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Career Information for a Graduate Degree Program

Students who complete a graduate degree program can work in almost any field, including research, education and management. Learn more about the types of careers available in these fields, and get info about job outlook and salary potential.

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A graduate degree is required for many careers, and in some cases a graduate degree is recommended for advancement within a career field. Career options for those with a graduate degree include becoming a professor, a biochemist, a financial analyst, a research scientist or an executive. Some of these careers recommend a master's degree, while others require completion of a doctoral degree.

Essential Information

Graduate schools award advanced degrees to students. Graduate schools are not always independent institutions, and in fact the majority are affiliated or contained within larger universities or colleges offering undergraduate courses of study. The term 'graduate school' does not usually refer to medical school, but can be applied to business or law school studies. The graduate school experience generally involves a significant original research component.

Students pursuing graduate education can attain a master's degree, doctorate or graduate certificate. Admission to a graduate program requires a bachelor's degree, generally in a related field, sufficiently high undergraduate grades and letters of recommendation from professors; some programs may also require professional experience. Read on below for information about just a few graduate-level careers.

Career Biochemist Professor Financial Analyst
Required Education Doctoral degree Master's degree to teach at a 2-year school; doctorate for a 4-year school Bachelor's degree at minimum, but a master's is required for advanced positions
Projected Job Growth (2014-2024)* 8% for biochemists and biophysicists 13% for all types of postsecondary teachers 12%
Median Salary (2015)* $82,150 for biochemists and biophysicists $63,000 for postsecondary teachers, all other $80,310

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

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Career Options

Almost any career field offers opportunities for professionals with completed graduate degrees. For example, many public school teachers hold Master's of Education degrees, and all physician assistants hold a master's degree. Many students who complete graduate studies will find jobs as postsecondary teachers, researchers or managers.

Research Scientists

Research scientists are often employed by universities, government laboratories or large corporations to conduct experiments, pursue independent or directed research and advance knowledge of a particular field. Most research scientists hold Ph.D. (doctorate) degrees in their specialization and are expected to regularly produce repeatable, verifiable findings, which can then be published in peer-reviewed academic journals.

Some examples of research scientists are biochemists, biophysicists and medical scientists. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), biochemists and biophysicists can expect 8% job growth from 2014-2024 (www.bls.gov). The BLS also projected job growth of 8% for medical scientists (excluding epidemiologists) for the same period, and reported that as of May 2015, these researchers earned a median wage of $82,240.

Postsecondary Teachers

Postsecondary teachers work for trade schools, community colleges, universities and professional schools, and they typically specialize in a subject, such as mathematics, law, English or nursing. In addition to planning lessons, teaching courses and grading student work, these professionals often do research, serve on committees and publish their work in academic publications. While some postsecondary teachers work as full-time professors for one institution, others work as adjunct professors at several institutions. Some also teach online. While a master's degree in the subject taught is a common educational requirement to teach at a community college or trade school, a doctoral degree is most common for teaching at universities.

According to the BLS, faster-than-average growth at a rate of 13% is expected for these teachers between 2014 and 2024. Part-time teachers should have better prospects than those seeking tenure-track positions. Salaries depend on the type of institution, geographical location and subject taught. The following are some May 2015 median salaries for postsecondary teachers by subject taught, as reported by the BLS:

  • History: $69,400
  • Mathematical science: $67,170
  • Business: $75,370
  • Psychology: $70,260
  • Education: $61,560
  • English language and literature: $61,990

Managers

Numerous management positions in the business world require a graduate degree, often the Master of Business Administration (MBA), as a minimum qualification. Professionals are generally required to plan and coordinate the utilization of resources and personnel within private or public sector organizations. Financial planning and budgeting are important skills for these workers. Management positions requiring a graduate degree may also involve a good deal of travel and even extended periods spent away from home, although work is generally conducted in comfortable offices during regular business hours. The skill set is highly transferable between different industries; employment prospects should be stable for this reason. Salary ranges vary immensely between sectors, but most holders of graduate degrees in business can expect relatively high earnings and good benefits.

For examples of professionals who'd typically hold advanced degrees in business administration or a closely related field, one can look at financial analysts and top executives. The BLS projected job growth from 2014-2024 of 12% (faster than average) for financial analysts and 6% (as fast as average) for top executives. The BLS reported median annual salaries of $80,310 for financial analysts and $102,690 for top executives as of May 2015.

Individuals with a graduate degree are highly trained in their fields of study. Graduate degrees are recommended or required in a wide range of academic, business and scientific careers. Other options for those interested in pursuing graduate studies include completing law or medical school.

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