struggle to meet program requirements, potentially delaying graduation. 
    • Limited Interaction: Compared to traditional programs with group work and face-to-face discussions, competency-based education can be more solitary. Individualized learning paths may mean fewer chances for collaboration and networking with peers, which are vital for professional growth.
    • Recognition Challenges: Some employers and schools may not fully recognize competency-based degrees. Graduates might face skepticism or confusion about the program’s validity. Clear communication about the program’s rigor and outcomes is essential to overcome these perception challenges.
    • Resource Intensive: Setting up competency-based programs requires significant resources. Schools must invest in assessment tools, train faculty in new teaching methods, and use technology for personalized learning. These investments can increase costs for schools and students alike.

    What are examples of competency-based master’s?

    Several universities offer competency-based master’s programs designed to meet the needs of professionals aiming for accelerated skill development and career advancement:

    University of Phoenix

    • Master of Business Administration (MBA): Tailored for business professionals, The MBA emphasizes practical skills essential for effective management and leadership. It can be completed in less than a year, making it ideal for those seeking rapid career progression through focused learning.
    • Master of Health Administration (MHA): Geared towards healthcare professionals with experience, the MHA enhances skills in healthcare management and administration. The curriculum prepares students to tackle current challenges in healthcare delivery and organizational leadership.
    • Master of Information Systems (MIS): Aimed at IT professionals, the MIS program focuses on problem-solving and innovation in business technology. It equips students with advanced skills to analyze, design, and implement IT solutions that drive organizational success.

    Purdue Global’s ExcelTrack®:

    • MBA: Purdue Global’s ExcelTrack® MBA allows students to progress through mini-courses at their own pace, concentrating on specific business competencies like strategic leadership and financial management. This format suits professionals looking to boost their business knowledge without interrupting their careers.
    • MS in Cybersecurity Management: Designed for IT professionals, this program hones expertise in cybersecurity strategy, risk management, and compliance. Students gain practical skills to safeguard organizations from cyber threats while aligning security efforts with business goals.

    Which is better?

    Choosing between a competency-based master’s program and a traditional one depends on your situation and how you learn best.

    Who benefits from a competency-based master’s?

    1. Working professionals

    • Benefit: Can advance in their careers while working. Flexible learning helps in quickly gaining and using new skills.
    • Ideal Candidates: Professionals with work experience aiming for fast career growth.

    2. Self-motivated learners

    • Benefit: Thrive in self-paced learning where they can focus on practical skills. Requires good self-discipline and study habits.
    • Ideal Candidates: People who learn well independently and manage their time effectively.
    1. Career Changers:

    Benefit: Quickly gain new skills for switching careers or advancing in current fields. Fast learning helps me adapt to new career paths.

    Ideal Candidates: Those looking to apply existing skills in new ways and learn rapidly.

    Who benefits from a traditional master’s?

    1. Recent graduates

    • Benefit: Get structured learning and support from teachers. Lots of opportunities for research, mentorship, and starting a career.
    • Ideal Candidates: Graduates seeking in-depth knowledge and a strong academic foundation.

    2. Theory enthusiasts

    • Benefit: Enjoy deep dives into theory and research methods. Traditional programs provide a comprehensive theoretical understanding.
    • Ideal Candidates: People interested in careers in research, teaching, or fields needing deep academic knowledge.

    3. Network seekers

    • Benefit: Work with others and enjoy building a professional network. Traditional programs offer many opportunities to meet peers and professionals.
    • Ideal Candidates: Anyone wanting to expand their professional connections for job opportunities and career advice.

    Competency-based master’s programs are also good choices

    Competency-based master’s programs provide flexibility, cost savings, and practical learning. They’re great for professionals and independent learners aiming to advance their careers without rigid schedules. Although they require strong self-discipline and may face recognition challenges, the benefits usually outweigh these concerns. In today’s job market, these programs cater well to current professional needs and offer valuable skills in a shorter time.