Are you considering a graduate degree, whether a master's degree, or doctorate This article contains information on general requirements for graduate degrees, definitions of graduate degrees, and graduate degree statistics.

A graduate degree is any degree higher than a baccalaureate (B.A. or B.S., usually, standing for Bachelor of Arts or Bachelor of Sciences). Graduate degrees therefore include academic Master's Degrees and Doctorates in a wealth of different fields and professional degrees, such as a degree in medicine.

In some of these fields, such as architecture, the graduate degree may follow upon an undergraduate degree in the field. In other fields, such as medical degrees, there is no corresponding undergraduate degree offered. Learn more about graduate degrees in the rest of this article.

General Requirements for Graduate Degrees

Graduate degrees almost always require an undergraduate degree - either in the same or in a related field - before you can embark on it, but there are several exceptions to this general rule. First, there are cases, as mentioned above, in which there is no available undergraduate degree in the same field.

Second there is a group of degrees, for example, Masters in Education, for which people quite often have a different undergraduate degree, often - in this case - in a subject that they plan to teach. The graduate degree allows them to become qualified to do something different with their undergraduate degree.

Third, there are situations in which an undergraduate can choose to and qualify to do a combined bachelor's and master's degree. In this case, the student may gain entrance to the master's program prior to completing the undergraduate degree.

In most cases, a general qualifying exam - something like the equivalent of the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) or ACT for students applying to college - is required as part of the application for a graduate degree. For academic studies, this is generally the Graduate Record Exam, or GRE. For some professional studies, there is a specialized test, for example the Law School Admission Test (LSAT) for law school or the Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT) for medical school.

Degree Definitions

The National Center for Education Statistics clarifies the meanings of several types of graduate degrees.

  • The master's degree marks completion of a 1-2 year full-time (or equivalent) program of study beyond the bachelor's degree requirements.
  • The doctor's degree is the highest graduate study degree conferred (that is, it is a terminal degree).
  • First-professional degree is awarded in a program that prepares the recipient to begin to practice the profession for which it is granted. The degree requires at least two years of preparatory college work and a total of at least six years, including the preparatory work and subsequent professional training, to complete. It is awarded in 10 fields, specifically:
  • Chiropractic
  • Dentistry
  • Law
  • Medicine
  • Optometry
  • Osteopathic medicine
  • Pharmacy
  • Podiatry
  • Theology
  • Veterinary medicine

Graduate Degree Statistics

Here are some interesting statistics about graduate degree programs in the United States in 2006-07.

  • Of the 4,352 Title IV degree-granting institutions involved in the degree awards study, 859 award Master's degrees, 755 award Doctorates, and 32 award first-professional degrees.
  • In 2006-07, 604,607 Master's Degrees, 60,616 Doctorates, and 90,064 First-Professional degrees were awarded by those institutions. This compares to 1,524,092 Bachelor's Degrees.
  • Women earned 128,229 more Master's Degrees, 114 more Doctorates, and 50 fewer First-Professional Degrees.
  • The average instate tuition for graduate degrees for public institutions was $6,970 and for out-of-state $14,197. For private not-for-profit institutions, it was $13,822 and in private for-profit institutions, $14,683.
  • The least expensive first-professional public in-state tuition was for pharmacology ($13,686). The most expensive was for dentistry ($21,585).
  • The least expensive first-professional private tuition was for theology ($11,493). The most expensive was for dentistry ($49,741).


National Center for Education Statistics: Postsecondary Institutions in the United States: Fall 2007, Degrees and Other Awards Conferred: 2006-07, and 12-Month Enrollment: 2006-07 -