A graduate degree can be a master’s degree or a doctorate degree. Essentially, it is an advanced program at academic level that those who have a bachelor’s degree can pursue if they want to improve their level of education. Some of the most popular types of graduate degrees are the Doctor of Philosophy, the Juris Doctor, and the Master of Business Administration.
What Is Graduate School?
The vast majority of people complete a bachelor’s degree and then a graduate degree in the same field. However, there is no requirement for this. Rather, it is about following the field in which the degrees are in. There are bachelor’s (and master’s) of art (BA/MA) degrees and there are bachelor’s (and master’s) in science (BS/MS). Hence, if you have completed a BA in Psychology, you could follow this with an MA in English, for instance. Or, you could obtain a BS in Engineering, and then later go for a Ph.D. in Theology.
What makes it a graduate degree, however, is that it has courses that are exclusive to the field it is in, whereas the undergraduate degree has a stronger focus on the liberal arts, or the sciences. So for instance, a BA in Psychology focuses mainly on the liberal arts with some psychology, whereas the MA in Psychology focuses almost solely on psychology as a whole.
Types of Graduate Degrees
A master’s degree, as the name suggests, shows that you have mastery of the field in which you have studied, which is a professional practice. Usually, completion of a master’s degree takes between 12 months and four years. To encourage a higher standard of education, many universities have now started to offer combined programs, meaning that you can complete both a bachelor’s and master’s in five years. The most common master’s degrees in this country are the:
- Master of Business Administration (MBA)
- Master of Science (in any subject)
- Master of Arts (in any subject)
Some subject areas, such as psychology, can be studied either as an MA or an MS. It is important to consider, therefore, what you aim to achieve with your degree in terms of your future career.
The highest type of graduate degree is the doctoral degree. Only around 1% of people have a doctorate degree in this country according to the U.S. Census Bureau. On average, it takes people ten years to complete a doctorate degree, although it is possible to do that in less time, which is around four years. The most popular doctorate degrees are the:
- Ph.D. (in any subject)
- MD (Doctor of Medicine)
- JD (Juris Doctor), which is required to practice law not just in this country, but also in many countries abroad
When you attend graduate school, you will focus heavily on a specific profession or academic discipline. It has long been “academic” in nature, which means students were taught to come up with unique research projects. However, “professional” doctorate degrees also exist, whereby students learn specific knowledge and skills relevant to their chosen profession. Furthermore, there are now even programs that combine the two.
The Difference Between Graduate and Undergraduate Education
At graduate school, you will take classes that are far more concentrated. Furthermore, the faculty will have much higher expectations of you, meaning you have to deliver more work, of higher quality. Furthermore, you will have far fewer elective possibilities, because the studies are focused on a certain discipline. Additionally, all your work will continuously be reviewed not just by your faculty, but also by your peers. Classes in graduate school tend to be smaller, and you will have to work closely together with other students on various projects. Almost all graduate degrees also have a research, teaching, or internship requirement, meaning you get direct experience in the field. Finally, you will usually have to produce an original piece of research.
The Different Degrees at Graduate Level
Undergraduate degrees are never terminal degrees. This means that any subject area you are interested in is likely to have a graduate equivalent. However, the three official levels of graduate degrees, which are the specialist (which is now very rare), master’s, and doctorate, may be terminal degrees. In fact, doctorate degrees always are. As such:
- A specialist degree is usually obtained at the same time as a master’s degree and means you will be required to perform more work in order to be eligible for a license or certification at the end of your degree program.
- A master’s degree exists in virtually any or all types of studies. Some are terminal, such as the Master of Business Administration or the Master of Library Sciences. Others are designed to prepare you for doctorate studies.
- Doctoral degrees, which are always terminal degrees, whereby you will learn to complete independent research. This research can be applied or basic. You will also have to write a dissertation and defend it.
The Difference Between Graduate Certificates and Master’s Degrees
Your education is a huge investment, both in terms of time and money. Not everybody has the luxury of being able to do this, particularly if they cannot see that they will earn a return on investment. This is why, instead of obtaining a master’s degree, they may consider getting a professional certificate, or graduate certificate. This means that you essentially complete to satisfaction just one element of the master’s degree.
Graduate certificates basically help you to build on or enhance the skills you already have in order to become better at what you do, or to learn a specific new skill, in order to transition in your field of work. For example, someone in the health care workforce may choose to complete a certificate in health care management. This means that they do not hold a Master in Health Care Management, but that they do have some significant skills and experience specific to that field.
There are a number of key benefits to choosing a graduate certificate over a graduate degree, including the fact that:
- It takes much less time to complete a certificate. In fact, some programs are as short as a few weeks.
- It is a lot cheaper to get a graduate certificate, which can be important, particularly to those on low incomes or those who already have high levels of student debt.
- You can advance your career with a graduate certificate. For instance, you may already be a teacher, but then want to teach English to foreign learners, meaning you want to obtain your ESOL certification.
That being said, you also need to consider employability. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics has stated that 27% of all jobs require some sort of post-secondary degree, but only 6% require a post-secondary non-degree award. So does this means that it is definitely better to complete a master’s degree? The reality is that they do hold a lot more weight. In fact:
- The BLS has stated that those with a master’s can earn around 20% more than those who only have a bachelor’s in the same field.
- Numerous positions now require a master’s degree as a minimum.
- Flexible pathways exist to complete a master’s degree, including opportunities for corporate sponsorship. Your employer may want to pay for your education, in other words.
Before you decide whether to go for a graduate certificate or a graduate degree, or even to go for either, you need to set yourself a goal. You need to know what you really want to do with your life. You have to explore what the requirements are for that type of job in terms of both education and experience. The reality is that you will earn more if you have a master’s degree, which means you can pay it off. However, just how much you have to pay will depend on your personal financial situation and your income.