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I noticed that on Japanese 履歴書s, graduating from graduate school is marked with 修了 instead of 卒業 like for undergraduate and primary/secondary education. I'm curious as to the reason this difference exists and in particular why the distinction was made in the first place.

  • It might have to do with the fact that wording in English is funky as it is, but "graduating" from a "graduate" study is really "completing a postgraduate study," assuming that graduation has occurred and these are further studies, for doctorate or mastery acquisition. It doesn't make a whole lot of sense to "graduate" again... even if the process is similar. – psosuna Apr 17 at 0:01
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    For what it's worth, we don't really speak of "graduating from graduate school" in English, either; we say someone "finished graduate school," "completed her degree," "got her Ph.D.," etc. (If someone has received an MBA or a terminal MA, we might say that she "graduated from business school" or "graduated from an MA program," but that isn't quite the same thing as "graduated from graduate school.") – Nanigashi Jun 2 at 6:31
  • @Nanigashi Ah, but for example in Japanese finishing an MA/MBA would also be 修了. Also, in English I feel like plenty of people do say "graduate from grad school" to mean either PhD or masters. – Ringil Jun 2 at 23:29
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There's a post (in Japanese) about this at: http://wonder-trend.com/archives/3651.html

As I understand it, the reason basically is because in the context of a CV you use 卒業 to indicate graduating (completing studies) from a specific school and you use 修了 to indicate completing a specific program/course of study. See also: this goo dictionary comparison of 卒業 and 修了

For instance, you may write:

〇年〇月  ▲▲大学大学院××学研究科□□学専攻修士課程入学

〇年〇月  ▲▲大学大学院××学研究科□□学専攻修士課程修了

to say that at Time A you entered into a master's degree program at a certain department in a certain college in a certain graduate school, and at Time B you completed the master's degree program.

If you want to use 卒業, you could say something like 大学院を卒業した but without context it's not clear if you mean you got a master's or a PhD then, or what the subject was, and of course you want to be precise and pro forma on a 履歴書.

It's really not that different from English: You graduate from a school, but you complete a degree or program. One often talks about graduating from college without too much concern about the precise degree (BS, BA, etc) or major. And in casual spoken conversation among fellow math PhDs I may say I graduated (from grad school) in 2004. However, on my CV or to someone who doesn't know what degree I have, I write "PhD, 2004" or say "I got my PhD in 2004."

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The word 卒業 usually means completing a predetermined set of courses or classes. Therefore, you can use 卒業 for 小学校, 中学校, 高校, and 大学. However, since 大学院 does not usually have a predetermined set of courses but each student can pick and make his/her own plan of study, the word 修了 is used for such cases.

  • At least in the US for undergraduate studies, you get about the same amount of freedom in choosing your classes as when going to graduate school for a master's degree. So I'm not too sure about this. – Ringil May 3 at 11:56
  • @Ringil Good point. Most undergraduate programs in Japan do not offer much flexibility. I went to a college in Japan; we had a timetable (時間割) and everyone in the same program had to follow the same schedule. – Takuma May 3 at 17:27
  • In the US, many universities will allow a "choose-your-own-path" type education. There is a rigor that requires certain classes to be completed before graduation, such as a general education curriculum, and also the courses to be completed in the field of study to receive the degree, but when you choose to take them is not restricted by a cohort system where everyone progresses at the same time. – psosuna Jun 3 at 22:02
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It's because most people go to graduate school expecting to earn a masters degree or PhD but few go the full course. You earn a degree by taking required classes, doing original research, writing a thesis and (successfully) defending it. If you go to grad school and do all these things but your doctoral thesis isn't up to snuff, then you can still say 修了 as in 博士課程を修了しました, but you'd be on thin ice if you claimed to have a PhD. If you earned a doctorate, i.e., you successfully defended your doctoral thesis at an accredited school and have the right to append PhD to your name, then you can put (東京)大学博士号取得 on your 名刺。There are some gray areas that you can read about on Japanese Wikipedia but the situation I have described corresponds to how the terms are used in Japanese society and media.

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    most people go to graduate school expecting to earn a masters degree or PhD but few go the full course. this is not accurate and hasn't been for a long time.. – virmaior Sep 2 at 10:33
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修了 means to conclude education, training in company.
Actually, in the end of every school year (middle of March), students in elementary school, junior high school and high school do 修了.
卒業 means to graduate from school and to leave an idol group.
But graduating from graduate school is called 修了 more often than 卒業.

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