Thinking about Grad School?
Students who do thorough research and carefully match what they want from their graduate education with what a particular program has to offer are generally more satisfied with their choice. As you conduct research on graduate programs, consider the following aspects of the programs.
Things to Consider
Curriculum & Course Sequencing
Review each program's required coursework and course sequencing to gauge your interest and skills in those areas. Many programs allow students to take electives or choose areas of focus within the program.
At the graduate level, it’s especially important for students who want to specialize in a particular area to attend a program with a professor(s) with the same field of interest. Working closely with a faculty member who is highly regarded in the field is often more important than attending a prestigious university. Since many graduate students hold Research Assistant positions or conduct research for a thesis or dissertation, having access to program faculty with similar research interests in important.
Graduate programs often consider a range of factors when looking into prospective students, and some programs can be very competitive. Does your profile match that of the typical admitted student? Does the program require or recommend full-time work experience before enrollment? What is the deadline to apply? Do applicants that apply early have in edge? (Also keep in mind financial aid deadlines may be earlier!)
Program Length & Progress Requirements
Consider how long it will take to complete the programs (a master's degree typically takes 2 years and a doctoral degree takes four to eight years) and whether there are options to take courses part-time (if that's an interest of yours). If you plan to work while pursuing a graduate degree, taking into consideration the timing of classes and minimum course loads. It may be wise to talk to program staff to find out about the average time-to-degree for students in the program (which may be different than how long the program is "supposed" to take).
- 1 - 2 years
- Typically 4 - 8 classes, covering similar content as a concentration area in a full graduate degree
- Most programs do not require a thesis or other capstone
- A great way to determine if graduate school is right for you
Post-masters Certificates are similar in structure, but are designed to add-on to an already earned Masters degree
- 2 - 3 years
- 10 or more classes
- Most programs require a capstone project, traditionally a thesis, which is similar in structure to a long academic article
- Graduates can teach at the undergraduate level and engage in academic research as well as take on advanced roles in non-academic settings
- 3-8 years
- 20 or more classes standalone, 10+ classes if accelerated (added to a Mastes in a related field)
- Doctoral programs almost universally require the completion of a dissertation, which is typically 5 chapters in length
- Doctoral graduates are regarded as experts in their specific area of study and can engage in research, teach at all levels and become leaders in non-academic settings
Many graduate students say that their interactions with other students in the program contributed greatly to their learning and overall experience. What is the ratio of students entering the program directly from college to those with several years work experience following their undergraduate degree? What is the ratio of full-time to part-time students? Are there relevant student organizations?
Assistantships and fellowships can be valuable sources of financial support and professional experience, so discuss opportunities with program staff.
Accreditation and Program Reputation
In some fields, attending an accredited program is very important and may impact licensure and employment options. Program and faculty reputation is also important. Talk with professionals in your field about programs they feel are considered strong.
Many graduate and professional schools require standardized exam scores of potential graduate students. Requirements vary depending upon the school and the specific program.
- Dental Admissions Test (DAT)
- Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT)
- Graduate Record Examination (GRE), General Exam
- Law School Admission Test (LSAT)
- Medical College Admission Test (MCAT)
- Miller Analogies Test (MAT)
- Optometry Admission Program (OAT)
- Pharmacy College Admission Test (PCAT)
- Praxis I and Praxis II
- Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL)
Getting More Assistance
If you still aren't sure if graduate school or professional school will contribute to your career goals, need help deciding which programs to apply to or want assistance writing your statement of purpose you can make an appointment with a career coach through Hire-A-Niner.