In education, the term cohort refers to any group of students educated at the same time, usually within the same program. Grade levels in primary and secondary school are examples of such groups, as are graduating classes of specific degree programs in college. But there is more to cohorts as you advance your education. In the article below, we’ll explore what cohorts are and how they are implemented in graduate schools across the country.

Programs as Learning Communities

In a traditional model, students pursuing a graduate degree would complete course work within the larger student body, taking required classes on an individual basis. This is primarily how undergraduate students complete their degrees. However, studies indicate that the cohort model poses substantial benefits for students and the universities at which they study.

Communities such as this ease the psychological pressure that students experience. The group structure provides a built-in sense of community. When students come to the program, they experience it together with their peers. It is with these peers they will take classes. While the course offerings do provide some flexibility, the programs lack the open-ended nature of undergraduate coursework.

Professional Bonds and Networks

During the intense round of lectures and deadlines that are a graduate degree program, students within the community develop deep bonds with each other. They come to rely on each other as academic resources, sources of encouragement, and emotional support. In many instances, these tightly-knit groups serve as a second family for students, one which will continue to function after honors have been announced and degrees awarded.

Professional networks are formed in the way any community grows. Cohorts provide a reservoir of interactions and relationships through which graduate students can develop connections beyond their programs. They attend conferences, lectures, and workshops beyond their round of classes, and they extend their brand to others already working in the field. At the same time, the close nature of these educational communities allows individuals to learn the talents and strengths of others within their groups, which will come in handy after graduation.

On the Administrative Side

The benefits of this type of program are mainly focused on students, but they are not without their advantages to institutions of higher education. One of the largest drains on resources allocated to graduate programs is administrative contact with students. In other types of degree programs, energy, time, and overhead must be dedicated to keeping students on track and maintaining contact with them. However, group education allows universities to turn their attention to other needs of students. These programs enroll the same group of students in courses each semester and those lectures are mostly pre-determined as a part of a cohesive degree track.

Such an approach allows students to complete their program requirements in an organized way without the additional pressure of competition for resources that usually accompany academic achievement at this level. While this fosters a deeper sense of community among the students, it also allows universities to devote their resources to other areas and benefits everyone.

While there are innumerable fields in which students choose to specialize, the general approach of group education for the first two or three years of a graduate degree has shown incredible benefits. A cohort is a community, a social and academic family that provides support, inspiration, and educational cohesion during a time of intense intellectual pressure while also allowing universities to streamline their investments.