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What is a Postgraduate Education?

Tricia Christensen
Updated Mar 02, 2024
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Postgraduate education has a broad definition because it encompasses so many different degrees, certificates, and types of learning. Usually, it refers to any education that someone might undertake after they have earned an undergraduate or bachelor degree. For the education to be considered postgraduate, it is related to the degree earned, in most circumstances. A teaching credential program, which may or may not result in a master’s degree but does result in a certificate to teach, is considered postgraduate education, due to the fact that it usually takes place after people have acquired an undergraduate degree. This degree will often determine subjects the teacher will teach.

There is an extensive history of postgraduate education in the world, dating back thousands of years. Over time, the way in which this extra education is earned has been defined differently in various countries. Today there are some common postgraduate education goals. These can include to earn a master degree, a doctorate, or to earn a postgraduate certificate (like the aforementioned teaching certificate). Medical degrees or studies in things like dentistry or law are considered postgraduate education too.

Given the variety of postgraduate education goals, it’s not surprising that there is great difference in how long it takes to complete education. Commonly a PhD will take as little as three to as much as seven years to complete. Certification programs often last about a year in length. Many people complete a master’s degree in one to three years. Law school takes three years and medical school lasts for three years and then has an additional year's training requirement, though this is different in the UK system, where medical school is part of an undergraduate training program.

A number of postgraduate education opportunities are competitive and they require students to show competency at the undergraduate level. Many institutions also rely on standardized testing to decide which students to admit to their program, and the type of test taken may depend on the type of education required. Students aiming for medical school might take the MCAT or Medical College Admission Test, and those interested in a degree in law would take the LSAT or Law School Admission Test.

Other students take the Graduate Record Examination (GRE), which can either be a general test or may be a subject test, specific to the student’s major. Not all programs require standardized testing, but it can be said in the US that many students aiming for law school, medical school or most PhD programs will need to complete one of these tests. Masters' programs are more variable in this requirement.

There are benefits to postgraduate education. Certainly a person gets more training in their field and a postgraduate degree may open up more job opportunities and equate with higher paying job chances. Sometimes the degree or certificate is the only way to work in a specific field; an undergraduate degree will not suffice. Medical degrees or teacher certification have to be earned if people want to be doctors or teachers, for example.

The flip side to extra education is that it takes longer to complete before a person can get to work, and it usually costs more money. In some graduate programs, students may be able to teach or work as research assistants to defer some costs, but this isn’t true of all programs. This investment can still be greatly worth the cost, and in an environment where jobs are competitive, continued education after earning an undergraduate degree may greatly help.

Practical Adult Insights is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a Practical Adult Insights contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.

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Discussion Comments
By mutsy — On Apr 26, 2011

@Latte31 - I agree with you. I think that it is easy to get caught up in your dreams without accounting for how much the postgraduate studies will cost you.

I have heard of people going to medical school or law school only to graduate and dislike the profession. That is really sad. I think that it is important to talk to as many people as you can and try to do some volunteer work in the field before you invest so much time and money because some of the debt that people are acquiring are becoming similar to most mortgages.

I have to say that if you are interested in an MBA, it might be better to work for a few years and then get the MBA on a weekend program so that you can continue your job and your company might even pay for part of your degree. This is better than continuing to go to school with no professional business experience because a person with an MBA and no experience is going to be offered entry level jobs until they prove themselves.

I used to be a recruiter for a staffing firm and I would see people like this all of the time and that is what I would tell them.

By latte31 — On Apr 26, 2011

I just wanted to add that I think that postgraduate studies can give you a lot more options in your career. The only thing I would be careful with is the amount of debt that you incur.

For example, if you are seeking to get a Masters degree in education it might make more sense to go to a public university that is a little cheaper than to go to a private school and leave with enormous debt.

I was reading an article in a magazine about a lady that received a postgraduate degree in education. As a matter of fact, it was a PhD. When she finished her studies she had $150,000 in debt and got a job earning $50,000 a year.

I know that when people go to college they go to pursue a dream and have a lot of romantic notions, but the reality is that this lady spent $150,000 to earn $50,000, so it will take her a very long time to pay back these loans.

If she had gone to a public university then her expenses might have been a third to one half of that cost. Having huge debt does affect the quality of your life at graduation and puts a lot of extra pressure in finding a job.

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a Practical Adult Insights contributor...
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