»Frequently Asked Questions
Below we have compiled a few of our more common questions and answers about graduate school. Please review and if you have any further questions contact the Career Development Center.
If you have no idea what you want to do, attending graduate school is risky because there is no guarantee that you will have a better idea of what you want to do when you are done. As Robert L. Peters states in his book Getting What You Came For: “If you aren't yet certain what career you want, grad school might give you insight, but there are certainly more cost-effective ways of figuring out your life.” See reasons for attending graduate school.
It depends. Learn what is expected in your chosen field. Some programs either require or give preference to those who have work experience (MBA programs are classic examples). For other fields, additional education is the minimum requirement for entry-level positions. Once you know the expectations, gauge whether or not you need a break from school, need time to investigate a field further, develop motivation or save money. All of these may be reasons to work before returning to school.
There are a wide variety of degrees that you can get, including a Master’s Degree, Ph.D., and a professional degree. It is best to give some thought to what you want to do and then look at the degree that will get you there. This will involve researching career fields. Oftentimes, there is no one simple route to your career goal and no one graduate degree that will fill it. See what graduate / professional school is all about.
Generally, a master’s degree is the next level above a bachelor’s degree. It is more intensive study of a selected subject matter and requires 1-3 years of study, depending on the program. A terminal master's program does not lead into a doctoral (Ph.D.) program; a non-terminal master's will. A professional master's degree is designed so that the student can enter the job market without further education. Examples of professional degrees include the Master of Business Administration (MBA) and Master of Education (M. Ed.). An academic master's is usually a Master of Arts or Master of Science followed by, “in biology” or “in art history,” for example. A Ph.D. is the highest academic degree available and is heavily focused on research. Many people who seek Ph.D's want to teach and do research in higher education. A Ph.D. can take from 3-7 years.
If you had a bad first semester or two, don't discount your chances of getting into graduate school. The most important grades are your last 60 hours, especially if you can show a gradual, steady improvement in your grades. In general, a 3.0 undergraduate degree is considered the minimum for many graduate programs, although competitive programs have much higher expectations. Excellent graduate entrance exam scores and outstanding recommendations might help overcome low grades. Another approach is to prove that you can handle further education. If you are trying to enter a Ph.D. program right from a bachelor's degree, consider a master's degree first. Another option is to take further undergraduate courses that relate to your intended graduate degree, to prove you are capable of mastering the material.
Graduate school can be expensive, especially when you calculate lost wages into the total cost. There are good opportunities for financial aid. See financing graduate school.
In graduate school, you tend to affiliate more with your department than with the institution. The programs are generally more intense with fewer tests, more papers, and more reading. Fewer courses each semester are taken. A full load is no more than 15-16 credit hours; it may be 9-12 hours. A heavier emphasis is placed on research at the doctoral level.
Start by assessing your personal needs and then explore the following areas:
- Department offerings
- Flexibility of curriculum
- Library Resources
- Research taking place
- Prominence of professors
- Teaching/Learning styles
- Female graduate students
- Work experience
- Nature of program
- Student/faculty ratio
- Social activities and interest areas
- Affirmative action/equal employment
- Minority students
- Financial aid
- Practicum or external experiences
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