Considering Graduate or Professional School
Making the decision to attend graduate or professional school is a long-term commitment. People offer many explanations for their own decisions to pursue graduate or professional school. It may well be worthwhile to examine your own reasons for pursuing an advanced degree. A period of self-assessment may prove beneficial. Knowing why you are going to graduate or professional school will help you get what you want from your graduate or professional experience. It will help you maintain the motivation and dedication needed to succeed in a graduate or professional school program.
What is Graduate or Professional School?
Graduate and professional school is an advanced program of study focusing on a particular academic discipline or profession. Graduate and professional school can be academic, centered on generating original research in a particular discipline or professional, centered on developing skills and knowledge for a specific profession, or a combination of both.
What Gradute Degrees are Available?
Masters Degrees- Indicates that the degree holder has a specific skill set needed to practice a profession or that the student has enhanced a skill set to enable upward mobility in an existing career. This degree is offered in many fields of study. Some are designed to lead to a doctoral degree while others are the terminal degree for a profession. For full-time students, completing a mater's degree on average takes 2-3 years.
Examples of Maters Degrees Include: Masters of Arts (M.A.), Masters of Science (M.S.), Masters of Business Administration (M.B.A.), Masters of Public Health (M.P.H.), Masters of Science in Nursing, (M.S.N.), Masters of Social Work (M.S.W.), Masters of Public Administration (M.P.A.), Masters of Education, (M.Ed.). To complete a masters degree students are typically required to write and defend a masters thesis and/or pass a comprehensive exam or submit a culminating project.
Specialist Degrees/Credentials- are usually earned in addition to a master's degree and will require additional coursework, training or field experience. This type of degree usually prepares students for professional certification or licensing requirements. (i.e. Licensed Clinical Social Worker, LCSW; Specialist in Special Education, Ed.S.; Multiple Subject Teaching Credential; Pupil Personnel Services Credential, PPS).
Doctoral Degrees- Are considered to be one of the highest degrees possible. Doctoral degrees are available in a variety of disciplines. Doctoral degrees encompass a Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) which is slightly more research focused and theoretical in nature. A Doctor of Philosophy requires a series of courses and thus takes longer to complete, on average 4-7 years. A Doctorate of Education (Ed.D.) tends to be more disciplined based, and is focused more on the practice and application of theory and research. A Doctorate of Education typically requires less courses and thus on average takes 3 years to complete. To complete a doctoral degree, students are required to write and defend a dissertation.
Professional Degrees- Are designed to prepare students who intend to go into professions in areas of Engineering, Law, Medicine, or a Health Care Profession. Depending on the profession, passing a comprehensive exam, a licensure exam, or a certification exam or a combination of these is often required. Professional degrees on average can take 3+ years to complete depending on the discipline.
Example of Professional Degrees Include: Doctor of Dental Surgery, (D.D.S.), Medical Doctor (M.D.), Doctor of Optometry, (O.D.), Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (D.V.M.), Doctor of Chiropractic (D.C.), Doctor of Physical Therapy (D.P.T.), Juris Doctor (J.D.)
It is vital that you gather enough information about your field to make a wise decision about graduate school. Every field is different, in fact, in some fields you can be in a negative position if you attend graduate or professional school at the wrong time during your career. Speak with faculty, professionals in the field, or the Career Center to gather information about your chosen field.
You also need to ask yourself the following questions.
- Am I ready to continue my formal education?
- Do I have sufficient financial resources?
- Do I know enough about the field to make this commitment?
- Would it be more appropriate to work first and then return to school?
- Are there other options that I should consider?
- Is this the best career path?
Choosing a Graduate or Professional School Program to Fit Your Needs
After making the decision to go on to graduate or professional school, the next step will be locating and evaluating potential graduate schools and programs. In evaluating a graduate or professional school it is important that you evaluate the following to assist you in making an informed decision that will benefit you in the long run.
- What is the reputation?
- Is the opportunity for specialization present?
- Will you feel comfortable with the method of teaching used?
- Does the school offer the type of enrollment option you want?
- Does it offer you sufficient courses and career options?
- Are internships or work-study programs part of the curriculum?
- If certification is required, what percentage of the class passes?
- How long is the program (number of credits)?
- How many classes are required outside of the discipline?
- What is the retention rate into the second year of the program?
- Is it a research based or applied based institution?
- What are the pre-requisites for admission?
- What is the make-up of the faculty?
- How many professors hold doctoral degrees?
- How many professors have had extensive work experience in the field?
- What is the faculty's quality with regard to teaching and/or research?
- Is the school selective with regards to admissions?
- What is the make-up of the student body?
- What academic standards are placed on the student?
- What percentage of students have worked full-time?
- How many enter directly from their undergraduate degree?
- Is there a student association?
- Where are most graduates employed?
- What types of jobs do recent graduates hold?
- What placement or career services are offered?
- If certification is required, what states have reciprocity?
- Can you be competitive and effective in the program?
- Will it offer you knowledge within your capability and interests?
- Will it challenge you?
- What social/cultural life will be available?
- Do most students reside on-campus or off-campus?
- What living accommodations are available and what are they like?
- Will you be comfortable with the class size?
- Is the faculty accessible to students?
- What library and computer facilities are available?
- How accessible will they be to you as a student?
- What types of professional affiliations are there?
- Do you prefer an urban or rural environment?
- A hot, cold, or mild climate?
- Will the location offer an outlet for your individual interests and activities?
- What is the distance from home?
Costs and Financial Aid
- Do the tuition fees fit your budget?
- What type of work-study programs, loans, scholarships,
research opportunities, and assistantships are available?
- Do you know the admissions procedures?
- Are any advanced exams required?
- What documents will you need?
- Is there an interview process?