What is the definition of a graduate degree? (With samples of potential employment)

Graduate degrees expand your understanding of particular disciplines or subjects. After earning your undergraduate degree, you frequently pursue graduate studies. The path to a career can be paved with a graduate degree, which can also increase your chances of landing a job and getting promoted at work. In this post, we define a graduate degree, look at some instances, and discuss the employment options available to those with a particular graduate degree.

What exactly is a graduate degree?

A graduate degree is one to three years of study—or longer—in a graduate program after earning a bachelor’s degree, to answer the question, “What is a graduate degree?” A graduate degree, which might be at the master’s or doctoral level, demonstrates your advanced knowledge of a particular subject or industry and demonstrates your dedication to lifelong learning, which is highly valued by many businesses. The first step in pursuing graduate school is to set clear, career-focused goals that create a different educational environment than you probably had throughout your undergraduate studies.

The master’s and doctoral degrees offered by graduate institutions are taught or research-based. A research-based master’s degree, which can be earned in 12 to 24 months, requires you to complete a research project and collaborate with a tutor. Instead of a lengthy research thesis, a taught master’s degree often consists of several required or optional modules. The highest educational level is a Doctor of Philosophy degree, or Ph.D., which comprises a sizable research project, thesis, or dissertation that outlines and analyzes your academic work.

What Does a Graduate Program Look Like?

Instead of having a large number of general education prerequisites like associate’s and bachelor’s degree programs, the majority of graduate degree courses only provide courses related to their fields of study. Nonetheless, Ph.D. programs typically provide courses from a variety of academic fields.

While many students continue their undergraduate education in the same profession in which they earned their bachelor’s degree, this is not a requirement for graduate studies. If you have a Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) in Psychology, you might want to consider a Master of Arts (M.A.) in English or perhaps a Master’s degree in business administration (M.B.A.). The same is true for those who have a Bachelor of Science (B.S.) in engineering and decide to pursue a Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in theology. Based on their career objectives, students have the option to either develop in the same sector or explore new ones.

Three different types of graduate degrees

You’ll regularly run into three different types of degrees when looking into graduate programs. A master’s degree is the most well-known choice, yet it’s not the only one. PhDs and professional degrees, like a Doctor of Medicine or Juris Doctor, are also included in the definition of a “graduate degree.” Let’s examine each in more detail:

1. A master’s degree

Following the curriculum and your schedule, a master’s degree requires one to two years of full-time study. You could study a Master of Science (MS), Master of Arts (MA), or a more specialized degree, depending on the topic you decide to study. A master’s degree combines classroom and independent research and typically necessitates the fulfillment of a final project or the presentation of a thesis.

One of the most well-liked master’s programs that focus on business management, including sales, finance, marketing, and accounting, is the Master of Business Administration (MBA). A Master of Fine Arts (MFA), which is intended exclusively for artists and focuses on fields like music, painting, theater, and graphic design, is another option to think about.

2. Ph.D. (Doctor of Philosophy) (Ph.D.)

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) program, which last four to seven years, is another well-liked graduate program. The research-based nature of these courses gives you the chance to test your hypotheses and theories in the area of study that interests you. There are many options regarding what to study, including subjects in the arts, social sciences, psychology, and technology, among many others. A Doctorate can be finished in three to eight years.

3. Professional doctorate

The highest academic degree required for a particular career is usually a professional doctorate. You will use research to address relevant, real-world issues while you pursue this advanced degree. There are numerous titles for professional doctorates, such as Doctor of Medicine (MD) and Juris Doctor (JD).  Although the length of these degrees varies, they usually take three to six years to finish.

Abilities obtained in graduate degree courses

A graduate degree enables you to gain expertise in specific fields relating to your area of specialty while also enhancing your command of general abilities that apply to all career paths. They consist of:

  • Written and verbal communication abilities
  • Crucial reasoning
  • Problem-solving
  • Research abilities
  • Ability to function both individually and as a team
  • Time management
  • Coordination and leadership

Master’s degree examples

Universities provide master’s degrees in three key fields. These specialties include master’s degrees in business management, science, and the arts. Here, we elaborate on those headings:

A Master of Business Administration

A Master of Business Administration, or MBA, offers a thorough understanding of managerial tactics and duties and is frequently the starting point for executive employment in the corporate sector. Accountancy, innovation and entrepreneurship, finance, health, law, and leadership are among the specialization options. You gain knowledge of strategic planning, management theory’s application, how organizations develop, and how to manage a team and inspire others.

A business school’s MBA programs last between one and two years to finish. Depending on the institution, students may study full-time, part-time, or online. A degree with upper second-class honors or its equivalent, as well as at least three years of administrative experience, are prerequisites for admission. Additional conditions might be:

  • Minimum Graduate Management Admission Test score: The three-and-a-half-hour test has four components and qualifies you for the majority of MBA programs. It assesses your verbal communication, numeric ability, integrated reasoning, and analytical writing abilities.
  • Documentation evidence: Based on your educational and job history, you may be required to submit your curriculum vitae, proof of your undergraduate degree (or equivalent qualification), and at least one professional reference.
  • Completion of a preparatory course: Several MBA programs recommend completing a preparation course, which requires about 125 hours of study, along with completing a core module, to assist in acquiring the skills required to finish the curriculum.

A Master of Science

An MSc degree is related to studies in engineering, sciences, or medicine. You must finish several required and optional modules for taught MSc degrees. A research project and frequently a handful of modules must be completed for research MSc degrees. The duration from start to finish is 12 to 24 months. Master’s degrees in science demonstrate excellent analytical and technical abilities. You learn how to conduct original field or lab research, analyze scientific literature critically, and use scientific knowledge in professional contexts to further scientific knowledge of the specialty area. Examples of master’s degrees in science include:

  • Life and biological sciences
  • Technological and engineering
  • Biological sciences
  • Administration, economics, and business
  • Dietary sciences
  • Pharmacy
  • Biotechnology
  • Science of molecules
  • Civil engineering, computer science, aviation, and industrial design are some examples of engineering specialties
  • Management and marketing
  • Chemistry
  • Astronomy
  • Mathematics
  • Chemistry
  • International management
  • Physics
  • Global Logistics

A Master of Arts

It takes one to two years to complete a Master of Arts degree or MA. These might be research degrees that demand original research or teaching degrees that require module completion. Master of Arts programs combines practical work with the study of and application of theories in fields including history and culture and diverse artistic mediums like film, sculpture, painting, music, theater, and photography. Master of Arts degrees can be obtained in the following fields:

  • Visual Culture and art history
  • Arts management
  • Design and the arts
  • Visual design
  • Philosophy
  • Creativity, initiative, and business
  • Sociology
  • Galleries, museums, and modern culture
  • History
  • Ingenious writing
  • Photography
  • English literature

Doctorate degrees

A Doctorate focuses on the majority of university subject areas, lasts three to four years, and recognizes the accomplishment of supervised study that produces creative, independent thought that advances knowledge. While you may take some educational modules, you will probably spend most of your time conducting independent research while being supervised by a faculty member and a committee of peers before creating a dissertation that will be defended in an oral examination. Several PhDs, including:

  • Collaborative: Research projects that you carry out in collaboration with a partner from a different university, company, or industry are referred to as collaborative projects.
  • Doctorates in professional, engineering, and enterprise studies: This connects to fields including psychology, education, engineering, and business and includes a teaching component.
  • Doctor of Business Administration: These are frequently part-time degrees intended for senior workers in the workforce who have completed research experience and supervised research related to businesses, nonprofit organizations, or governmental agencies.

Career opportunities after earning a graduate degree

A master’s degree shows that you have advanced knowledge and expertise in a certain field, as well as the capacity to maintain a persistent study focus. Some kinds of careers can result from earning a graduate degree:

1. A senior manager or executive

MBA holders are hired by businesses for senior managerial and technical positions. The security, information technology, financial, and manufacturing industries all employ executives with MBAs. Investment banking, consulting in business management, being the chief financial officer, being a senior product manager, and being a business development director is typical roles for MBA holders.

2. University professor and academic researcher

A Doctorate paves the way for advancement into a career in academia as a researcher or college professor. These academic jobs, such as lecturers, professors, and researchers, entail administrative work, data analysis, report writing, and funding research. Along with instructing in classes and seminars, they also evaluate student work, counsel students, deliver work at meetings and events, write up research, and publish their findings.

3. Vocational expert

A master’s degree is necessary for some professions, including those of physiotherapists, social services, psychologists, and occupational therapists. While a master’s degree is not required for some vocational professions, career advancement does require a graduate degree. For instance, you just need a bachelor’s degree to become a nurse, but you need a master’s degree to advance into a specialized or managing position.

4. Manager or director of arts and culture

A Master of Arts degree with a focus on one of many areas is common among directors and managers in cultural and arts organizations. A graduate degree in the arts equips students with the theoretical understanding and practical skills needed to manage artistic talent, cultural heritage, and financial sustainability on both a local and international scale. Degree recipients hold both managerial and technical leadership positions in publishing, art marketing, consulting firms, galleries and museums, art financing organizations, and local government.

5. Senior technical or scientific advisor

A Master of Science, another graduate degree specialized to their industry, or a doctoral degree is frequently held by senior scientific and technical advisors. Scientists and technologists with master’s degrees are employed in the science, pharmaceutical, resource, manufacturing, and information technology sectors to work in labs, hospitals, pharmacies, manufacturing facilities, and offices. The entry point for a number of these technical management positions is frequently a graduate degree.

6. An epidemiologist

Epidemiologists can be employed in public health to investigate the causes of illness and damage among populations with a master’s degree in epidemiology. Health organizations, governments, businesses, and consulting firms, design and oversee health programs and make recommendations on how to avoid diseases and other issues relating to public health. In positions like an epidemiologist, senior epidemiology studies manager, statistician, director of epidemiology-infectious diseases, and health data scientist, the majority of epidemiologists specialize in fields like oral health, mental health, chronic disease, communicable diseases, or environmental health.

7. A school administrator

Leaders of universities, colleges, and other schools are education administrators. For these top roles, you must possess a graduate degree in educational leadership or administration. In addition to having many years of experience as a teacher and the willingness to further your knowledge of learning environments, qualifications include a Master of Arts, a Master of Education with a concentration on education management and leadership, or a Ph.D. in Education.

How About Medical Schools, Law Schools, etc.?

Graduate school is frequently set apart from “professional school,” which is typically used to describe post-undergraduate courses that prepare students for a particular career instead of a topic of study. Examples of advanced nursing degrees that are regarded as professional degrees include the Doctor of Medicine (MD) and the Nurse Practitioner (NP) or Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA). The same is true for both the Juris Doctor and the Master of Business Administration (MBA).

What Is the Time Frame for a Graduate Degree?

The length of your graduate program will determine how long it takes you to complete it, however for full-time students, the great majority of non-professional master’s programs require between two and three years to complete. But, it will take you a long time to earn that desired Ph.D. because it takes students 7.7 years on average to finish a Ph.D. program. Overall, graduate students can anticipate completing their university education between six and twelve years (their undergraduate years included).

Is Graduate School Valuable?

There is no doubt that graduate education can increase your income and help you develop a more rewarding profession throughout your life. According to research, persons with a master’s degree who work full-time actually make around $12,000 more than those with merely a bachelor’s degree. Nonetheless, graduate programs are generally more expensive than undergraduate ones and are not always free.

Having said that, if you succeed in getting into graduate school, there is a significant possibility that you are a good student, in which case you will have a lot more options to obtain college scholarships. Graduate assistantship programs, which let students work as professors, tutors, or other employees on the campus in return for free tuition and a meager living stipend, are among the additional funding alternatives that frequently arise in graduate school.

Differences between undergraduate, graduate, and postgraduate programs

Programs leading to undergraduate and graduate degrees are substantially dissimilar from one another. Students who enroll in undergraduate programs can learn the fundamentals of one or more majors. Students must enroll in a range of courses, not only those relevant to their major. In the first few years, they typically spend that time completing prerequisite courses.

Graduate degrees vary greatly from one another. You enroll in graduate school to study a highly specific skill. So, your subject of study is related to every course you take.

The decision to change majors is another significant distinction between the two. Students often don’t know which field they want to major in when they are in undergraduate programs. Even if students select a particular major, they can end up switching it. In undergraduate programs, students can change their majors. Transferring to a different school for whatever reason is also pretty simple.

It’s difficult to change your topic of study because graduate schools are so specialized. New requirements would need to be met, and the application process would need to be repeated.

Class size is another significant distinction. Compared to graduate programs, undergraduate classes are typically substantially bigger. Classes in graduate degrees are typically substantially smaller.

The contact between the teacher and students varies depending on the class size. There isn’t much opportunity to communicate with your lecturers in undergraduate programs. Also, there are fewer chances for class participation.

Graduate programs are smaller and therefore more active. There are more opportunities for students to take part in classroom discussions. Also, they have more chances to collaborate with their lecturers.

Students are required to take the SAT or ACT to get admitted to an undergraduate program. A minimum GPA, recommendation letters, and personal statements are also prerequisites. Every college and university has its criteria.

A lot of graduate programs demand that applicants take a general entrance exam (GRE) or special entrance examination for law or med school. Check the prerequisites for the graduate school you’re applying for because some don’t demand entrance exams.

You should confirm that you have finished any prerequisite courses because graduate programs frequently require that students complete specific undergraduate classes before applying. Graduate programs occasionally provide you the opportunity to finish any prerequisites you may have missed while still enrolled in the program.


Knowing your alternatives is beneficial if you’ve already begun your bachelor’s degree or are still attending high school. This might assist you in making the best possible use of your degree by helping you arrange the classes you wish to attend in university or college.

So, your situation will determine whether or not graduate school is worthwhile. You may want to think about getting a graduate degree now or in the future given that it can result in greater earning potential, increased job security, and a fantastic title (who doesn’t desire to become a master?).

Frequently Asked Questions about graduate degrees

  • How much do people with graduate degrees make?

A 25-year-old full-time employee with a master’s degree makes, on average, $12,000 more per year than individuals who only have a bachelor’s degree, depending on their field and job.

  • Are people with graduate degrees in high demand?

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, demand for master’s level positions is expected to increase by 16.4% between 2020 and 2030. According to a recent Career Builder poll, 33% of employers are requesting master’s degrees for jobs that formerly required only an undergraduate degree.

Most employment above entry-level demand an undergraduate degree, while in some circumstances a master’s degree is preferable. Possessing a graduate degree could be advantageous depending on your job objectives.

  • How much time is needed to complete a graduate degree?

A doctoral degree can be earned in another four to eight years after completing a master’s degree, which typically takes 18 months to two years. The length of time it takes to complete a graduate degree varies based on the kind of degree you study, the field of study you want to follow, the university you decide to attend, and whether you want to study full- or part-time.

  • How much does a graduate degree cost?

A graduate degree’s price varies according to the curriculum and location of study. A master’s degree typically costs $66,340, however, prices can range from $30,000 to $120,000. A Doctorate costs, on average, $98,800.

  • Are graduate degrees available online?

There are a lot of online possibilities for graduate studies. Getting your graduate degree online frequently gives you the freedom to choose your schedule and study wherever is most convenient for you. Eliminating the need to commute, may also result in lower tuition and less expensive supplies.