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What Is Grad School?

Our Ultimate Graduate School Guide


Graduate school typically occurs after the completion of a bachelor’s degree. The purpose of grad school is often to develop expertise in a specific area. By comparison, undergraduate school occurs in the lead up to earning a bachelor’s degree. In undergrad school, students typically take courses in multiple academic disciplines. In grad school, their education is often more specific to an area of study that is important to them or their career path.

Is graduate school the same as college?

Graduate school also differs based on how courses are taught. Students may still take courses and gain knowledge from professors in the typical teaching environment. At the same time, they are often responsible for conducting their own research. This may include producing compelling research in their selected field.

Grad school may not be right for everyone. The coursework is often challenging. The education provided may be fulfilling. It may also be valuable. Yet, it often requires a significant amount of time and energy dedicated to it. Also, grad school is not usually for those who are still in career exploration phases. It may not provide education in that manner. Rather, the focus is often on an already determined area of study.

There are often numerous prerequisites for obtaining a graduate degree. This helps to ensure each student is ready to dive deeper into the subject matter at this level.

Masters vs a PhD

There are two types of degree paths a student may take in graduate school. A master’s degree is typically a career-focused degree program. It aims to help students develop skills in a specific area based on what they wish to study.

A PhD degree, also known as a doctorate degree, is different. It is typically a research heavy degree. Students here typically focus on analytical, critical research, and writing skills. This aims to fill knowledge gaps that students may have as they prepare to enter the field.

Many master’s degrees have several types of courses. Core courses are those that the student needs to complete to earn their degree. These are considered vital to their education and skill needs. Electives are types of courses students may take to broaden their experience in areas that interest them. These are often courses with concentrated knowledge in related subjects. Also, master’s degrees often have a capstone course or thesis. These are a type of culmination of their master’s degree. There is often research included. Individuals then need to present their findings.

A doctorate degree program often has a different set of class types. There is coursework, which is usually more thorough and extensive courses that are required. Then, most students may have research core courses. These are often a part of the research work they do. It may include the actual research as well as analytical and writing skills. These skills aim to help a student complete their dissertation. There is also, typically, a comprehensive exam. This helps to ensure the student has an understanding of key concepts. Once the student passes the comprehensive exam, they may begin their dissertation. In this final step, the student often works with a committee to identify a specific research topic. Then, they may complete that in-depth research. They analyze it. They then write their dissertation.

It may also be important to consider the types of grad school. This is not just about the degrees. Some may enroll in a professional school. Professional schools are often suited for those who wish to pursue a very specific set of skills. They wish to work in a specific field. They seek out education in that field. Professional development in the chosen field is common here. Students aim to complete specific professional qualifications. Some may work towards a license. These courses are more likely to have style and skill development to help that student work in their field. Law school and medical school are two examples of this.

Academic school may provide more courses selection. They may offer more vocational support but also academic research. The topics could vary significantly. Some may be more focused on research than others. Others may be designed to help students work towards a professional practice. They typically blend research and academics. And, they may work to prepare students for future careers. Academic programs are common. Many could work towards academic programs to work in specific fields.

What are the 4 types of degrees?

Stepping back, there are four types of degrees a student may wish to complete. Each of these degrees is designed to provide a student with the education he or she needs to work in the desired area. Here is a breakdown of what those four routes are.

Associates: An associates degree typically takes 1 to 2 years to complete. It may allow students to get a job in an entry level position. The coursework is very specific. It aims to teach in a hands-on fashion.

Bachelors: A bachelor’s degree is typically a 4-year degree. It is considered an undergraduate degree path. It typically includes general coursework as well as specific skill- and knowledge-based courses.

Masters: A master’s degree is typically a 2 to 4 year degree after a bachelor’s degree. It includes specific coursework to students to enable them to gain skills to work in their chosen field of study.

PhD: This is a terminal degree, which means students are unlikely to continue their education in this area of study. PhD programs typically last 2 to 6 years and are research-based programs of study.

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Southern New Hampshire University

Take advantage of some of the nation’s most affordable tuition rates, while earning a degree from a private, nonprofit, NEASC accredited university

Multiple term start dates throughout the year. 24/7 online classroom access.

Qualified students with 2.5 GPA and up may receive up to $20K in grants & scholarships.

Capella University

Accredited online university.

Capella University offers graduate programs designed to take you to the forefront of your profession.

Competency-based curriculum delivers both foundation knowledge and real-world skills, so that what you’re learning in your courses is immediately applicable to your career goals.

Why Pursue A Graduate Degree?

Between fall 2009 and 2019, total postbaccalaureate enrollment increased by 8 percent (from 2.8 million to 3.1 million students).

Source: nces.ed.gov

Despite an overall decline in school enrollment, the number of people enrolled in graduate and professional school in the United States jumped 8.1% from 2011 to 2018

Source: census.gov

Value of Your Degree as Graduate Students


Grad school may provide value in multiple ways to students. For some, earning a PhD may mean being able to accomplish their goals. It may mean having a higher level of education in a field they value and want to work in. For others, graduate education may be about aiming to earn more.

There could be other factors that make a graduate degree valuable. That could include the ability to hone professional skills. It may enable some to gain credentials. In some situations, it may be necessary to further career goals. Some employers may require or encourage it. Grad degrees may also help students develop leadership skills.

Some people complete a graduate degree in a related field from their bachelor’s degree. This may allow a person to change their career path. At the doctoral degree level, this type of student may help with creating an invention. Some may also make an important discovery. It may facilitate studying topics you find valuable. Also, some complete this path because they want to teach in their chosen field. This may be necessary for those who wish to become a professor.

Source: bls.gov

Graduate Earning Potential

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) provides some insight into this. It reports that, the median usually weekly earnings for a person with a bachelor’s degree was $1305 in 2020. That same year, the medina usual weekly earnings for a person with a master’s degree was $1545. Those with a professional degree earned $1893. And, those with a doctoral degree earned $1885 per week.

Another way to view the value of a grad degree is to consider employment rates. In 2020, unemployment levels grew across all education levels. This was due to the pandemic. However, there was 7.1 percent unemployment in those who held an associates degree. There was 5.5 percent unemployment for those with a bachelor’s degree. At a master’s degree, just 4.1 percent were unemployed. At the professional degree level, 3.1 percent were unemployed. And, of those with a doctoral degree, just 2.5 percent were unemployed in 2020.

Top 4 Reasons Graduate Students Seek an Advanced Degree


Career Change: According to a recent Aslanian Market Research report, more than 80% of respondents cited a career change as the #1 reason for continuing education. The reality is, when looking for a new job, past experience may not be relevant enough to switch careers without going back to school.

Fortunately, most advanced academic programs do not require an applicant to have majored in the same content area, which makes it easier for someone to pursue graduate studies in a new field as long as they at least hold a bachelor’s degree.

Professional Development: While a profession may not require an advanced degree, it may be helpful to advance or to distinguish yourself from the pack.

Some business school students choose to specialize in certain areas such as a Master of Accountancy (MAcc) or a Masters of Taxation (MTax), or an MS in Strategic Human Resource Management (MSSHRM) just to name a few.
While a four-year bachelor’s degree used to be enough to reach most career goals, in today’s world a graduate degree may set you apart.

Potential Salary Increase: Naturally advancing in a career could lead to higher pay, however, the attainment of a graduate degree also has the potential to increase earning potential in certain fields.
For example, in the education field, the degree you’ve earned, combined with previous work experience, could determine your pay scale.

If you are considering graduate school for this reason, weigh the costs of education (including the loss of earnings if you go to school full time) with your potential salary after graduation.

Required For a Position: It is common understanding that practice-based doctorates are required for highly regarded careers, like Medicine (MD) or Law (JD).

But, it is also true for other professions as well! It is quite typical that a teacher can’t become an administrator without earning a Supervisors Certificate or a MA in Education Leadership.
And it doesn’t stop there, the same can be true in other fields, like Physical Therapy, Counseling, Psychology, Occupational Therapy, and the Social Sciences.

How Do I Choose from the Graduate School?

Grad students typically have a number of things to consider when choosing where to go for graduate studies. First, take into consideration your goals. Do you plan to attend full-time? What is your GPA? Do you plan to complete the GRE and GMAT? This all may influence your decision on where to attend.

Before choosing a graduate program, students must consider their passions, motivations, and goals. Then, they may need to do some research on available schools that fit their needs and goals. Location may play a role. Some students could be working and do not want to give up their job. They may want to work and attend school part time. Also important is considering cost. Financial aid may be available to those who qualify. Graduate loans may be available to help cover those costs.

How Can You Compare Accredited Grad Schools?


Comparing academic programs is a part of the process of achieving specific goals. Current students and those working may want to look at several core factors when trying to determine which program is perfect for their needs. Here are some factors to consider when looking at these programs:

Does the master’s program offer coursework that interests you?

Is the program accredited by an organization related to the field of study you are interested in?

What type of supportive service are available, like mentoring?

If it applies to you, does the program offer education for international students?

Do the academic degrees offer any type of job-finding support including assistantships or internships?

What type of ongoing support does the program offer?

Does the curriculum interest you?

Each of these factors may play a big role in your decision to choose one program or another. Prospective students may wish to look into the school’s graduation rate in their chosen program, too. The more you know about the program, the better of a decision you can make.

Find Graduate Schools That Offer Advantages


Do you plan to study humanities? Are you considering social services? No matter what higher education you are after, some programs offer advantages. They may allow you to apply work experience towards your degree. They may offer graduate certificates into specific areas important to your career goals. There are a few key things to consider about grad programs that make them a better fit for some people:

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Direct Entry MSN Programs

Looking to enter the nursing field but do not have your RN license or a BSN? Direct entry MSN programs for non nursing majors may exist!

Advanced Standing MSW Programs

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Low GPA Options

If you’re still worried about finding a grad school that accepts a low GPA, check out our list of schools that may accept a 2.5 GPA or lower.

Top Graduate Programs

1 Business, Management, Marketing

2 Engineering

3 Law

4 Social Work

5 Education Leadership & Administration

6 Education (general)

7 Social Sciences

8 Medicine

9 Registered Nursing

5 Most Frequently Asked Questions (Faqs) by Prospective Graduate Students

Admissions requirements range for graduate programs based on the school’s requirements. Often, there is a grad school application form and the need to send academic transcripts. There may be some requirements of specific coursework. Additionally, students often need a statement of purpose or personal statement, references as well as supporting letters, and related test scores. Some schools require a GRE or GMAT entrance exam. There may also be application fees to pay.
Schools often set various minimum GPA requirements for students. It is common for schools to require a GPA of 3.0 or higher. Some programs may require a 3.5 or higher. That may sound frustrating to some. It does not have to be. There may be some programs that allow students with a 2.8 or, in some cases, a 2.5, to enroll in grad school. If you have a low GPA, you may still qualify for grad school. Schools typically provide information about GPA requirements for applicants. Don’t apply until you are sure you know what to expect.
There are many different types of programs for graduate study. Each may offer specific education for a particular career goal. Degrees may be considered either academic or professional in nature. Academic degrees, such as a Master of Arts (M.A.), Mater of Science, (M.S.), and Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) are often research focused. Professional Degrees stress the practical application of knowledge and skills. Examples of these may include business (M.B.A.), education (M.Ed., Ed.D.), engineering (M.Eng.), psychology (PsyD), nursing (DNP), and law (J.D.). Figuring out which degree type is right for you may be a bit daunting. Our Degree Guide may help you sort out the various options.
The average cost of a master’s degree differs from one school to the next. For the 2018-2019 academic year, NCES reports the average cost for grad school was $18,947. There may be other costs as well. That includes books, per semester fees, and living costs. Also, private school tuition may be higher than this. Multiple factors play a role in costs, including inflationary reasons.
The length of grad school depends on the programs you are taking. Some graduate certificates may be completed in 2 years, or 18 months through an accelerated program. Many master’s degree programs may require 2 years to complete them. PhD programs taken longer. These may range from 4 to 6 years. Again, accelerated programs may help to speed up your education in this area. Many program lengths may be based on the amount of coursework a student needs to complete. Completing some of this earlier, such as in a bachelor’s degree may help speed up the education process.

Find Funding

Paying for a graduate education may be possible through a series of methods. Financial aid may be available to those who qualify. One option for students is a scholarship. These are funds that students may not have to repay. Scholarships are available from multiple organizations and for various reasons. Seek out those associated with your specific chosen field of study.

Both government-based, federal loans and private student loans may be available as well. These loans may help to cover the cost of tuition and other needs. Graduate loans are a bit different than those selected for undergraduate education.

Students may wish to explore multiple funding options. Doing to may make it possible to enroll in a master’s degree program or a doctoral program quickly. Consider all options before making a decision on any loan.

Scholarships Since it’s ‘free money’ it is important to spend some time searching for scholarship dollars. It is important to narrow your search window to give yourself the best chance at winning.

Federal Loans If you need a student loan to fill the gaps be sure to understand your options. As a graduate student, you many be eligible for federal loans or private student loans.

Private Student Loans If you need a student loan to fill the gaps be sure to understand your options. As a graduate student, you many be eligible for federal loans or private student loans.

Fellowships What a tri-fecta! Earn your degree, get paid and get valuable research experience! Check out our list of portable and institutional fellowships.

Not Sure What to Study?

Our Degree Guide is designed to help you navigate through the many Degree options Graduate School has to offer.