Career & Internship Services

Career Handbook

Deciding on Graduate or Professional School

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 early planning, including knowing deadlines for admission tests and submission of applications and transcripts.

The highest degree that can be earned in graduate school is the Doctorate (e.g., PhD, EdD, PsyD). Obtaining a Doctoral degree usually requires the pursuit of original research. Professional school emphasizes the practical application of knowledge and skills (e.g., JD for law school, MD for medical school). Master's degree programs (e.g., MA, MS, MEd) are offered in most fields and can be either academic/research focused or professional/practitioner training. It may not be necessary to obtain a Master's degree before entering a PhD program.

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

  • Do I have a career objective which requires an advanced degree?
  • Have I identified my interests and skills and assessed how they relate to the academic subject area?
  • Am I aware of the career areas for which the 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 advisers, professors and/or counselors?
  • What are the entrance requirements for admission to the graduate or professional programs of my choice?

Attending graduate school can be a tremendous benefit when:

  • Further education is necessary to attain a career objective.
  • An advanced degree will create additional career opportunities.
  • You enjoy learning and it would provide personal satisfaction.

Attending graduate 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.

When should you begin researching programs?

Start early. Many students research programs in their junior year or earlier in order to complete applications during the summer or fall of their senior year. Most graduate school application deadlines are between December and April for fall admission but some may be as early as November. Professional school application deadlines are typically early fall. Application deadlines for assistantships, scholarships and other financial aid may be different from the deadlines for the programs. Keep in mind you need to give your test scores time to arrive and your references time to write their recommendations. If you are intending to work or gain additional experience (e.g., research, Peace Corps, AmeriCorps) prior to applying, keep in mind this same timeline. If you are employed, check into any tuition reimbursement programs your employer may offer.

Suggestions for researching programs:

  • Attend preview or visit days at the schools you are considering.
  • Watch videos on school and graduate search websites (e.g.,
  • Attend job fairs and graduate and professional school days.
  • Talk with your faculty adviser and other faculty and staff.
  • Seek out professionals currently working in your desired field.
  • Schedule a visit; meet with faculty, graduate program coordinators and current students.
  • Connect with current graduate students through social media, follow career or departmental offices and join LinkedIn "groups" associated with the school and area of study.

Criteria for evaluating programs:

  • Academic programs, degrees offered, academic focus and course requirements
  • Faculty and their areas of study, reputation and credentials
  • Accreditation
  • Admission standards and requirements
  • Cost and financial aid, including assistantships, fellowships and scholarships
  • Location and surrounding community
  • Availability of career assistance
  • Culture of the program, school, community
  • Physical facilities, equipment, labs and libraries


The application consists of a number of pieces of information on which you may be evaluated, including:

Different schools and programs within the schools may evaluate and place different emphasis on each piece. Apply to several programs so you have choices.

For tips on selecting and requesting people to serve as your references.

Graduate school admission test

The GRE General Test is the most often required entrance test for graduate programs. GRE Subject Tests may also be required by some programs. Research the test requirements, deadlines, test center availability and locations so you do not put yourself in the position of missing application deadlines. As soon as you know what is required, begin preparing for the test(s).

Professional school admission tests and application

The MCAT, PCAT, LSAT and GMAT are some examples of standardized tests that may be required for professional programs. Check requirements of each school to which you are applying and their deadlines so you can schedule your testing dates and locations accordingly. Begin preparing early.

For some programs, a centralized application service may be used (e.g., AMCAS, PharmCAS, LSDAS, PTCAS). Typically the centralized application service is open to enter information in the summer of the year you apply to programs.

When preparing for standardized tests:

  • Start preparing early.
  • Attend preparation workshops at UMD or online.
  • Take advantage of online practice tests and information.
  • Set aside time each week to prepare.