Postgraduate courses are any courses at a level above undergraduate, such master's degree or Ph.D. courses. Depending upon the postgraduate degree sought, courses derive from disciplines similar to any that occur during an undergraduate degree program, such as math, science, arts and humanities, although the distribution of requirements according to discipline is slightly different.
In a typical breakdown of curriculum, a course level number distinguishes postgraduate courses from undergraduate courses. At many postsecondary institutions, undergraduate course numbers fall between one and 499, with postgraduate courses beginning at 500.
At Penn State, postgraduate level courses for a master's in American Studies include Early America to 1765, Cold War, American Philosophy, Ethnicity and the American Experience and Topics in American Film. The degree connotes a specialization, so the curriculum includes very specific, relevant courses that do not necessarily confer to core curriculum requirements, as with undergraduates.
The inherent flexibility of postgraduate study allows candidates to tailor a degree path and align it with a uniquely related discipline, such as urban studies within American Studies. Consequently, postgraduate students are allowed to take a certain amount of any courses within a set of course numbers, which may vary greatly.
For example, a master of art history at the University of Illinois at Chicago may take one or more of courses pertaining to either African, contemporary or medieval art. There are also interdepartmental options for postgraduate art history students who seek concentrations in women's studies or violence studies.
The word postgraduate has undergone a semantic shift in recent years, especially in North America, where it connotes Ph.D. candidates primarily. Technically, an undergraduate who successfully completes a degree program is a graduate. Any degree path above undergraduate constitutes postgraduate study, including professional certificates, diplomas and master's degrees.