Graduate Degree Guide

Find answers to help you navigate through the important decisions you’ll face on your journey towards earning a graduate degree.

What is a Graduate Degree?

A graduate degree is an advanced academic degree that generally requires students to have earned an undergraduate degree (bachelor’s degree). A graduate degree might take the form of a master’s degree, doctoral degree, or first professional degree. Each degree is granted by a graduate school after successful completion of the individual program requirements.

A graduate degree could provide a pathway for students to study a subject in depth, conduct research in their technical field, and build professional skills. Often referred to as ‘advanced degrees’, graduate degrees could be earned in many areas. They can also be earned across different credentials. Graduate Certificate verses a Masters Degree. Or, A Masters vs PhD.

Find Graduate Programs

Many graduate schools also offer joint Masters and PhD programs. Others, offer dual programs such as A Dual MBA. You may also be able to earn your bachelors along the way to earning your masters.

With so many options, it is natural to wonder how to choose a graduate program. Whether investing years of your time and money earning a masters degree or a PhD ‘is worth it’. Which occupations might you need a master’s for? 

Use this graduate degree guide to navigate the important decisions about your future. Then research grad schools to see which ones fit your goals.

Admissions Requirements

Admission requirements vary greatly, for example, some graduate schools do not require an application fee, while others do. Give yourself some time to do your ‘homework’, and talk to an advisor to help gather information about each school’s application form and procedure. Often you could fill most forms out online, but you might need to mail sealed transcripts, so read the fine print. Furthermore, sometimes applicants must apply to their intended program and this could involve separate forms, permission from faculty or even prerequisite courses. Other material you may have to submit could include the following. Please make sure to refer to individual schools.

Test scores (e.g. GRE, PRAXIS) Letters of recommendation Current resume, work experience Valid licenses (e.g. teaching license) Statement of goals Writing sample or example of published work

Understand the Different Grad Degree Types

Graduate degrees involve a lot of time and commitment, and your degree should reflect a clear sense of purpose. However, there are many considerations when choosing the right graduate program.

Graduate Degrees are among the most diverse type of academic degree you can find, with different specialisations and majors, as well as different learning objectives. It can all be a bit daunting, so we’ve put together this quick degree guide to help you sort out the options, so you can make the most informed decision possible.

Practitioner-Focused Graduate Degrees

Graduate degrees such as a Doctor of Psychology (PsyD) or Master of Business Administration (MBA) are practitioner-focused. These grad degrees highlight skills and methods needed to practice professionally in a certain field.

Students who pursue this type of degree take structured courses and may be required to take part in an internship or practice. To culminate their degree requirements, students may have to complete a capstone project or comprehensive exam where they demonstrate what they have learned throughout the course of their studies. Typically, their work highlights an issue in their field and some type of practical solution for it.

VS

Research-Focused Graduate Degrees

Some graduate degrees, such as a master’s (with thesis option) and Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) are research-focused. While students engage with course material through things like lectures, seminars and lab work, they also could conduct some independent research.

Individuals who pursue research-oriented grad degrees could therefore learn how to form a hypothesis, conduct experiments, design surveys, collect and analyze data. This data and the research methods they use for their inquiry could then become the focus for a research project. Masters level research is often called a thesis, whereas doctoral research is called a dissertation. Each of these final pieces of scholarly writing are usually based on original thought.

    • Non-Terminal Degrees

      In general non-terminal degrees are considered a bridge to continued graduate work and tend to focus on original research, research methodology, and field investigation. Although most non-terminal master’s degrees culminate in a thesis or dissertation, there are some programs that offer a non-thesis option. A program that emphasizes a non-thesis option generally includes more coursework, as well as a comprehensive examination upon completion of the program’s coursework. Master of Arts (MA)., and Master of Science (M.S), are often categorized as non-terminal degrees because many fields that offer an M.A. or M.S. will also offer continued study options at the Doctoral level.

      • Master of Science

        A Master of Science (MS, MSc) is usually awarded in majors that are categorized as sciences, or applied sciences. In their course of study, MS students often cover technical topics that could require some type of computational analysis. Some MS programs could also involve laboratory work or students might need to learn specific techniques. Finally, there could be a strong research component, as some MS programs use evidence to inform their decisions. For this and other reasons, MS programs often act as a pathway to a PhD or other advanced degree.

      • Master of Arts

        A Master of Arts degree (MA) is usually awarded in majors that are classified as arts or social sciences. In their course of study, students may learn through a blend of lectures and seminars. Also, MA students are often assessed through a comprehensive exam or an independent capstone project. MA degrees may indicate a more holistic, theoretical approach to subject matter. MAs are also often considered terminal degrees in a field.

        • Terminal Degrees

          Terminal graduate degrees prepare you academically for entrance into specific types of careers. They focus on the practical skills and analytical knowledge needed to enter a given profession directly upon graduation. Terminal degrees are found in professional disciplines that generally do not consider research a priority. You can expect a terminal degree to be more structured than a non-terminal degree. As such, terminal degree programs will often require one to two years of full-time study.

          • Master of Professional Studies

            A Master of Professional Studies (MPS) is slightly different from a MA and MS in terms of its goals. The MPS degree combines theory with practical and applicable skills that graduates might use in a current workplace. Called in some schools as ‘professional masters’, an MPS degree might be found in niche areas such as project management, real estate, technology management, integrated marketing communications and more.ii

          • Master of Arts/Science

            A Master of Arts degree (MA) is usually awarded in majors that are classified as arts or social sciences. In their course of study, students may learn through a blend of lectures and seminars. Also, MA students are often assessed through a comprehensive exam or an independent capstone project. MA degrees may indicate a more holistic, theoretical approach to subject matter. MAs are also often considered terminal degrees in a field.

          • Professional Doctorate

            Professional Doctorates (Doctor degrees) are terminal degrees of equal weight to the PhD but with different requirements and focus. PhD students, as stated, are often expected to have extensive knowledge in their field which they could apply to solve a real-world problem, through research and a dissertation. By comparison, professional doctorate students may be expected to apply current and existing knowledge to solve a problem – whether in a workplace, or community. They might accomplish this through a doctoral capstone, product or portfolio. Examples of professional doctorates include the following. iii

            • Doctor of Social Work (DSW)
            • Doctor of Business Administration (DBA)
            • Doctor of Management (DM)
            • Doctor of Computer Science (DCS)
            • Doctor of Psychology (PsyD)
          • Doctor of Philosophy

            A Master of Arts degree (MA) is usually awarded in majors that are classified as arts or social sciences. In their course of study, students may learn through a blend of lectures and seminars. Also, MA students are often assessed through a comprehensive exam or an independent capstone project. MA degrees may indicate a more holistic, theoretical approach to subject matter. MAs are also often considered terminal degrees in a field.