Postgraduate education, or graduate education in North America, involves learning and studying for academic or professional degrees, academic or professional certificates, academic or professional diplomas, or other qualifications for which a first or bachelor’s degree generally is required, and it is normally considered to be part of higher education. In North America, this level is generally referred to as graduate school (or sometimes colloquially as grad school).
The organization and structure of postgraduate education varies in different countries, as well as in different institutions within countries. This article outlines the basic types of courses and of teaching and examination methods, with some explanation of their history.
Types of Postgraduate Qualification
There are two main types of degrees studied for at the postgraduate level: academic and vocational degrees.
Hierarchy of Post-Graduate Degrees
In most countries, the hierarchy of postgraduate degrees is as follows:
- Master’s degrees.
- These are sometimes placed in a further hierarchy, starting with degrees such as the Master of Arts (from Latin Magister artium; M.A.) and Master of Science (from Latin Magister scientiæ; M.Sc.) degrees, then the Master of Philosophy degree (from Latin Magister philosophiæ; M.Phil.), and finally the Master of Letters degree (from Latin Magister litterarum; M.Litt.). In many fields such as clinical social work, or library science in North America, a master’s is the terminal degree. Professional degrees such as the Master of Architecture degree (M.Arch.) can last to three and a half years to satisfy professional requirements to be an architect. Professional degrees such as the Master of Business Administration degree (M.B.A.) can last up to two years to satisfy the requirement to become a knowledgeable business leader.
- These are often further divided into academic and professional doctorates. An academic doctorate can be awarded as a Doctor of Philosophy degree (from Latin Doctor philosophiæ; Ph.D. or D.Phil.) or as a Doctor of Science degree (from Latin Doctor scientiæ; D.Sc.). The Doctor of Science degree can also be awarded in specific fields, such as a Doctor of Science in Mathematics degree (from Latin Doctor scientiarum mathematic arum; D.Sc.Math.), a Doctor of Agricultural Science degree (from Latin Doctor scientiarum agrariarum; D.Sc.Agr.), a Doctor of Business Administration degree (D.B.A.), etc. In some parts of Europe, doctorates are divided into the Doctor of Philosophy degree or “junior doctorate”, and the “higher doctorates” such as the Doctor of Science degree, which are generally awarded to highly distinguished professors. A doctorate is the terminal degree in most fields.
Most universities award honorary degrees, usually at the postgraduate level. These are awarded to a wide variety of people, such as artists, musicians, writers, politicians, businessmen, etc., in recognition of their achievements in their various fields. (Recipients of such degrees do not normally use the associated titles or letters, such as “Dr”.)
Postgraduate education can involve studying for qualifications such as postgraduate certificates and postgraduate diplomas. They are sometimes used as steps on the route to a degree, as part of the training for a specific career, or as a qualification in an area of study too narrow to warrant a full degree course.