Higher education beyond the high-school level is divided into at least two sections, usually called undergraduate and graduate study. Undergraduate study, while more specialized than secondary or high school, still usually maintains a level of liberal arts, or general study. Additionally undergraduate study almost always awards a Bachelor's degree. Graduate study, on the other hand, is more specific, advanced and professional. Graduate programs award different degrees depending on the field and the level of study.
Completing an undergraduate course of study results in receiving a Bachelor's degree. There are several different kinds of Bachelor's degree, and the most common are the Bachelor of Arts and the Bachelor of Science, abbreviated B.A. and B.S. respectively. A Bachelor of Arts has concentrated more heavily on humanities, but the primary focus or major of the study could be a large number of things. A Bachelor of Science, likewise, could have majored in many areas, but has spent more time in quantitative study, such as math and sciences. A Bachelor of Fine Arts is another degree awarded to students with an undergraduate focus on the study and creation of the fine arts. Bachelor degrees are usually awarded for completing a specified amount of coursework.
Masters and Doctoral Degrees
Most graduate programs grant either a Master's or Doctorate degree at completion. The most common Master's degrees are Masters of Science and Masters of Arts, which continue the undergraduate study in a more directed and specific way, culminating in a long piece of academic writing called a thesis. Those pursuing a Masters will usually have to defend their thesis in front of a committee of faculty who interrogate the research and claims the thesis makes. Doctoral degrees are less directed and class-based, but focus on another long piece of academic work, usually including research, called a dissertation.
Other Graduate Degrees
There are many other graduate-level degrees associated with specific disciplines and professions. For example, a Medical Doctorate, or M.D. is the degree necessary to practice medicine, while to practice dentistry one must acquire a D.D.S. or Doctor of Dental Sciences. An M.B.A. is a Master of Business Administration. A Juris Doctorate, or J.D., is required to practice law. There are many professional doctoral and masters degrees that are required for specific professions, each providing the intensive training and experience specific to that discipline.
What Degrees Do
While an undergraduate degree might make a student highly qualified for a job, usually a graduate degree is required to teach at a university level. Often graduate degrees are required for high-level management positions, and for some specific highly technical jobs with a lot of specialized knowledge, such as practicing law or medicine.
Leif Martin started writing professionally in 2008. He has written for The Onion A.V. Club and local newspapers in Madison, Wis. Martin holds a bachelor's degree in English and philosophy from the University of Wisconsin, as well as a Master of Fine Arts in writing from Columbia College.