What are the Different Types of Postgraduate Programs?

Jack Cassidy

Postgraduate education programs are designed to train individuals in advanced topic areas within an academic or professional discipline. Though requirements can vary, most postgraduate programs require that enrollees first graduate from a formal bachelor’s degree program in a subject area closely related to the postgraduate program area. Generally, upon successful completion of a postgraduate program, the graduate receives an academic degree or professional certification attesting to his or her mastery of the program’s subject area. The types of postgraduate programs include master’s degree programs, doctorate degree programs and professional certification and diploma programs.

In the United States, students who complete a post-graduate program in law are awarded a Juris Doctor degree.
In the United States, students who complete a post-graduate program in law are awarded a Juris Doctor degree.

Most academic subjects can be studied at the master’s degree level in postgraduate programs, though specific subject offerings vary from university to university. Generally, master’s degree programs greatly enhance the skills and knowledge that a student acquired at the bachelor’s degree level. A master’s degree indicates that the holder has achieved mastery over the knowledge and techniques regularly used in the subject field. Master’s degree programs usually require two years of coursework but might be completed in one or three years, depending on the program. In most cases, to complete a program, the student must either complete a significant research project, called a thesis, or pass a series of comprehensive examinations — or, sometimes, complete a combination of the two.

Many academic subjects can also be studied at the doctorate degree level. Commonly, a doctorate degree is formally referred to as a doctorate of philosophy (PhD). Like a master’s degree program, a doctorate degree program requires a student to develop mastery over the knowledge and techniques common to the subject field. Additionally, doctorate degree programs require deep exploration into the underpinnings of the subject area. This deep understanding will ideally equip a PhD student to create new knowledge in the subject area.

Generally, completion of a PhD degree program requires three to six years of coursework and research. Additionally, a PhD student usually must complete a thesis project that either extends the understanding of the subject area or proposes a new method or technique to be used in the discipline. Typically, the holder of a PhD can use the title of “Doctor” in his or her professional life.

There are several types of doctorate-level postgraduate programs specialized for professional disciplines. Such programs train participants in the skills and knowledge required to practice in formal, highly complex professions. For example, in the United States, a postgraduate program in law grants a Juris Doctor (JD) degree, rather than a PhD. In a postgraduate law program, participants acquire specialized training in legal knowledge and formal court procedure. Another common professional doctorate is the doctor of medicine degree (MD).

Finally, there are numerous postgraduate programs offering professional certificates or diplomas rather than full postgraduate degrees. Certificates and diplomas generally indicate that the holder has mastered a narrow skill set or area of knowledge within a larger discipline. These programs often serve working professionals who do not have the time for a full degree program but still want to enhance and develop their professional skills. Postgraduate certificate programs are available in a wide range of disciplines, from teaching to accounting, and the generally require six to 18 months of coursework to complete.

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