A graduate school is an institution that offers advanced education and post baccalaureate degrees in specific academic disciplines or professional areas.
A graduate school is an institution that offers advanced education and post baccalaureate degrees in specific academic disciplines or professional areas. Broadly speaking, graduate degrees fall under two umbrella categories: master’s degrees and doctoral degrees. Eligibility requirements, length of commitment, and number of required credits for completion may vary according to institution, discipline, and degree level. Generally, the minimum threshold for enrollment in grad school is the completion of a bachelor’s degree, or a comparable undergraduate degree from an accredited college or university. Traditional graduate school programs are academic in nature, with a focus on producing original research in a particular discipline. There are also numerous “professional” graduate school options, which are centered on developing applicable skills and knowledge for a specific profession. Many graduate degree programs provide a combination of both academic and professional education.
Enrollment requirements are typically more rigorous for graduate school.
The most influential schools are also often the most challenging to get into. Be aware that most reputable, accredited master’s and doctoral degree programs have even more exclusive and competitive acceptance rates than do the most influential undergraduate programs.
Your work will be more demanding, rigorous, and time-consuming.
Simply stated, graduate school is harder. You will be expected to lift a heavy academic burden that usually includes hefty reading assignments, challenging compositional work, original research, and in some instances, internships and other real-world experiences.
You’ll work in closer coordination with professors and mentors.
While undergraduate school is often an exercise in establishing personal independence, grad school offers a chance to prove you can work alongside qualified professionals in your chosen field. A professorial advisor or mentor will likely be a very important part of your research process as you advance a thesis or dissertation. This means that the connections and relationships you build in graduate school are even more consequential than those you nurtured as an undergrad.
Your experience will place less emphasis on campus life and more on immersion into your area of study.
While your undergraduate education may have been equal parts social and academic, graduate school rarely leaves time for indulgence in campus life. In fact, many graduate students are already actively balancing their pursuit of an advanced degree with work in the field.
You’ll ultimately qualify for a number of professional roles and opportunities that might not otherwise be accessible to you with just an undergraduate degree.
The master’s degree may be a basic threshold for certain professions, and is therefore required before you can earn a license to practice. In other cases, this level of qualification may simply make you a stronger candidate for employment and advancement in certain sectors and organizations.
Many traditional graduate school programs are academic in nature, focused on core curriculum and concentration-specific education. Other graduate programs may focus on professional training and skill development. However, the differences between these two types of program are not always cut and dry.
A large number of grad school programs combine elements of each approach, blending theory and conceptual development with instruction in applicable skills and real-world experience. The type of graduate school experience you seek may depend on your chosen discipline and your career goals. Your intended career will likely determine the balance between academic research and vocational training.
For instance, the course of education for a master’s degree in literature will almost certainly be predominantly academic in nature. This program will emphasize instruction, course discussion, and original research.
By contrast, a master’s degree in computer science may be largely practical and professional in nature. This program will likely emphasize the improvement of technical skills and applicable knowledge. In some cases, a professional grad school program may also offer the most direct path toward professional licensing, required certifications, and opportunities for apprenticeship.
Broadly speaking, graduate degrees are offered at two levels: the master’s and doctoral level. In most areas of study, the doctoral is considered a terminal degree, or the highest academic degree that can be earned in a specific field. There are some professions in which the master’s degree may be considered a terminal degree. For instance, the Master of Fine Arts (MFA) is the highest degree that can be earned in the field of fine arts.
Depending on your intended profession, the master’s degree may be a terminal degree, or a stepping stone to a doctoral degree. In most cases, your master’s degree program will range from 30 to 45 credit hours. The average full-time student can earn a master’s degree in 1.5 to 2 years. You will likely also be required to develop a thesis, conduct original research, and defend your findings. Typically, you’ll work closely with an advising professor or mentor throughout this process.
There are two overarching master’s degree types — Master of Arts (MA); and Master of Science (MS) — as well as a wide range of specialized master’s degrees for specific fields and professions.
Master of Arts (MA)
The Master of Arts (MA) is a graduate degree conferred by colleges and universities to students completing a program that combines course-based learning with research-based experiences. The traditional MA program will incorporate an array of courses in the humanities and social sciences alongside courses and research in a chosen concentration. Colleges and universities offer Master of Arts degrees in a broad range of subjects, including certain sciences. By contrast to a Master of Science, an MA in the sciences will usually combine a core focus in the selected science with an array of humanities and social sciences.
Master of Science (MS)
The Master of Science (MS) is a graduate degree conferred by colleges and universities to students completing programs centered around specific science concentrations. This often entails programs that are focused on subjects like engineering, mathematics, or medicine. The MS allows you to focus the bulk of your coursework and research time on your field of science. By contrast to the MA, little time is spent on humanities, social sciences, or electives. In this regard, the MS is often the most direct path for those who intend to pursue a career in a specific science- or math-based profession.
Specialized Master’s Degrees
Some professional fields require the completion of a specialized master’s degree program. In such instances, a focused master’s degree may be a basic threshold for earning a license to practice a particular trade or profession. Prominent examples include the Master of Public Administration (MPA), Master of Social Work (MSW), Master of Education (MEd), and Master of Engineering (MEng). In these instances, you will typically be required to earn a master’s degree before you can sit for a licensing exam or earn certification for hiring in your state.
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
A Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) is the most common form of doctorate, and the highest degree conferred by most colleges and universities. A PhD can be earned in nearly any subject. Your study will include an intensive focus in your area of study. A significant portion of that focus will be spent developing an original research thesis or dissertation. As a doctoral candidate, your goal will be to produce research that broadens knowledge or makes a meaningful contribution to the field in question. Earning your PhD will require you to defend your thesis before a panel of qualified experts. As a PhD, you have earned the professional distinction to be referred to as a doctor of your chosen field.
Specialized Doctorate Degrees
Some fields may require a specialized doctorate. For instance, in order to become a practicing lawyer, you must earn a Juris Doctor (JD) degree. To become a licensed physician, you must earn a Medical Doctor (MD) degree.
In other fields, a specialized doctorate may not be required, but will uniquely qualify you to teach at the university level in your subject area, or may allow you to participate directly in research or scientific inquiry. For instance, a Doctor of Social Work (DSW) or a Doctor of Business Administration (DBA) may enable you to become a professor in your field, as well as conduct research through government agencies, think tanks, and private organizations.
Now that you know a bit more, you may be wondering which graduate school is right for you. Find out by exploring the most influential schools in your chosen discipline. Our navigational tools give you the power to compare influence, cost, geography and a host of other critical factors as you seek out the best graduate school program for your needs.
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