What Are Common Requirements for a University Degree?

Lainie Petersen

The requirements for a university degree depend on the type of degree, the school issuing the degree, and the academic standards in the jurisdiction where the university operates. At the undergraduate level, degree requirements typically involve significant coursework and may, at some institutions, require the completion of a work internship or a major written research project. At the postgraduate level, the requirements for a university degree vary significantly, not only by the type of degree issued, but by jurisdictional academic traditions and philosophies.

Hoover Tower at Stanford University, a private research university.
Hoover Tower at Stanford University, a private research university.

Perhaps the most commonly known undergraduate university degree is the bachelor’s degree. To earn this degree, a student must typically complete a prescribed course of study. The study program usually requires that the student takes and passes a number of instructor-led classes. In the United States, the coursework for a bachelor’s degree takes about four years to complete, though in other countries, such as the United Kingdom, students normally complete their degree in three years. Depending on the type of degree earned and university policy, a student may have to complete a thesis or research project in order to graduate.

In the United States, a bachelor’s degree takes approximately four years to complete.
In the United States, a bachelor’s degree takes approximately four years to complete.

Postgraduate degrees can likewise differ considerably in their requirements. Schools often distinguish between a postgraduate university degree that is earned for the purpose of entering a specific profession and a degree that focuses on academic research. Those who earn the first type of degree may be expected to complete a series of graduate-level classes taught by experienced professors and perhaps complete a supervised internship that can prepare them for professional licensing. Students seeking an academic postgraduate degree, on the other hand, may be expected to produce a significant piece of research, either a dissertation or thesis, in order to graduate.

In the United States, postgraduate degrees at accredited institutions always involve the completion of several instructor-led courses. This is not the case, however, in the United Kingdom and many other countries. For example, a postgraduate university degree in the United Kingdom may be described as “taught” or “research,” with the first degree requiring the student to complete coursework, while the research degree typically involves the student working with a faculty mentor to complete a dissertation or thesis.

While attempting to earn a postgraduate university degree, a student may be expected to complete various types of examinations. In the United States, a student may be required to pass several comprehensive exams in his or her subject matter before being allowed to begin writing a thesis or dissertation. In addition, after writing a thesis or dissertation, the student may be expected to submit to an oral defense of his or her work in front of a panel of department academics.

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