Earning a Postgraduate Degree
If you are looking to attend post graduate school in the United States, there are a number of factors that you should consider. A postgraduate degree is considered to be any degree or certification that requires a bachelor’s degree as a prerequisite to beginning the program.
There are three main categories of postgraduate degrees:
- Professional Masters,
- Academic Masters, and
- Doctoral degrees.
Professional Masters programs, also called terminal programs, are designed to lead directly to employment rather than further education.
Academic Masters are the opposite, designed to prepare the student to continue on for a Doctoral degree. It can take anywhere between one and three years to complete either of the Masters degrees. For more information, please read How long does it take to receive a Masters Degree?
The most advanced degree that can be earned is the Doctoral degree. They can take anywhere between four and eight years to complete between the coursework and the dissertation.
Requirements for postgraduate degrees vary worldwide. In the United States, many of the graduate programs, a term used in North America to indicate the Masters level degrees, require the degree candidates to pass examinations to demonstrate their capabilities. These range from the standard final exams of individual courses, to a cumulative exam at the end of the academic year, or even at the end of the program to cover everything that should have been learned within the program. There are also cumulative examinations given in the first year to determine the grasp on the knowledge that should have been gained over the course of obtaining the undergraduate degree.
The Masters level degrees, usually the Academic route programs, often include a requirement of a Masters Thesis, a unique piece of research in the field of the program to be presented and defended to earn the degree.
Masters candidates have a variety of funding options available to them depending on the university they attend. These can include various duties ranging from directing the residence activities of dormitories, to teaching, and assisting the faculty in their department with grading, tutoring, or research. Students selected for these duties can sometimes obtain tuition waivers, and stipends that can cover many living expenses. The department your program is a part of may also have some discretionary funds with which to provide funding to present research and attend conferences.
Doctoral degrees are the most advanced of the postgraduate degrees. They typically follow after an Academic Masters program, but those who take the Professional Masters route may come back for a Doctoral degree as well. The period of time required to earn this degree has lengthened considerably over the years, and now can take anywhere from four to eight years.
The doctoral program was initially intended to take only two to three. With the first two to three years of their studies, doctoral students complete their coursework and develop their idea, if not begin their research, for their doctoral thesis. Following the coursework is generally a cumulative exam, much like at the Masters level. This qualifying examination tests the students’ comprehension of their field, covering cumulatively the specifics of their doctoral coursework, as well as a broader sample of the information from their field as a whole. In passing these exams, the students move onto the next, and longest, phase of their final stage of education, Doctoral candidacy.
As a Doctoral Candidate, the student will spend the next three to eight years performing the research for their thesis. Competition for jobs at this level is highly competitive, and many Doctoral candidates choose to delay the completion of their thesis, staying in their program to keep access to university ties and archives that make publication and obtaining employment more easy. The Doctoral program finishes with a presentation of and defense of the candidate’s thesis, and if successful, the Doctoral degree.
Doctoral candidates have a larger variety of funding options available to them than those at the Masters level. Universities are very competitive over these students, and so will offer tuition waivers more readily, as well as increasingly generous stipends to supplement living costs. As with the Masters level, the duties performed for this funding can include teaching, assisting with research, and assisting faculty in general.
At some universities the students are also paid to work on their own research. Departments in the universities, as stated above, often have discretionary funds that they use to fund things such as conferences, research presentations, travel, etc. Students can even arrange fellowships with companies in their field on occasion where the company will pay for tuition costs and offer a salary in exchange for a few years of service.
If you are looking for a university for postgraduate education in the United States, you can take a look at the Princeton Review’s graduate programs search or the Peterson’s guide to finding the right graduate school. Both of these websites are recognized around the world as reliable sources about postgraduate education.