What is a Graduate Degree? Types, Duration & Benefits


Regardless of whether you are a recent graduate or an experienced professional when it’s time to decide whether you should continue pursuing knowledge through academic degrees, it is not always easy which path to choose. You have already dedicated years of your life to attending schools and learning, and probably quite some money, so why should you spend more time and money that way?

Of course, pursuing a graduate degree is a serious commitment, so you must be sure of what you can get out of it and whether it is worth it. We’ll begin with some fundamental questions, such as what is considered a graduate degree, then look at types of degrees, their duration, and the benefits you can expect. By the end of this article, you should know whether you are ready to return to university or not.

What Is a Graduate Degree?

A graduate degree is a term used to refer to an academic degree that is earned when a student completes graduate school. Typically, those who enroll in graduate schools and pursue such degrees have already completed undergraduate studies, have clear goals in mind, and have chosen a career path they want to follow.

Graduate degree vs. undergraduate

A graduate degree program can provide you with the necessary skills and theoretical knowledge in the subject or field of your studies. So you might be wondering, isn’t that what an undergraduate program, such as a bachelor’s degree, does too? Well, yes. But, they are not the same. So, what is a graduate degree vs. an undergraduate degree?

There are many differences between the two, including the fact that undergraduate degrees come from more general programs, especially when compared to graduate programs that are more research-oriented and dive deeper into subjects. Furthermore, undergraduate degree programs have classes that are bigger in number, which translates into less individualized planning lessons.

On the other hand, students can work more closely with their mentors in graduate degree programs. Of course, they both help students advance in their careers, however as the name suggests, undergraduate programs are below the graduate level and therefore have benefits outweighed by graduate degrees.

Types of Graduate Degrees?

If you’re considering pursuing a graduate degree, you must know the different types available to see which one best aligns with your requirements, interests, and needs. Some of the most common graduate degrees are master’s degrees, professional doctorate degrees, and doctor of philosophy degrees.

Master’s Degrees

Master’s degrees are among the main types of graduate degrees that you can obtain after completing undergraduate studies. This type covers various specialties, with its three primary kinds of degrees being Master of Arts (MA), Master of Science (MS), and Master of Business Administration (MBA). Each master’s degree helps students dive deeper into their field of interest. The program is focused on a specific area and usually requires students to submit a final thesis or project.

The difference between a graduate certificate vs. a master’s degree

A master’s is not the only program you can pursue after obtaining an undergraduate degree. Another popular choice is a graduate certificate program. So, what is a graduate certificate vs. a degree?

Graduate certificates primarily vary from master’s degrees on the academic weight they carry. A graduate certificate is a type of award that has less value because it incorporates fewer credit hours and requires less time to complete, unlike master’s programs which come from accredited schools and provide you with the title of a master’s degree holder. Although they both are beneficial things to have on your resume, a degree will give you more of an edge on the job market.

Professional Doctorate Degrees


As doctoral-level academic degrees, professional doctorates are designed for experienced professionals who want to improve their knowledge further and develop practical skills required to be influential leaders in various fields. Some examples of professional doctoral degrees are the Doctor of Education (EdD), Doctor of Business Administration (DBA), Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP), and Doctor of Psychology (Psy.D.). Such graduate degrees are an excellent choice to transfer your talents and understanding of your field into higher positions on the corporate hierarchy.

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)

A Doctor of Philosophy degree, commonly abbreviated as a Ph.D., is among the highest formal academic qualifications. This research-oriented degree helps prepare students for research careers and positions in many academic fields, including engineering, physics, chemistry, psychology, economics, social sciences, etc. This degree also prepares you for government expert positions and other roles as it equips you with transferable skills that all employers will appreciate.

Duration of a Graduate Degree

Time is money, right? Well, combine that kind of money with actual university fees, and you have people hesitant to pursue graduate degrees. But, the good news is that some graduate degree types are relatively shorter than undergraduate degree programs, so you can expect to complete such a program in a few years. To be more precise, a full-time master’s degree only requires around two years to complete, professional doctorate degrees take two to five years, and a Ph.D. demands three or four years.

As the case with any degree is, whether it be undergraduate or graduate, if you pursue a different study mode, you can expect the duration of the program to double or, in some cases, to decrease to almost half the extent required in full-time programs.

Benefits of Earning a Graduate Degree


If you are still unsure whether the time, money, efforts, and emotional investment in a graduate program would be worth it, let’s focus on the positives and see how much you have to gain if you go through with this step. Below are some of the many benefits you can expect to welcome upon earning your graduate degree.

Deepen your knowledge

One of the top reasons why graduate degrees are so appealing is the opportunity to gain even more specific and detailed knowledge on your field or subject. It will be highly beneficial for you as it shows your dedication to improving yourself and enhancing your expertise and credibility. Plus, if you enjoy what you do, continuing your studies on something you are genuinely interested in will always be fun.

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Gain a competitive edge

All employers want to hire truly well-prepared people when it comes to senior positions and any other executive role with influential responsibilities. A graduate degree will boost your credentials and give you a competitive edge over many other candidates as employers recognize the value of graduate degrees— and some might even make them a prerequisite for the position.

Increase earning potential

We already briefly mentioned that graduate degrees are not cheap, in the literal sense, and when considering all the energy and time you have to spend. But, you get a generous return on investment once you complete the program and earn your degree. According to data, professionals with a bachelor’s degree earn $1,248 weekly, and those with an Associate’s degree gain $887 each week. As impressive as those numbers are, they seem less appealing when compared to the $1,883 you can earn weekly with a doctoral degree and the $1,497 that come with a master’s.

Many careers require graduate degrees to advance in their field. In short, think of how you want your future to look like and whether it will be easier to get to that point by dedicating a few more years towards another academic degree.

Graduate degrees are worth it if they align with your goals and plans for the future. You should never feel pressured towards pursuing something you are not up for. But, if you’re are ready and willing to face the challenges of graduate degree programs, go for it! You have so much more to offer and gain in your field.

The Bottom Line

A graduate degree is a highly valuable and sought-after qualification for individuals looking to advance their careers or pursue further education in their chosen field. From master’s degrees to doctoral degrees, there are a variety of graduate programs available to suit different career paths and academic interests.

The duration and benefits of these programs vary, but all offer the opportunity to gain specialized knowledge and skills, increase earning potential, and make significant contributions to your field.

Whether you are a recent college graduate or a working professional, pursuing a graduate degree can be a worthwhile investment in your future.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What degree means graduate?

After completing an undergraduate program, some students pursue a graduate or master’s degree. This type of degree demonstrates expertise in a specific field of study. It provides a more in-depth understanding of the subject than a bachelor’s degree. Graduate programs generally take around two years to complete.

How long is a graduate degree?

A full-time master’s degree typically takes around two years to complete, while professional doctorate degrees can take anywhere from two to five years. The highest level of academic achievement, a Ph.D. degree, typically requires three to four years of full-time study.

Is a graduate degree the same as a Masters?

A graduate program refers to any academic program that goes beyond a bachelor’s degree. This includes a master’s program or a doctoral program.

What is graduate vs undergraduate?

Undergraduate and graduate degrees are two different levels of education. An undergraduate degree is a bachelor’s degree, which is the first level of education after high school. Undergraduate programs typically take four years to complete. After earning an undergraduate degree, a student can choose to pursue a graduate degree, which is an advanced level of education beyond the undergraduate level.

Graduate programs can take anywhere from one to several years to complete, depending on the program and level of degree being pursued. Graduate degrees include master’s degrees, doctoral degrees, and professional degrees.

What are the three main types of graduation?

There are typically three main types of graduation: high school graduation, undergraduate graduation (for bachelor’s degrees), and graduate graduation (for master’s and doctoral degrees). Each type of graduation represents a significant accomplishment and milestone in your educational journey.

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