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I think I want to go to Graduate School…

Maybe you’re a first generation college student and the application process seems inaccessible, or maybe you have access to information but feel as if you do not have the tools and resources to make sense of the (overwhelming) information that is available to you.  Fear not!  This portal is designed with you in mind and will: 1) demystify the concept of graduate school; 2) breakdown the application process; and 3) provide you with tools and strategies to ensure your graduate school success.

The section below reviews graduate school vocabulary (phrases and words that are often used in the graduate school application process, and that are also important to navigating the process) as well as an overview of the different types of graduate degrees.  If you already understand the information below, feel free to explore our application page, listen to perspectives of first-generation graduate students (and their application strategies), and download resources from the graduate school toolkit.

What is Graduate School?

Graduate school is essentially an advanced program of study that is specific to an academic discipline or profession. There are different types of graduate school, a professional graduate program aims to prepare you for a profession that requires specific types of skills and/or certifications whereas an  academic graduate program generally constitutes of generating original academic research for a particular discipline.  For example, a lawyer attends law school (a professional graduate program) and receives a Juris Doctorate (JD) after completing the doctoral program. The lawyer is able to practice law after receiving the JD, passing a bar exam (a required certification to practice law), and a background check.  Lawyers tend to have careers relating to the professional practice of enacting laws and regulations.   To contrast, a sociology professor received a Doctorate of Philosophy (PhD) from the school of sociology at a research institution (academic graduate program).  The sociology professor had to conduct and write (dissertation) original research regarding her research interest to complete the sociology PhD program. 

How is Graduate School different from my undergraduate experience?

Great question!  Compared to your undergraduate experience, graduate school is a more concentrated course of study and that requires you to specialize in a specific professional or research  topic.  Graduate courses are heavier in workload, requiring collegiate engagement between your peers and faculty members of your department.  You can generally expect smaller class sizes, additional work experiences (i.e., internships, research, teaching), and to generate original research pertaining to your research interest.    expectations regarding the quality and quantity of your academic work are greater.  Scroll down to the bottom of this page to view a comprehensive overview of the general differences between an undergraduate and graduate education. 


What are the different types of graduate degrees?

The length of your graduate program and the type of graduate degree received depends on the graduate school you select.  Note that you can obtain a Masters degree from an academic graduate program and a professional graduate program.  To facilitate the process, below is a quick list of the different types of graduate degrees that you can pursue:


Master’s degree programs are post-baccalaureate programs that usually take two years to complete. The three most common master’s degree programs found at many 4-year universities are a Master of Arts (M.A.), a Master of Science (M.S.) and a Master of Business Administration (MBA).




A Master of Arts program is a general graduate program usually associated with different specializations related to the humanities and social sciences. Master’s degree programs may be either research-based, coursework-based or a combination of the two. A bachelor’s degree is normally required for admission to a master’s degree program. Some of the possible M.A. specializations include: Philosophy, English, History, Anthropology, Education, and Classics.


A Master of Business Administration program is a professional degree program focused on business-related subjects. Many schools offer executive, part-time, online and dual degree options for earning the graduate degree. The Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB) accredits colleges and universities that offer MBA programs. Specializations for the MBA program include the following: Accounting, Project Management, Human Resources, Operations, and Marketing.


A Master of Science program is based around scientific learning. A bachelor’s degree in a related field is almost always a prerequisite. Graduates who have earned a Master of Science can go on to pursue a doctoral degree. Master of Science degrees can be earned in these fields, to name just a few: Engineering, Veterinary Science, Computer Science, Mathematics, and Physics.

Specialist Degree

Specialist degrees are usually earned in addition to a master’s degree and will require additional coursework, training, or internship experience. This type of degree usually prepares students for professional certification or licensing requirements (e.g., Ed.S. for school principal or credential for becoming a teacher).



Doctoral degree programs are post-baccalaureate programs that usually take three to eight years to complete, some doctoral program require that applicants have completed a Masters degree at the time of application while others are joint Masters and Doctoral programs.  There are many types of doctoral degrees, among them are:  Doctorate of Philosophy (PhD), Doctor of Medicine (MD), Juris Doctorate (JD), Doctor of Education (EdD), and the Doctorate of Osteopathic Medicine (DO). To help conceptualize the different types of doctoral programs, you can find the most common doctorate programs below per its respective discipline:

  1. Doctoral Programs in Health Professions– There are a wide range of doctoral degrees available in the health profession and related sciences. This field includes the Doctor of Medicine, Doctor of Nursing Practice and other degrees related to medicine and psychiatric health. Programs generally require 72 credit hours and are designed to prepare licensed health professionals for clinical practice and leadership roles. Doctoral graduates can also research, develop and implement solutions for the health industry.

  2. Doctoral Programs in Legal Professions– The most common doctoral degree in the legal field is a Juris Doctor (J.D.), but some schools offer a Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in Law. The Ph.D. in Law program is for J.D. graduates and is primarily focused on research and a dissertation. J.D. students initially study general law topics before focusing on an area of concentration, such as business law, entertainment and public law.

  3. Doctoral Programs in Education– Doctoral programs in education can lead to a Doctor of Education (Ed.D.) or a Ph.D. in Education. Students can major in education, educational leadership or special education. There are also a variety of concentrations available, such as educational administration and policy, early childhood education, education policy, evaluation and reform, teacher leadership and higher education.

  4. Doctoral Programs in Engineering– Engineers use knowledge of math, material sciences, natural sciences and physics to develop ways of using materials and natural forces to benefit people in a wide variety of ways. Ph.D. programs for engineers offer many areas of concentration. Possible engineering concentrations include civil, electrical, computer, mechanical, petroleum and geological. Depending on the school and program, 36-72 credits may be required.

  5. Doctoral Programs in Biological and Biomedical Sciences– Schools offering doctoral degrees in biomedical sciences also offer several areas of specialization. Students can choose from concentrations such as biomedical engineering, developmental biology, biochemistry and molecular biology, virology, neurobiology of disease, cancer biology, immunology, genetics and genomics, gene therapy and pathology. Programs often include lab rotations and teaching training.

Graduate School Overview