What Is Graduate Education?

Whether they teach in an inner city public school or research diabetes at the National Institutes of Health, our graduate alumni are changing the way we live. A graduate education gives people the tools and connections they need to make a difference in our communities, from the neighborhoods of Seattle to the towns of Washington and throughout the Pacific Northwest. Chances are, all of us have benefitted from graduate education.

Graduate education encompasses research, study and teaching beyond the bachelor’s degree. While undergraduate education leads to a bachelor’s degree, graduate education leads to master’s degree and doctorate, also called a doctoral degree.

Often, graduate degrees help people advance further in their careers and earn more over a lifetime. Some fields — such as physical therapy — require graduate degrees. Others, such as engineering, encourage them. Students may pursue a graduate degree immediately upon completing a bachelor’s, or they may return to graduate school later.

To pursue an academic career — teaching and conducting research at the university level — a doctorate degree is essential in nearly all fields of study. Teaching at a community college may require a master’s degrees and professional work experience. For those teaching kindergarten through 12th grade, graduate degrees are highly recommended.

Nearly all researchers, whether they work in higher education, government or private industry, earn their doctorates, the most common of which is a doctor of philosophy degree, or Ph.D. Upon completing a doctorate, researchers, particularly in the sciences, may pursue a postdoctoral fellowship in which they continue study and research before getting a job as a professor.

What can you study in grad school at the UW? Anything you can imagine — and more.

Bachelor’s Degree

  • Also called a baccalaureate
  • Means you have a broad base of knowledge and skills in a specific area
  • Requires four to five years of study
  • Includes general education classes (such as math and English composition), a major (a focused area of study) and electives
  • Examples of bachelor’s degrees:
    • Bachelor of arts degrees (B.A.) — awarded in the humanities and arts
    • Bachelor of science degrees (B.S.) — awarded in sciences
    • Bachelor of fine arts (B.F.A.) — awarded in fine arts such as drama or music
  • Your area of study, or degree program, is noted on your transcript (the official record of your grades), such as a “bachelor of arts (English).”

Master’s Degree

  • Means you have gained more depth of knowledge in your field of study
  • Generally requires one to two years of study beyond the bachelor’s degree
  • Some programs require you to research, write and submit a thesis, or research paper, to graduate
  • Examples of master’s degrees:
    • Master of science degree (M.S.)
    • Master of arts degree (M.A.)
    • Master of public health (M.P.H.)
    • Master of business administration (M.B.A.)
    • Master of public administration (M.P.A.)
    • Master of fine arts degree (M.F.A.) — the highest degree awarded in fine arts

Doctoral Degree

  • Means you are an “expert” in your field who can design, carry out and assess research
  • Generally requires four to six years of study beyond the bachelor’s degree
  • Most programs require you to research, write and submit a dissertation — an extensive research paper — to graduate
  • Highest degree you can attain in most fields
  • Examples of doctorate degrees:
    • Doctor of philosophy (Ph.D.) — most common doctorate awarded
    • Doctorate in education (Ed.D.) — awarded to educators
    • Doctorates also called professional degrees
    • Doctor of medicine (M.D.)
    • Doctor of dentistry (D.D.S.)
    • Doctor of pharmacy (Pharm.D.)
    • Juris doctor (J.D.) — for lawyers/judges