grad school levels

What are the Levels of Graduate School?

Graduate school is for students who have acquired a bachelor’s degree and wish to pursue advanced and specialized study in a given subject. In order to apply or graduate school, students must usually have already obtained an undergraduate degree. Although only around 13% of the U.S. population have obtained an advanced degree, it is becoming increasingly necessary and also much more common. According to the United States Census Bureau, the number of people with Master’s and Doctoral Degrees has doubled since the turn of the century. When considering the possibility of attending graduate school, students may need to make a choice between their various options as well as exactly how specialized they would like to be.

Master’s Degrees

Most people who attend graduate school are pursuing a master’s degree. As the next academic step following a bachelor’s degree, a master’s degree usually requires around two additional years of study. The type of master’s degree that a student obtains is usually related to which subject or discipline they are studying.

  • Master of Arts (MA)
    • The Master of Arts degree is earned by those who study subjects within the social sciences and the humanities. These include history, languages, music, literature, political science, sociology, and communication among other subjects. Some universities may extend the Master of Arts into the fields of natural science or mathematics as well as business or law. Acquiring a Master of Arts degree typically requires the completion of a certain number of courses, passing a set of exams, or researching and writing a master’s thesis.
  • Master of Fine Arts (MFA)
    • An MFA or Master of Fine Arts degree is a highly specialized degree specifically designed for artists. These artists can be pursuing their gifts in fields such as graphic design, music, or drawing among others. Professional artists may choose to pursue an MFA degree program after completing an undergraduate degree. Students who begin an MFA degree are required to be skilled in their craft. According to U.S. News and World Report, graduates of an MFA degree program agree that pursuing an MFA degree gave them the opportunity to refine their skills and elevate the quality of their art. MFA degrees also give their holders the ability to teach art courses at the college level and learn more technically about their art.
  • Master of Science (MS)
    • The Master of Science degree is usually held in contrast to the Master of Arts degree. The MS is often granted to students studying medicine, engineering, the sciences, or mathematical studies. However, some schools may award the degree in fields usually considered part of the social sciences or humanities. The Master of Science degree more often requires the writing of a thesis than a Master of Arts degree.
  • Master of Business Administration (MBA)
    • The most popular master’s degree available, the MBA also ranks as the highest-paying master’s degree. What may account for its popularity is the diversity of the degree’s range of study. Designed to enhance communication, leadership, and organizational skills which are necessary for management positions, most MBAs give students the ability to choose their own concentration and specialized discipline. Other master of business degrees include the Master of Accountancy (MAcc), the Master of Science in Finance (MSF), and the Master in Management (MIM) degree.

Doctoral Degrees

Doctoral degrees are considered the highest degree that one can obtain in a course of study. There are two basic types of doctoral degrees. The first is the academic doctorate or Ph.D. which prepares students to teach and/or research within a university system. The second is the professional doctorate. The professional doctorate gives graduates the ability to work professionally in fields such as medicine, law, or business.

  • Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)
    • A Doctor of Philosophy degree is pursued by those who are looking to advance their field of study through research. A Ph.D. can be pursued in almost any subject that is taught at a university level. The degree usually requires a dissertation along with 2-3 years of coursework making it one of the most labor-intensive and possibly the most prestigious terminal degrees.
  • Doctor of Business Administration (DBA)
    • The DBA or Doctor of Business Administration degree completes the journey of any business student. Designed for those who want to rise to the top of the business world, the DBA prepares administrators, managers, educators, and entrepreneurs to be management and business specialists.
  • Doctor of Medicine (MD)
    • The Doctor of Medicine or MD is a professional graduate degree awarded by medical schools and is usually earned in 4 years. A doctor of medicine degree gives its holder a myriad of options to pursue in the medical world including a further study to become surgeons or specialists, or pursuing an internship to practice general study. Other doctorates of medicine include a D.O. or Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine or a Doctor of Dental Medicine (DMD). The Doctor of Dental Surgery (DDS) is the same as a Doctorate of Dental Medicine.
  • Juris Doctor (JD)
    • The most common Doctor of Law degree, the JD is the professional degree of lawyers and usually takes around 3 years to complete. Other doctorates in law include the Doctor of Juridical Science (SJD) and relatively new interdisciplinary law degrees such as the Doctor of Law and Policy (DLP).
  • Doctor of Education (EdD)
    • A professional doctorate that is geared toward educators who want to specialize on a higher level within their workplace. Those who graduate with a Doctor of Education degree are equipped to oversee change and organization for a wide variety of educational environments. These educational settings can be as diverse as military education and healthcare to nonprofits and K-12 education.