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.