Graduate school is the next academic step after getting a bachelor’s degree. Graduate schools award masters and doctorate and several other types of recognition. In this post, we are going to look at some of the different types of graduate school options and talk about what each one entails and how it benefits you in the job market.
A graduate citation isn’t a degree, but it recognizes the completion of a collection of classes on a particular topic. A graduate citation is similar to a certificate (see below), but smaller in scope. It is the smallest unit of work you can do beyond a single class that is formally recognized. It generally requires three or four classes tightly focused on a specific topic. The citation classes can be used toward other graduate school degrees. If you are pursuing a master’s the citation gives you a resume enhancing way to get recognition along the way.
For people who aren’t pursuing a master’s degree, the citation and certificate offer a very good way to get some recognition for additional study in your field and can be valuable in preparing you for additional responsibilities or a slight career shift. They are also an excellent way to beef up your academic credentials by including a very strong college on your resume.
If you are looking at taking classes toward a master’s degree, but don’t know if you’ll actually complete the entire thing, it may be beneficial to select classes that can be used toward a citation. It will look a lot better on your resume to say that you earned a citation from Big Name University than just saying you took a few classes. A citation helps show that you completed something and often that is what employers are looking for in your education. In many cases, it isn’t as important what you studied–they just want to see that you could start something and see it through. The citation helps you do that when you aren’t sure if your finances and family responsibilities are going to allow you to obtain the full degree.
A graduate certificate is similar to a citation, but it requires more classes. Generally the certificate classes are well focused and are suited toward helping you expand your career into a particular area. Graduate certificates are usually pursued by students with a bachelor’s degree that want a bit more specialized training or by students who already have a graduate school degree that wish to expand their knowledge on a particular topic.
There isn’t a particular number of classes in a graduate certificate. Harvard’s Extension School formerly offered certificates for 32 credit hours or 8 four-hour classes for 32 credit hours. Their master’s degree programs only require 40 credit hours so the certificate is only two classes away from a master’s degree. However, the certificate program doesn’t require a thesis and for some people the thesis represents a major hurdle to graduation.
If you are pursuing a master’s degree and your thesis may take you awhile to complete, a certificate allows you to get a level of recommendation that can enhance your resume while you finish out your program.
Professional degrees have so many different meanings and the term has so many different usages that they are by far the most confusing graduate school option. This section will provide a bit of background, but every school and program tends to treat these degrees a little differently so make sure you thoroughly understand the particulars of a given program before enrolling.
Professional degrees are usually designed to prepare people for practicing in a particular profession while research or academic degree programs generally prepare one for doing research or working in academia. There are some professional degrees that are similar in scope to a bachelors degree, some are similar to a masters degree and some are similar to a PhD. There seems to be a trend to move professional degrees to the level of a masters degree or higher.
At some universities the professional degrees are actually masters degrees but with a focus on practice rather than research. At other schools, some professional degrees are only available to those who have already completed their masters in a given field and wish to further their education, but aren’t interested in academic focus of the PhD track.
The downside of a professional degree is that unless people are familiar with your school and your particular program, they may not know what it is or what level if education it represents. If you are getting the degree to get into a job where it is specifically required, that might not be any big deal. However, if you plan to work in a field where your level of education is less common, it might give you less of a benefit than a degree that people understand.
A master’s degree is a postgraduate degree that falls between a bachelors and doctorate. Generally these degrees require around 40 to 60 credit hours and can be completed in 2 to 4 years. In recent history there has been a great increase in the number of master’s degrees offered. There are twice as many master’s degrees available today than there were 40 or 50 years ago.
There are two primary types of masters degrees. The master of science and master of arts. Different schools have different criteria as to what is classified as an art and what is classified as a science. The master of science is usually awarded for study of the sciences and master of arts covers pretty much everything else.
Most master’s degree programs will require a thesis in one form or another. My wife’s thesis for her master’s of nursing was a research project looking at how people deal with diabetes. My thesis for my master’s of music composition was a significant composition for full orchestra. For my master’s degree from Harvard, I wrote a “non-trivial” piece of software along with an 80 to 90 page paper explaining the design, operation and software engineering decisions that went into the project.
Some degrees have options where you can avoid the thesis. The ALM in IT with a concentration in Software Engineering added a “thesis free” option at some point, so you can now choose between a thesis or a capstone course.
A doctorate is the highest level of education. While all of the other options generally prepare you with a breadth of information on a topic a doctorate is usually very focused on a very narrow area. Upon completing a doctorate you will probably be one of the top experts in the world on a very narrow sliver of knowledge. When I was getting my master’s degree in music composition, I had a teacher with a doctorate who was one of the top experts in the world on a two or three-year period of the life of composer George Frederic Handel’s life. He was in demand as a speaker on Handel’s view of women. In my undergrad studies I had a class from a professor who was the worlds top expert on a single book written by C.S. Lewis.
Doctorates are usually earned through a great deal of research. Since they are so specialized, you can’t rely on someone to teach you everything–you are often studying things that have never been studies in such depth. Because of this doctorates are much more fluid in what they encompass and a great deal of your studies and research program will be designed by you and your adviser rather than trying to take a list of classes.