Graduate school is designed for those who want to continue their education after earning a bachelor's degree. Traditionally, graduate school was "academic" focused, meaning it attracted mostly those students who were interested in conducting research in a particular field. Although that still holds partially true, now students attend graduate school for a variety of reasons, including the fact that a graduate degree is mandatory to be employed in certain professions. Others enroll because they are seeking additional training to advance their career goals and salaries. Some are just interested in the academic challenges that come along with graduate studies.
Because graduate school programs concentrate on advanced studies in particular academic disciplines, they have higher expectations than undergraduate ones when it comes to the quality and quantity of a student's academic work. Unlike in college, almost all of the courses will be core and there will be little room for electives. The classes are smaller (requiring students to interact more with their peers and professors); students are responsible for evaluating their peers' work; and it's usually mandatory to gain some sort of work experience through research, teaching or an internship. Typically a final capstone project, thesis or dissertation is required to complete a graduate program.
Graduate degrees are available in a variety of subjects but generally are offered in three levels: master, specialist and doctorate. Master degree programs typically take about two years to complete and are either earned as a steppingstone toward getting a doctorate or as a "terminal degree"—meaning that the degree was needed to enter the profession you want and so your schooling ends there. Specialist degrees generally serve as an addition to a master's degree. They can come in the form of professional certificate. But usually students use the extensive course work of earning a specialist degree to prepare them for their licensing examinations. Doctoral degrees (Ph.D.s) are the highest degrees one can earn. They take about five to seven years to complete.
To learn more about graduate school, check out these pages:
- Is Graduate School the Best Choice for You?
- The Best Jobs for Graduate Degree Holders
- How to Get Into Graduate School
- From Undergrad to Grad, or Should You Take a Break?
- A Guide to Completing Your Graduate Thesis (Without Going Crazy)
- Walking the Scholar/Employee Tightrope: Balancing Academics and a Job