Exploring Graduate and Professional Schools


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If you are thinking about attending graduate or professional school, it is essential to explore your options carefully. The decision to go to graduate or professional school requires planning, including knowing deadlines for admission tests and submission of application materials.

The difference between graduate and professional school programs is generally the focus:

  • Graduate programs focus primarily on mastering a particular field of study or discipline for which there may be a variety of career options.
  • Professional programs focus directly on training for a specific career requiring knowledge of the practices and standards leading to licensure in the particular field.

Degrees offered:

  • Master's degree programs (e.g., MA, MS, MEd) are offered in a wide variety of fields and can be either academic and research focused or professional and practitioner training focused.
  • The highest degree offered in graduate school is the Doctorate (e.g., PhD, EdD, PsyD). Obtaining a Doctoral degree usually requires the pursuit of original research. It may not be necessary to obtain a Master's degree before entering a Doctoral program.
  • Professional school emphasizes the clinical application of knowledge and skills and the degrees reflect the specific career focus (e.g., J.D. for law school, M.D. for medical school).

Before making the decision to attend graduate or professional school, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Do I have a career objective which requires an advanced degree?
  • Am I aware of the career areas for which an advanced degree will prepare me, and the employment outlook for these fields?
  • Have I talked with professionals currently working in my intended career area to get answers to some of these questions?
  • Have I discussed my plans with academic advisers, professors and/or counselors?
  • What are the entrance requirements for admission to the graduate or professional programs of my choice?

Attending graduate or professional school can be a tremendous benefit when:

  • Further education is necessary to attain a career objective.
  • An advanced degree will create additional career opportunities.
  • Learning is enjoyable and provides personal satisfaction.

Attending graduate or professional school may be a mistake if the purpose is to:

  • Postpone making a career decision and entering the job market.
  • Avoid leaving the familiar atmosphere of school.

Graduate and professional school requires an intense commitment of time and money. If you're not sure you are ready, then it may be best to wait.

Next step: Researching Programs and Schools