Bachelors, masters, PhDs… different uni degrees explained

Bachelors, masters, PhDs… the list of degree types is endless and universities are constantly introducing new ones just to make things confusing. So let’s make things less confusing by explaining the main degree types that are out there.


Undergraduate courses are courses that are post-secondary school but prior to post-graduate education. Most undergraduate courses that are at least three years long result in what’s called a bachelor degree (or undergraduate degree). People who have obtained the equivalent of a secondary school education are permitted to study undergraduate courses.


Postgraduate courses are a whole new ballgame – you can only do a postgraduate course once you have obtained an undergraduate degree. There are many types of postgraduate courses which are largely distinguished by their length. The type of degree you get at the end is largely distinguished by the length of the course.  One of the most common is the masters degree which usually takes around two years full-time, while graduate diplomas and graduate certificates take less time.


PhDs take things to another level again. PhD is an abbreviation for doctor of philosophy. In this context ‘philosophy’ doesn’t necessarily mean sitting around smoking pipes and musing about whether or not your existence is a figment of your own imagination. In greek, philosophy literally means ‘love of wisdom’..

While people with PhDs get to call themselves ‘doctors’, obviously they can’t cure your in growing toenail or prescribe valium – they’re not medical doctors.

People get PhDs in all kinds of fields ranging from urban planning to economics. PhDs are awarded after at least three years worth of hardcore research and study on a unique topic, generally involving the writing of a thesis of up to 80,000 words.

Usually, you need to have completed either a masters degree or an honours year to gain admittance to start a PhD.


An honours year is an additional year of study at the end of a bachelor degree but it is significantly more intensive. It’s highly regarded and is sometimes a requirement in some professions.

Here’s where it gets complicated…

The term bachelor degree is derived from the latin word baccalaureus, which means ‘student with first degree’. However, people can do more than one bachelor degree if they want.

Then there’s the fact that some bachelor degrees are in fact graduate degrees (or ‘graduate entry’ bachelor degrees), meaning you need a bachelor degree in order to gain admittance. For example, the medicine degree at Deakin University in Victoria is a graduate entry bachelor degree.

Coursework vs research

Degrees can be coursework degrees (i.e. comprising subjects with assignments) or research degrees (i.e. you research a topic in depth and write a lengthy report under the supervision of a senior academic staff member). Bachelor degrees are almost always coursework degrees, while postgraduate degrees can be research, coursework, or a combination of both.

Double degrees

A double degree is basically like studying two bachelor degrees side by side. At the end of it all, you graduate with two separate degree certificates. One of the main advantages of doing so is that it takes less time to do a double degree than it does two separate degrees. Have a gander at this post which explores whether double degrees are worth it.

Or not.

Up to you. See if I care.