What Is a Graduate Degree? Your 2024 Guide (2024)

Written by Coursera Staff • Updated on

There's more than one type of graduate degree. Which could be right for you? Learn more about the three types of graduate degrees and the benefits of earning one.

What Is a Graduate Degree? Your 2024 Guide (1)

A graduate degree is an academic program that you can pursue after getting your bachelor’s degree. A graduate degree—which includes master's degrees, professional degrees, and doctorate degrees—allows you to further specialize in an area of interest or choose a course that directly relates to or is accredited by the profession you want to enter.

Students often pursue a graduate degree to gain access to more jobs, higher salaries, or as a stepping stone for further study. For specific careers, graduate qualifications will be essential, while for others, they may be a career boost, but you may be able to be more flexible on your choice of program. By earning a graduate degree, you can establish yourself as an expert in your field and potentially gain a competitive edge as a job candidate.

3 types of graduate degrees

While researching graduate programs, you'll typically come across three types of degrees. The most commonly known is a master's degree, but it isn’t the only option. The term 'graduate degree' also includes PhDs and professional degrees, such as a Juris Doctor or Doctor of Medicine. Let's take a closer look at each:

1. Master's degree

A master’s degree takes one to two years of full-time study, depending on the program and your schedule. Depending on the subject you choose, you may pursue a Master of Arts (MA), Master of Science (MS), or something more specialized. A master's degree incorporates coursework and independent study and usually requires the submission of a thesis or the completion of a capstone project.

Specialized options include the Master of Business Administration (MBA), among the most popular master’s programs, focusing on business management, including marketing, finance, sales, and accounting. You may also consider a Master of Fine Arts (MFA), which is designed specifically for artists focusing on subjects like music, art, theater, and graphic design.

Read more: Is a Master's Degree Worth It?

2. Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Another popular graduate program is the Doctor of Philosophy (PhD), which takes between four and seven years. Courses at this level tend to be research-based, allowing you to test theories and hypotheses in your chosen field. Options for what to study are vast and can include areas relating to psychology, social science, humanities, and technology, among others. A PhD can take anywhere from three to eight years to complete.

3. Professional doctorate

A professional doctorate is often the highest academic credential in a specific career. In this advanced degree, you'll apply research to solve practical problems within the field. Professional doctorates have many titles, including Juris Doctor (JD) and Doctor of Medicine (MD). While these degrees vary in length, they typically take between three and six years to complete.

Skills acquired in graduate degree programs

A graduate degree allows you to develop skills in particular areas related to your specialization, but it also helps you to command general skills that are transferable to any career path. These include:

  • Verbal and written communication skills

  • Critical thinking

  • Problem-solving

  • Research skills

  • Ability to work independently and as part of a team

  • Time management

  • Leadership and coordination

Next steps

Explore what it's like to earn a graduate degree online by enrolling in an open course from a top university on Coursera. Depending on the course, you could earn credit toward a master's degree:

  • Learn to manage people effectively with Strategic Leadership and Management from the University of Illinois Gies College of Business.

  • Think like a computer scientist with Computational Thinking for Problem Solving from the University of Pennsylvania.

  • Explore how the world around us impacts public health outcomes with the University of Michigan's Impacts of the Environment on Global Public Health.

  • Make better data-driven decisions with Vital Skills for Data Science Specialization from the University of Colorado Boulder.

Give your team access to a catalog of 8,000+ engaging courses and hands-on Guided Projects to help them develop impactful skills. Learn more about Coursera for Business.

Frequently asked questions (FAQ)

Depending on the industry and position, a 25-year-old, full-time worker with a master’s degree earns an average salary of $12,000 higher than those with only a bachelor’s degree [1].‎

The US Bureau of Labor Statistics projects employment for master’s level occupations will grow by 16.4 percent between 2020 and 2030 [2]. A recent survey by Career Builder shows that 33 percent of employers are asking for master’s degrees for positions previously filled by those with undergraduate degrees [3].

An undergraduate degree is required for most positions above entry-level, and a master's degree is preferred in some cases. Depending on your career goals, having a graduate degree could be an advantage.‎

Completing a master's degree generally takes 18 months to two years, and a doctoral degree can take another four to eight years. The timeline for completion of a graduate degree will vary depending on the type of degree you pursue, your desired subject area, and the institution you choose to study at, as well as whether you decide to study full-time or part-time.‎

The cost of a graduate degree depends on the program and where you study. On average, a master’s degree costs $66,340 but can vary from $30,000 to $120,000 [4]. The average price of a PhD is $98,800 [5].‎

Yes, many online options are available for graduate study. Earning your graduate degree online often allows the flexibility of setting your schedule and studying from home or any other convenient location. It can also lower costs due to lack of a commute, possible lower tuition, and less costly materials.‎

1. US Bureau of Labor Statistics. “Education Pays, 2020, https://www.bls.gov/careeroutlook/2021/data-on-display/education-pays.htm.” Accessed August 24, 2022.

2. US Bureau of Labor Statistics. “Employment Projections, https://www.bls.gov/emp/tables/education-summary.htm.” Accessed August 24, 2022.

3. CareerBuilder. “Not Enough Educated Workers-Why This Matters To You, https://www.careerbuilder.com/advice/employers-looking-for-more-educated-workers.” Accessed August 24, 2022.

4. Education Data Initiative. “Average Cost of a Master’s Degree, https://educationdata.org/average-cost-of-a-masters-degree.” Accessed August 24, 2022.

5. Education Data Initiative. “Average Cost of a Doctorate Degree,https://educationdata.org/average-cost-of-a-doctorate-degree.” Accessed August 24, 2022.

Updated on

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Coursera Staff

Editorial Team

Coursera’s editorial team is comprised of highly experienced professional editors, writers, and fact...

This content has been made available for informational purposes only. Learners are advised to conduct additional research to ensure that courses and other credentials pursued meet their personal, professional, and financial goals.

What Is a Graduate Degree? Your 2024 Guide (2024)


What Is a Graduate Degree? Your 2024 Guide? ›

A graduate degree—which includes master's degrees, professional degrees, and doctorate degrees—allows you to further specialize in an area of interest or choose a course that directly relates to or is accredited by the profession you want to enter.

What is considered a graduate degree? ›

And what is a graduate student? Graduate degree typically refers to a degree beyond a bachelor's, most commonly a master's. A graduate student is a student who's pursuing an advanced degree after having earned their undergraduate degree (such as a bachelor's degree) by graduating from an undergraduate program.

What is the difference between a master's and a graduate degree? ›

A master's degree offers in-depth education, requiring 1 to 3 years of commitment with 30 to 45 credit hours. A graduate certificate provides specialized skills in a shorter time frame—typically within a year—requiring 9 to 15 total credit hours.

What does it mean to earn a graduate degree? ›

A graduate degree or master's degree is an advanced degree that some students pursue after earning a bachelor's degree. Earning a graduate degree signifies mastery of a particular field of study and focuses more intensely on a subject than a bachelor's degree does. Graduate degrees usually take two years to attain.

What is a graduate degree in education? ›

In a Master of Education program, you will gain advanced knowledge of pedagogy, classroom management, child development, and curriculum development, among other topics. Many programs encourage you to focus on an area of education, such as: Early childhood education. Design technology. Curriculum and instruction.

What is a graduate degree equal to? ›

A graduate degree is any degree that is above a bachelor's degree. This includes a master's degree or doctoral degree. Master's degrees take around 2-3 years to complete. Doctoral degrees take around 5-6 years.

What degree makes you a graduate? ›

Bachelor's or Baccalaureate Degree

A degree received after the satisfactory completion of a four-year or five-year full-time program of study or its part-time equivalent at a college or university.

How long does a graduate degree take? ›

A master's is a graduate degree that typically takes 18 months to two years of full-time study to earn, but several factors can increase or decrease that timeline.

What are the 4 types of degrees? ›

There are four types of degrees. In order of level of education, they rank as associate degree, bachelor's degree, master's or graduate degrees, and doctorate or professional degrees.

How valuable is a graduate certificate? ›

A graduate certificate can boost your stats and demonstrate that you have unlocked a new set of skills. Benefits of earning a graduate certificate include broadening your professional opportunities, increasing your salary and qualifying for new jobs.

What classifies you as a graduate? ›

A graduate is someone who has received a degree from a school. As a verb graduate refers to the act of receiving this degree “I plan to graduate from college in the spring,” or the act of giving a degree “I want to graduate all of my students.” In a scientific sense, graduate can mean to calibrate for fine adjustments.

Are graduate degrees worth it? ›

Increased earning potential

Often, these advanced skills come with the perk of a higher salary. Plus, the degree can open doors to new opportunities, like getting promotions or bonuses, which means even more money. Earning your master's degree is a smart move because it helps provide long-term financial stability.

Do you make more money with a graduate degree? ›

Overall, people with a master's degree tend to earn more money than those with a bachelor's degree, associate degree, or high school diploma but less than those with a doctorate or professional degree. Generally, the higher your education credentials, the more money you stand to make.

Which is considered a graduate degree? ›

A graduate degree—which includes master's degrees, professional degrees, and doctorate degrees—allows you to further specialize in an area of interest or choose a course that directly relates to or is accredited by the profession you want to enter.

What is the easiest Masters degree for teachers? ›

5 Easiest Masters Degrees to Earn as a Teacher
  1. Master of Education (M. Ed.) ...
  2. Master of Arts (M.A.) in Special Education. ...
  3. Master's in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) ...
  4. Master's in Mathematics Education. ...
  5. Master of Science (M.S.)

What is the minimum GPA for a masters in education? ›

Admission Requirements for a Master's in Education

A minimum GPA: Many programs only consider applicants with a minimum 3.0 GPA, but there are exceptions. Some schools, like ASU, consider applicants with GPAs ranging from 2.5 to 2.99 for provisional admission.

Is an associate's degree a graduate degree? ›

An associate degree or associate's degree is an undergraduate degree awarded after a course of post-secondary study lasting two to three years. It is a level of academic qualification above a high school diploma and below a bachelor's degree.

Am I considered a graduate or undergraduate? ›

You select Undergraduate if you're pursuing an associate's or bachelor's degree. You select Graduate or Professional Student if you are in a master's or doctorate program such as an M.A., MBA, M.D., J.D., Ph. D., Ed.

How many years are graduate degrees? ›

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.


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