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What Are the Different Types of Postgraduate Degrees?

Lainie Petersen
Lainie Petersen

A postgraduate degree, also known as a graduate degree in the United States, is an academic credential earned after the completion of a bachelor's degree or its equivalent. There are typically two types of postgraduate degrees, a master's and a doctoral degree, though there are different sub-types of each. The process for earning postgraduate degrees varies by country, the subject matter in which the degree is earned, and, to a certain extent, the school that issues the degree.

Some professions require that their practitioners earn postgraduate degrees, and only those who have earned an appropriate degree may practice in the field. For example, in the United States, medical doctors, dentists, and mental health counselors are typically required to hold postgraduate degrees in order to obtain professional licensure by a government agency. In some occupations, holding a postgraduate degree may be a typical requirement for obtaining work, even if the profession is not legally regulated and its workers are not required to hold a license. The postgraduate degrees that may be required for people in certain professions are sometimes known as professional degrees, and they focus on teaching people advanced skills rather than promoting original research by students. Common professional postgraduate degrees include the Master of Business Administration (MBA), the Master of Divinity (MDiv), and the Medical Doctor (MD) degrees.

Woman holding a book
Woman holding a book

On the other hand, some students pursue a postgraduate degree out of a desire to do research and eventually teach, though some also plan to use their degree in a professional role. In a research master's degree, the student typically completes a significant research project, which may be known as a thesis or dissertation, depending on the country in which the student is taking his or her degree. In the United States, students are expected to complete roughly two years of full-time coursework in preparation for earning a master's degree. In addition to the coursework, the student is expected to write his or her research project on the topic of his or her choice. This project is generally not expected to be original research, but the student is expected to demonstrate a strong understanding of the existing research on the topic.

Doctoral degrees are generally considered to be the highest level of academic credentialing, and those who earn them are typically permitted to use the title of doctor before their names. A research doctoral degree is typically known as a Doctor of Philosophy, though there are other research doctorates as well, including the Doctor of Theology or the Doctor of Arts. In the United States, doctoral students must complete both coursework as well as an original research project, known in the United States as a dissertation. Professional doctoral students, such as those studying for a medical degree, generally do not have to complete a dissertation, but may have to complete extensive coursework as well as a supervised internship in their chosen field.

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