By DeVry University
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 pursue your next-level goals. Whether you’re looking towards a role in your current field or considering changing careers entirely, advancing your education can be a great step forward. In fact, recent data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics showed that those with a master’s degree earned nearly 17% more per week on average than those with only a bachelor’s degree.
For many people, the benefits of a graduate degree are immeasurable. In a relatively short amount of time, you could advance your knowledge and skills in pursuit of your next career milestone. So exactly what is a graduate degree, and why should you pursue one?
What Is a Graduate Degree?
A graduate degree is a more advanced, specialized degree earned after a bachelor’s. There are a few basic types of graduate degrees:
- Master of Arts (MA)
- Master’s in Business Administration (MBA) and other Management degrees (such as an MiM or Masters in Management)
- 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 field, for example – may require students to hold an undergraduate degree in a relevant topic 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 less courses than a graduate degree program, allowing you to quickly upskill in your 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 degree program, a certificate can be a great steppingstone. Should you decide to earn a master’s degree later, your qualifying coursework may be able to be applied to your new program.
Undergraduate vs. Graduate Degrees
So what is the difference between an undergraduate vs. graduate degree? Here's a quick look:
An undergraduate degree:
- Typically takes around four 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 two years, depending on 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.
A Master’s in Business Administration (MBA) is a sort of hybrid degree. It’s a professional degree in that it specifically helps prepare you for 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 credits from another graduate school, you may be able to finish your program even faster. Military training or work experience may, in some cases, qualify you for a course waiver or two. 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 prior learning assessment.
Why Should I Pursue a Graduate Degree?
Have you come to a plateau in your career? Do you have goals for the future that require more advanced education or a more technical skillset? Some people also seek master’s degrees for the love of learning. Maybe you want to gain a deeper understanding of how some aspect of your field works, or you simply want to learn something new.
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 represent a path to pursuing the career and the life to which you truly aspire.