Making the Decision

Why should I attend?

There are many reasons to pursue graduate or professional degrees. The most obvious is that your career goals may require it. For example, to become a pharmacist, you must earn a Pharm.D. If you want to be a faculty member at a university, you probably need to look at Ph.D. programs. It is important to understand what you plan to do with your degree so you don't waste your time or money. There are many job opportunities available to you with a bachelor's degree. In some cases earning another degree may not be helpful. Another common reason to pursue graduate or professional degrees is to earn a higher salary. Most studies show that people with more education earn more. However, it is important to consider the timing of your graduate degree.

When should I attend?

If and when you earn a graduate degree is your decision. However, applying to graduate school to avoid searching for a job is not a good idea. Good reasons to go to graduate school right after college might be that you have more flexibility at this point in your life, you are heavily involved in your field and have a lot of momentum going into a graduate program, you are accustomed to student life and have great study skills, or because an advanced degree is required for entry-level positions in your field.  

Many industries value a balance of education and experience, which is why it may be advantageous to work for a couple of years before returning to school. A master's degree may not change the jobs you qualify for initially, but once you have a few years of work experience a master's degree could help you progress in your field. Plus, a couple years of work experience will give you a clearer picture of what you want for your career path.  

How do I choose the right program?

CALS students pursue graduate and professional degrees in many areas. It is important to consider your goals when selecting a field for graduate study. Be sure to choose a degree program that provides opportunities to develop the skills and gain experiences that will qualify you for the types of jobs you want to apply for. The degree options can be broken down into two categories: Master's & Doctorate.

  • Master's: These programs usually take two years, but may be shorter or longer depending on the school and field. A professional master's degree, like an MBA (Master of Business Administration), is designed for entry into a field or career advancement. The emphasis is on real-world application of theory. A more academic focused master's degree like a Master's of Science will emphasize intellectual growth and may require the completion of a thesis project. A master's degree may be a prerequisite for doctoral work.
  • Doctoral: These programs are the highest possible earned academic degree, and can also be professional or academic. A professional doctoral degree, like a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) or Doctor of Medicine (MD), also stresses the practical application of knowledge but is a more in-depth study than a master's degree. An academic doctoral degree, such as Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.), emphasizes the advancing of knowledge through original research in a given field. A Doctorate typically takes 3-6 years to complete, but may take longer.

Search for graduate schools

  • Talk to faculty members in your major or field of interest and get recommendations of programs that may be a good fit.
  • GradSchools.com has a good database of programs.
  • For assistance with applying to health programs, seek assistance through the Health PAC office. If you plan to apply to veterinary school be sure to connect with the Vet PAC office. Both offices have resources to help you gain experience and prepare the best application possible.
  • Check out these Start Class websites to find and compare medical schools and dental schools based on ranking, tuition, admission, and more.      

Things to consider when selecting a program

  • Accreditation: Do a little research into the properly accredited degree programs, and pay attention to both institutional and program specific accreditation. Although accreditation is not necessarily the only indicator of quality, you could face negative consequences if the program is not accredited.
  • Admission standards: Information about the number of applicants versus acceptances as well as average GPA and standardized test scores is usually available on a program's website.
  • Multicultural/diversity opportunities: Increased diversity is an indicator of quality for a graduate program because the diversity of all types indicates a broader worldview. Look at the composition of both faculty and students in the program and find a mix where you'll feel comfortable but appropriately challenged.
  • Reputation/ranking: Many organizations rank graduate programs, so rankings can be an indicator of quality. However, it's important to consider the source of the rankings and the criteria used.
  • Size: Consider both the size of the program and the university and the environment you feel most comfortable in.
  • Faculty: Examine the research interests of the program's faculty. Do they match yours? Is the faculty well published and in well-regarded peer-reviewed journals? What kind of connection will you have with a faculty mentor?
  • Current students: Most graduate programs make it possible to talk to current students so you can learn about the program and what it will be like if you attend.
  • Location: Where is the school located? Will you need to relocate to attend? What is the climate?
  • Finances: What will it cost to attend and is there any financial assistance available? Graduate programs may have funding through assistantships, fellowships, grants, and loans. Be sure to add in all the associated costs like books, professional travel, and housing, as well as the cost of living in that area.
  • "Fit": Each program will have a different focus or areas of specialty. Make sure that they line up with your career interests.
  • Resources: What kind resources are in place to help you develop professionally? Do they assist you with job placement when you finish? Are there academic resources or mentoring available? 
  • Graduation requirements: Does the program require a thesis, dissertation, or comprehensive test?
  • Alumni: What kind of jobs do graduates get?