What is a Graduate Student?

A graduate student is someone who has earned a bachelor’s degree and is pursuing additional education in a specific field.

Graduate Degrees

More than 1,000 U.S. colleges and universities offer programs leading to a graduate degree in a wide range of fields. The two main graduate degrees in the United States are the masters degree and the doctoral degree. Both degrees involve a combination of research and coursework. Graduate education is characterized by in-depth training and specialized instruction. Study and learning are more self-directed at the graduate level than at the undergraduate level.

Master’s Degree:

  • Provides education and training in a specialized branch or field.
  • May be academic, e.g. master of arts (MA) or master of science (MS)} or professional, e.g. master of business administration (MBA), master of fine arts (MFA), master of social work (MSW), or master of education (MEd)
  • Programs may offer a thesis or non-thesis option.
  • Generally requires one to three years of additional study beyond a bachelor’s degree.

Doctoral Degree:

  • Prepares students for college faculty and research scholar positions, or for other careers that require advanced knowledge and research skills.
  • May be academic, e.g., doctor of philosophy (PhD) or professional, e.g., doctor of education (EdD), or doctor of business administration (DBA).
  • Requires that candidates pass a comprehensive examination and complete original research leading to a dissertation.

Professional degree programs that lead to licensure in specialized fields such as law or medicine are also available in the United States. For most programs, a bachelor’s degree in a specific field is not required; however, some programs do require prerequisite coursework. For example, a student entering medical school may have a bachelor’s degree in philosophy, but will also have taken a significant number of prerequisite courses in biological sciences, chemistry, mathematics, and social sciences.