After graduating high school or earning your GED, you will reach a crossroads that could determine your future career: enter the job market and begin looking for a job that best suits your talents and financial needs, or enter post-secondary education and attend college, vocational school, or earn any certificate course before entering the workforce.
But should you decide on attending college and graduate, you also have the option of entering the highest levels of education: post-graduate studies. Not very many people end up taking post-graduate studies because a hard requirement to enter is getting a college diploma. But if you’re interested in entering a specialized school or becoming a master or doctorate in your field, here is what you need to know.
Undergraduate vs. Graduate vs. Post-Graduate
Let’s clear up some terms used should you consider pursuing a college career. There are three terms you need to know if you’re considering entering the higher levels of post-secondary education: undergraduate, graduate, and post-graduate.
An undergraduate program is a program you apply to after finishing your secondary education. Not all high school graduates end up going to college and taking up undergraduate programs, but you’ll notice that your classroom might be filled with 20 or more students because a lot of the courses you take in the first two years are mostly general education courses before you get to more specialized courses for your majors that might have fewer students in one room.
It’s relatively easier to transfer colleges or universities in the middle of an undergraduate program because most undergraduate programs in colleges are roughly the same. Should you decide to drop out of college at any point, because you did not graduate the program, you can only say that you are an “undergraduate.”
A graduate can refer to a person who has finished their undergraduate program and no longer seeks further education, or a person taking further studies after their undergrad but has not fully completed the program.
Graduate programs in colleges and universities lead to master’s degrees, which are given to people who finish the program and master the field of their choice. As such, you’ll notice that undergraduate and graduate programs have major differences.
First, graduate programs are more specialized; these do not have general education courses and its classes are more focused on its specialization. Second, there are fewer students. In some cases, graduate students attend one-on-one classes with their professors. Third, graduate studies are more research-based, so you’ll see fewer forms of classwork.
And fourth, it is more difficult to transfer universities for graduate studies because universities can offer unique programs that no other university provides. For example, if an undergraduate psychology major decides to transfer universities, they can easily find other universities and colleges that offer the same undergraduate programs for psychology majors. But if a graduate student studying forensic psychology decides to transfer, they’ll find that their options are much more limited.
Post-Graduate Studies: The Highest Level of Education
Post-graduate programs can refer to all the programs offered after secondary education. This encompasses undergraduate programs, graduate programs, doctorate programs, and specialized institutions like law school and medical school.
Because there are multiple branches of education available depending on what you decide to study, it’s hard to determine which the highest educational level is as it varies between the fields you choose to take. The most common is a Doctor of Philosophy (styled as PhD or Ph.D.), which is the highest university degree you can get in the academe for any discipline outside of science and medicine.
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For example, if a person decides to take an undergraduate program in history, while they are studying, they are known as a history major or a history undergrad. Once they graduate the program, if they decide to leave the academe and enter the job market, they are known as history graduates. Should they decide to attend graduate school and specialize in a certain field of history, they are still known as history graduates until they complete the program, and then they earn the title of Master of Arts in History. And if they continue and finish studying history under a doctorate program, they become a Doctor of Philosophy in History.
This may be different should they follow certain paths. For example, if you decide to follow the path to become a lawyer, the highest attainment you can get is a Juris Doctor degree, also known as a J.D. You’ll still have to pass the bar exams to earn your license to practice law, but graduates of law programs become Doctors of Jurisprudence and earn the right to affix a J.D. at the end of their names. It is the equivalent of a doctorate degree.
Should I Take the Highest Levels of Education?
According to Plato’s theory of education, education and learning is a life-long process. While this isn’t exactly limited to formal education, there are other options for educational opportunities available. If you’re a member of the workforce looking to improve your skills and knowledge in your field to open more doors for better job opportunities, taking the next step in the education ladder could give you a more competitive edge in the job market. This isn’t an assurance that companies will be lining up to give you job offers, but it does open a lot of doors for opportunities, especially for managerial positions and higher-ranking job roles.
However, for positions like doctors and lawyers, it really is necessary to reach the top of your educational track if you want to legally work for these positions. It is possible to work in the fields of medicine and law with undergraduate degrees or certifications (e.g. paralegals and medical technicians), but if you want to work in positions like neurosurgeon or corporate lawyer, getting that M.D. or J.D. is necessary.
Earning the highest level of education in your field is something not a lot of people do, but if you’re looking to become a master in your field of specialization or learn more as a means to improve your worth in the job market, earning another title in post-secondary education is a good option.