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What Is a Graduate Degree? Explore the Benefits

By DeVry University

February 3, 2021
5 min read

While a bachelor’s degree can be an excellent pathway to a fulfilling career, you may be considering expanding your education with a graduate degree in order to prepare to pursue your next-level goals. Whether you’re looking toward a role in your current field or considering changing careers entirely, advancing your education can be a great step forward.


May 2023 career outlook data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics shows those who’ve attained a master’s degree earn more per week, on average, and are less likely to be unemployed, than those with only a bachelor’s degree.


For many people, the benefits of a graduate degree are immeasurable, enabling them to advance their knowledge and skills in pursuit of their next career milestone. So exactly what is a graduate degree, and why should you pursue one?

What Is a Graduate Degree?

In the realm of higher education, a graduate degree is an advanced degree that can be earned after a bachelor’s. There are a few types of graduate degrees:

    • Master of Arts (MA)
    • Management degrees such as a Master of Business Administration (MBA) or Masters in Management (MiM)
    • Master of Science (MS)
    • Doctoral degree (such as PhD, PsyD or EdD)

Doctoral degrees and some master’s degrees are terminal, which means that they are the highest you can obtain in a specific field, while other master’s degrees can be earned either on their own or on the way to a future doctoral degree.

It’s also important to note that some master’s degree programs – in a STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) field, for example – may require students to have completed undergraduate studies in a relevant subject area such as STEM or business. This allows graduate students to build on their previous education and upskill in the areas that are most relevant.

What is a Graduate Certificate?

When pursuing a graduate education, another option to consider is a graduate certificate. Certificates typically require fewer courses than graduate degree programs, allowing you to quickly upskill in your specific area of expertise or gain knowledge on a new topic.

If you’re looking for an additional credential in a field such as human resource management, information security or accounting, but don’t want to commit to a full graduate program, a certificate can be a great stepping stone. Here at DeVry, should you decide to earn a master’s degree later, your qualifying certificate coursework may be able to be applied toward an eligible master’s program.1

Undergraduate vs. Graduate Degrees

So what is the difference between an undergraduate vs. graduate degree? Here's a quick look.

An undergraduate program:

    • Typically takes around 4 years to complete, depending on your prior education experience and whether you attend full or part-time.
    • Provides a thorough understanding of core concepts in a specific field along with well-rounded business skills.
    • Can help you gain the skills needed to pursue a variety of roles.

A graduate degree:

    • Typically can be completed in around 2 years, depending on the type of graduate degree and whether you attend full or part-time.
    • Provides more advanced knowledge and skills in your chosen field of study.
    • Can help you pursue your next-level education goals.

What About Professional Degrees?

In addition to the typical graduate degrees, there are also professional degrees. These are terminal degrees that focus on a specific type of work rather than a field of study. Doctors, lawyers, nurse practitioners and some other career specialists have professional degrees rather than graduate degrees.

Master’s in Business Administration (MBA) is a sort of hybrid degree. It’s a professional degree in that it specifically helps prepare you to pursue a career in business, but it is offered alongside more traditional graduate degrees. You can gain management and leadership skills as well as a well-rounded understanding of business – not to mention the ability to add “MBA” to your resume.

What Kinds of Fields Offer Graduate Degrees?

Many different fields offer graduate degrees, from business to technology to healthcare. Within the MBA path alone, you can choose a general MBA or one that is specialized in a particular area of interest such as big data, project management or finance. Other master’s degree options include, but are not limited to, public administration, accounting, human resource management and IT management.

How Long Does it Take to Earn a Graduate Degree?

If you choose to pursue a graduate certificate, you may be able to finish in six months to a year, depending on how many courses you take per session and how many are required for your specific program. Pursuing a master’s degree takes a bit longer, but exactly how long depends on you and your program. A typical student attending full-time can generally complete a master’s degree in two to three years. If you’re working full-time, you may prefer to pursue your graduate degree a bit more slowly, on a part-time basis.

If you have transfer credits from another graduate school, you may be able to finish your program even faster. Military training or professional experience may, in some cases, qualify you for course waivers. So if you’re not fresh out of undergrad, it only makes sense to learn whether any of your past experience, coursework or training can help you get started on the road to your graduate degree via a Portfolio Assessment.

Why Should I Pursue a Graduate Degree?

Have you come to a plateau in your career? Do you have career development goals  that require more advanced education or a more technical skillset? You may seek a master’s degree or other academic degree for the love of learning or to gain a deeper understanding of how a specific aspect of your field works.

Before you make the decision to go back to school, it only makes sense to analyze your current situation and future career goals. As the world becomes more and more complex, though, you may find that a graduate degree can help you prepare to pursue the career and the life to which you truly aspire.

Is Graduate School Worth It?

It’s likely that you are asking yourself, “Is obtaining a graduate degree worth the investment of time and financial resources?” The best way to approach this is by answering a few important questions and doing some basic math.

    • Does graduate school fit with your career goals? If your career goals are reasonably well defined, this question shouldn’t be a hard one to answer.
    • How much can you expect to earn after graduating? Research the starting salaries and the long-term potential earnings for graduates of a similar program, employment statistics and the supply-and-demand characteristics of the job market. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics is a good source of information for annual median pay, education requirements and projected job growth for most occupations.
    • What is the total cost of the graduate degree? When calculating the total cost of tuition, fees and expenses for your graduate program, and the cost to repay any loans you may require to fund your education, you’ll also want to consider any grants and scholarships that can help reduce your tuition costs. 

Ready to Earn Your Graduate Degree? Get Started at DeVry

Ready to take the next step towards your graduate education? Here at DeVry and our Keller Graduate School of Management, we offer master’s degree programs in business, technology and healthcare administration, including an MBA program with your choice of 10 different specializations. Our 100% online and online/on-campus hybrid options offer the flexibility to balance your commitment to education with work, family and other elements of your busy life.2

Get started on your graduate education journey today!

1At the time of application to the next credential level, an evaluation of qualifying transfer credit will occur and the most beneficial outcome will be applied.

2Program, course, and extended classroom availability vary by location. In site-based programs, students will be required to take a substantial amount of coursework online to complete their program.

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