Policy 1.7: Graduate Degree Types – UW Graduate School Skip to content

Policy 1.7: Graduate Degree Types

The Graduate School adheres to the spirit of standards for graduate education set by the University of Washington’s accrediting body, the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities, and is responsible for supervising the content and level of programs leading to graduate degrees (Executive Order VII). Graduate education overseen by the Graduate School consists of post-baccalaureate programs of study and research leading to all master’s degrees, all doctoral degrees except for the MD, JD, PharmD, and DDS (see Executive Order VII), all graduate certificates, and intermediate certified status such as advancement to candidacy.

A graduate degree program may be designed to prepare students for scholarship that leads to new knowledge, or it may be a practice-oriented program that prepares students to apply newly-developing or existing knowledge towards specific career or individual goals. See Policy 1.1 for minimum requirements for specific degree types, and see Policy 1.3 for the structure of graduate programs and credentials. For graduate certificate programs, see Policy 1.2.

1.7.1     Master’s

Master’s degrees vary widely in their content and outcomes, but generally focus on advanced disciplinary training and the acquisition of specialized knowledge or high-level skills when compared to the bachelor’s degree. Master’s degree programs support various educational, personal, and career goals. They may have an applied focus, be practice oriented, research oriented, or combine these and other elements depending on the nature of the field.

1.7.2     Educational Specialist

Educational specialist degrees are advanced practice-oriented degrees targeted towards educators that provide specialized education above the master’s level.

1.7.3     Practice Doctorate

Practice doctorates provide preparation for professional practice at the frontiers of existing knowledge. They place a strong emphasis on the practical application of knowledge in a specific field and equip students with advanced skills for professional practice. They are distinguished from the research doctorate in that they do not focus on the creation of new knowledge and do not require a dissertation. The culminating experience is focused on meeting the demands of highly technical professional and clinical environments. Graduates of practice doctorate programs, for example the Doctor of Nursing Practice, Doctor Physical Therapy, and Doctor of Global Health, are prepared for leadership roles in their professional fields.

1.7.4     Research Doctorate

Research doctorates are advanced research-oriented degrees awarded to those who have demonstrated the greatest level of mastery of the intellectual principles in a specific field of study and who have produced a significant contribution to new knowledge in that field. These degrees include the doctor of philosophy (Ph.D.) as well as other doctorates that provide preparation for professional practice or artistic craft at the frontiers of existing knowledge in addition to requiring a significant contribution to new knowledge in the form of a dissertation.

For all research doctorates, the dissertation includes research conducted under the guidance of an appropriate faculty advisor and other university faculty in the field. Prior to receiving the degree, the doctoral candidate conducts original research as part of the dissertation and defends that research as part of the dissertation defense.

The research doctorate is distinguished from doctoral programs designed for professional training or focus on applied research related to professional practice such as the practice doctorate and the doctoral degrees not overseen by the Graduate School (M.D., J.D., D.D.S, and PharmD). Graduates of a research doctorate are prepared for careers where they can lead groundbreaking research initiatives and mentor the next generation of scholars and practitioners.

Policy 1.7 revised: February, 1985; June 2010; December 2022

Policy 1.7 revised March 2024