Reasons to Consider Graduate School

Career & Salary Advancement

Graduate school allows you to build your knowledge and skills. Depending on your field, this may help you progress in your career. You might actually require an advanced degree to move up the ladder. And having a specialized degree can help you stand out in the job market.


Are you interested in teaching? A master’s degree is a requirement for community college instructors. More and more high school teachers need master’s degrees, especially for specialized subjects. You may need a doctorate to become a professor at a four-year college or university.

Professional Licensing

Social workers, therapists, psychologists, and others who directly treat or counsel patients generally need a graduate education to meet state and national licensing requirements.

Before You Apply

Ask yourself a few questions to help guide your program search and application process:

  • What degree do I want to earn?
  • Will this degree help me achieve my career goals?
  • How will I pay for it?
  • How will I make time to invest in a graduate degree?
  • Do I know where to get support when I need it?
  • Do I enjoy this degree’s subject and coursework?

Consider your needs

The school and program you pick need to be the right fit for you and your goals. Here are a few things to think about:

  • Location and environment
    • Would you live on or near campus? Would you have to commute? Would you prefer an online program?
    • What other resources do you need? Would you need opportunities for work or research? An internship? Public transportation or parking? Childcare?
  • Timeframe
    • How long do you plan to be in school?
    • Would you go full-time or part-time? Would you work while you’re in school?
  • Program features
    • Does this program offer the right path for me?
    • What classes are required? Does the program offer the tracks, specialties, electives, field work, internships, and activities I’m looking for?
    • Is this program the best fit for me? Would another program work better?

Types of Graduate Degrees

Graduate degree programs offer advanced instruction in one subject area. Most programs require you to have a bachelor’s (undergraduate) degree before going to graduate school. There are two main categories of graduate degrees: master’s degrees and doctorate degrees. Let’s take a closer look at each.

Master’s Degree Programs

You can get a master’s degree in either a professional or academic field. It typically takes one to three years of study to earn your master’s.

  • Professional master’s degree: This is the most common advanced degree for students looking to advance in their career. Professional master’s programs usually require you to choose a concentration of study. You’ll often need to complete an internship or professional experience. You’ll likely need to complete a special project and capstone and take a final assessment. Some common professional master’s degrees include:
    • Fine arts (Master Fine Arts, or MFA)
    • Education (Master of Education)
    • Nursing (Master of Science in Nursing)
    • Business (Master of Business Administration, or MBA)
    • Public health (Master of Public Health, or MPH)
  • Academic master’s degree: The academic master’s also requires mastery in one subject area, but it often includes a research or theory focus. These programs are often awarded as a Master of Arts (MA) or a Master of Science (MS). They follow a similar format to professional master’s program, but they include a dissertation proposal and defense as well.

Doctoral Degree Programs

Like masters’ programs, doctoral degree programs can also be either professional or academic. But they take longer to complete – roughly three to eight years. Usually you must have a master’s degree before you pursue a doctorate. But many universities offer dual master and doctorate programs. Some jobs that require doctorate degrees may allow you to work while you get your degree, so check with your employer.

  • Professional doctorate degree: These programs focus on the practical knowledge and skills required for a specific job. Professional doctorate programs usually require advanced courses and a practicum, internship, or fellowship. You’ll need take comprehensive final exams, and you may need to write a dissertation. Students commonly earn professional doctorate programs in the fields of:
    • Psychology
    • Medicine
    • Business administration
    • Physical therapy
  • Academic (research) doctorate, or PhD (Doctor of Philosophy): This degree is awarded to students who create an original dissertation that contributes new knowledge to their subject area. Academic doctorate programs are similar to professional doctorate programs, but also require a dissertation. A dissertation is the final part of a PhD program. It typically requires three to five years of research, with the dissertation defense as the final exam.

Which is best?

Time to do some research on your chosen field and career. Look through job listings for your career path. Read the education requirements. What does this career path require? Will you need a master’s or a PhD to reach your dream job? You can also reach out to individual departments and set up informational phone calls to learn about their programs.

10 Tips for Graduate Applications

You’re a pro at applying to school by now! But grad school applications are a little different. So brush up with our top ten tips.

  1. Get specific. Find the information you need from each graduate school you’re applying to. Ask about campus services you’ll need to use, like the library and career services offices.
  2. Keep a backup. Most applications can be completed electronically. Get electronic confirmations of anything you submit. Keep hard and electronic copies as backup of the work you do.
  3. Make a timeline. Put together an admission timeline so you’ll know exactly when each item is due at each school.
  4. Make copies. Some schools require two copies of all forms – one for the admissions office and one for the program department.
  5. Stay on top of extra requirements. Keep track of which, if any, of your schools require supplementary materials in addition to the personal statement and application.
  6. Double-check test requirements. Be sure to check the specific testing requirements of the departments you’re applying to. Never assume! Each department may vary.
  7. Watch your personal statement length. Your personal statement should be one to two pages long. Some are required to be 500-1,000 words. Stick to the guidelines – writing too much will not impress the admission committee.
  8. Get three recommendations. You can ask colleagues, past professors, or mentors to write letters on your behalf. Ask them to write about your likelihood for success in the program. Also, find out if recommendations must be sent directly from your letter-writers.
  9. Get your transcripts. Many graduate schools will require two copies of your official transcript. They should be official copies (sealed and/or sent directly from your undergraduate college). This is to ensure they haven’t been altered.
  10. Pay fees on time. Most application fees can be paid online with a credit card, or you can mail a check. Make sure the money is ready, and leave time for processing.

Master the entrance exam

Graduate school standardized tests are designed to test your general knowledge, reasoning skills, and ability to communicate. Some exams will also test for specialized knowledge in your field. Your score can be critical to your acceptance. Different programs require different exams, so check the admissions requirements for the programs where you’re applying first. Read more about the most common graduate school standardized tests.

GRE: Graduate Record Examination

  • Time: Around 3 hours, 45 minutes plus short breaks
  • Structure: Three sections – Verbal Reasoning, Quantitative Reasoning, and Analytical Writing
  • Scoring: Verbal and Quantitative are each scored on a 130-170 scale in 1 point increments. The Analytical section is graded 0-6 in 1/2 point increments.
  • Testing: You can register online, by phone, email or fax. The test is computer based, and testing sites are available across the country.
  • Website:

GMAT: Graduate Management Admission Test

  • Time: 3.5 hours
  • Structure: Four sections – Verbal, Quantitative, Analytical Writing, and Integrated Reasoning
  • Scoring: Each section is scored individually. Your total score is then calculated in a 200-800 range.
  • Testing: You can register online. The test is computer based, and testing sites are available across the country.
  • Website:

LSAT: Law School Admission Test

  • Time: Half-day
  • Structure: Five 35-minute multiple choice sections – Reading Comprehension, Logical Reasoning, Analytical Reasoning, and a Variable Section. There is also a 35-minute, unscored Writing Sample.
  • Scoring: Your score is based on the number of questions you answer correctly (the raw score). There is no deduction for incorrect answers, and questions are weighted the same. Raw scores are converted to an LSAT scale that ranges from 120 (lowest) to 180 (highest).
  • Testing: You can register online, but the LSAT is not given online. You must sit for this exam at a test center. Plan to take the exam by December of the year before the fall you wish to enter law school.
  • Website:

MCAT: Medical College Admission Test

  • Time: 7.5 hours
  • Structure: There are four sections –
    • Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems
    • Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems
    • Psychological, Social, and Biological Foundations of Behavior
    • Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills
  • Scoring: You’ll get a separate score for each section of the exam. Each section is scored from 118 (lowest) to 132 (highest). Your total score is the sum of the four section scores, and ranges from 472 to 528.
  • Testing: You can register for the MCAT online. The MCAT is given online, and you must sit for the exam at a test center. Plan to take the exam in the year in which you apply for medical school.
  • Website:

Writing Your Personal Statement

What is it?

The personal statement is the graduate school version of an undergraduate college admission essay. Almost all graduate applications require some form of Statement. It gives the admissions committee a chance to distinguish you from other applicants and see you as a person. Schools have different requirements for personal statements. Focus on these factors as you write your statement:


Most schools will ask you to explain:

  • Why you want to study in the program,
  • How you became interested, and
  • How your previous academic work has prepared you for your graduate studies.


As you write your statement, remember that how you communicate is just as important as what you communicate. Write your statement in your own voice, but make sure it’s polished and well-written. Start with a preliminary outline. Then write a first draft, a second draft, edit your drafts, and have someone else review your writing. Continue to revise until you have a version you are proud to submit.

Attitude and Style

Your statement should show your passion for your studies, confidence in your ability to succeed, and pride in your accomplishments. Your attitude and style will help demonstrate that you’ll be a valuable and productive student in your program.

How do I write my personal statement?

  • Answer the question: This is key! Read your prompt carefully and make sure you’re addressing it.
  • Use solid structure: The structure, flow, grammar, and vocabulary of your statement are important. A well-written essay will interest your reader and tell them about your capacity to think clearly and logically. The most common format includes an introduction, several body paragraphs, and a concluding paragraph.

Wondering how you'll pay for graduate school?

Check out Cover the Cost to learn about financial aid, scholarships, and loans.

Female College graduate taking selfie with mother and father
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