Graduate School

Graduate School

Types of Advanced Degrees

Once you have determined you want to attend graduate or professional school, you will have to decide what degree you want to receive and where you want to attend school. The different types of advanced degrees include master’s, doctoral and professional degree. Each degree is structured to meet the needs of specific careers or personal goals, and each takes a different amount of time to accomplish.

Master’s Degree

A master’s degree is a more advanced degree following a bachelor’s degree. It usually takes less time to attain (one to two years, depending if you’re full-time or part-time status), but demands a higher standard of knowledge and dedication than a bachelor’s degree. Most master’s degrees are built on extensive research and intricate analysis. You may be interested in working toward a master’s to meet a certain job position’s requirements, to further your knowledge, or to advance your career and earning potential.

Doctoral Degree

A doctoral degree is a high-level degree that follows a bachelor’s or master’s degree. This type of degree is work-intensive and usually requires full-time attention. Most are earned by researching a unique and specific topic under a professor’s supervision. Earning a doctorate could take anywhere from two to five years, or even longer. You may be interested in pursuing a doctorate if you plan to work in a high-profile profession, such as a psychiatrist or college professor.

Professional Degree

A professional degree is required for work in fields such as law and medicine. These fields have specific schools of study that concentrate on a particular area of expertise. In order to attend, you must have a bachelor’s degree. The study will then be focused on earning the specific professional degree for your field of study.

Things to Consider

Are you considering going back to school for a graduate degree? If you have completed any research regarding the process, you are well aware by now that it is a tremendous commitment of both time and money. The demands significantly surpass those of the work did during your undergraduate degree. It is also possible that now you have a family and other professional commitments that also require your time. The following information should be considered before you start skipping down the ‘Yellow Brick Road’.

What are your goals for seeking an advanced degree?

You need to understand what your personal and professional motivations are. If you are considering the degree because you believe it will help facilitate your career growth that is a good reason to attend. In addition to expanding business knowledge, you will also form good connections with other participants. The friendships and networks formed during completion of a graduate degree can be very valuable for ongoing career success. Also, an advanced degree demonstrates your willingness to continue to expand your knowledge and maintain your marketability throughout your career.

How do you choose a program that’s right for you?

Choosing a program that meets your personal and professional needs is very important. Not all schools or programs offer things that are right for everyone. Do the research regarding the school and it’s programs. You want to educate yourself regarding the program’s structure and what the culture of the school is. When you consider the amount of time and money you will be dedicating to the degree, you need to ensure there is a good fit with a program as it will help fulfill your aims. Whether pursuing an MBA or other master’s program, evaluate your goals in relation to the potential benefits of the program. Apply to institutions other than where you completed your undergraduate degree. A different perspective and a change of faculty is a good thing. The new environment and perspectives you will encounter will broaden how you look at things.

When is it a good time to get a graduate degree?

This is a frequently asked question. Some individuals are just out of school and don’t want to break the momentum. Others have been out in the workforce for a number of years; now they are considering obtaining an advanced degree to transition into something else or move up the corporate ladder. While there are reasons for each, it is suggested that working a few years and getting some strong professional experiences will enhance your graduate school experience. Many of the stronger programs actually require that you have work experience before attending. Equally important is the business perspective you bring to the educational experience. With professional experience comes knowledge – this will enhance the training you receive during the completion of the degree; further it will facilitate the practical application of emerging ideas in your professional life. Having previously worked for a few years might also provide you with a stronger financial footing to pay for the degree. Perhaps your employer has a program that covers some or all of the expense.

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What Kinds of Admissions Tests Are There?

Most graduate and professional schools require test scores for admission. The Graduate Record Exam (GRE) General and Subject tests are required by many academic programs (Masters and Doctoral degrees). MBA programs usually require the Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT). Other tests are required in other fields such as the LSAT for law school, the MCAT for medical school, the DAT for dentistry school, the OAT for optometry school, and the TOEFL English proficiency test for international students.

When Should I Take Admissions Tests?

It is very important to prepare for and take these tests early. We recommend that you take these tests at the end of your junior year, so that you can submit your application materials early and have ample time to retake the test if necessary. Be sure to consult admissions deadlines, the Graduate School Timeline, and a career counselor to determine your optimal test date.

When Should I Sign Up For Admissions Tests?

Sign up early to ensure that you can take the test on your desired date. There are no registration deadlines for computer based tests (GRE General and Written Assessment, GMAT), but registration is first come, first serve. The registration deadlines for GRE Subject Tests are approximately six weeks prior to the exam dates. Late registration is available for some tests for an additional fee. Special accommodation for students with disabilities can be arranged with ample prior notice. Check with each testing organization to verify their policies.

Do I Have to Take a GRE Subject Test?

Check each school's admission requirements to determine which tests you need to take. Currently, GRE Subject Tests are only available for Biochemistry, Cellular and Molecular Biology, Literature in English, Biology, Mathematics, Chemistry, Physics, Computer Science, and Psychology.

Subject Tests are only offered three times a year-in April, November, and December. You must sign up for Subject Tests approximately six weeks in advance. Not all Subject Tests are available on every date, so check the GRE website for test availability well in advance.

Where Can I Find Information About Graduate School Admissions Tests?

Graduate Record Exam (GRE) - The official site for the GRE. Includes answers to frequently asked questions and information on registration and testing sites.

Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT) - The official site for the GMAT. Includes information on all aspects of the GMAT, plus online registration.

Are Special Accommodations Available for Students with Disabilities?

Yes. Please see the Disabled Students' Program (DSP)'s information sheet, Applying for Accommodations on Pre-Graduate and Pre-Professional School Examinations.

Additional Resources

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Kaplan provides higher education programs, professional training courses, test preparation materials and other services for various levels of education.

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Employment Recommendations

Whether you are laid off or leave your job on your own accord a letter of recommendation from your employer can be a valuable tool for finding a new job. Such a letter is often preferable to listing your supervisor and his or her phone number on your resume. A reference letter

  • Provides an organized analysis of your attributes and abilities
  • Is a "fresh when written" appraisal not clouded by time
  • Creates an unchanging assessment
  • Saves future employers the effort of interviewing your former supervisor
  • Saves your former supervisor the time and trouble of being interviewed

Importantly, obtaining a written letter also gives you insight into how your former employer perceives you-- on balance either favorably or unfavorably. With this information in hand you can spotlight a good reference or downplay a poor one.

Requesting a Letter of Recommendation

You not only need the letter, you need it to be as effective as possible. So it's important to plan your request.

Who to Ask

Given a choice about who to ask, ask someone who

  • Is comfortable writing a letter for you
  • Can write well and write easily
  • Has experience writing letters of recommendation
  • Is familiar with your work
  • Knows you well enough to be able to include personal anecdotes in the letter
  • Has the highest and/or most relevant job title

These guidelines apply to both supervisors and teachers. Keep in mind that if you've been working in Payroll but want a new career in Marketing, a letter from the Sales Manager of your old company will carry more weight than one from the Accounting Manager. Also, the higher up the writer the more clout the letter will carry. For example, a letter of recommendation from a full professor is more valuable than one from an assistant professor.

When to Ask

Situations vary, but the more time you can allow for receiving your letter the better. As a general rule request your letter at least a month or two in advance.

How to Ask

Always be forthright when requesting a letter of recommendation. Explain exactly why the letter is needed and its importance to you. In addition

  • Lead up to the request if possible. Get a sense of the writer's comfort level before actually making the request.
  • Never put the writer on the spot.
  • Always offer to provide information that makes the writing task easier (biographical data, employment or attendance timelines, etc.)
  • As a practical matter, if writing the letter will clearly be a favor make sure the writer knows you understand that.
  • If the subject is broached by the writer, offer to compose the letter yourself for the writer to sign.

The Underlying Dynamics of Recommendations

Each of the three underlying dynamics plays a role in determining the ultimate value of a recommendation, but only one requires much writing.

Dynamic Comment How communicated
Writer's credibility What is writer's expertise?  How important is writer?  How relevant is writer's background to his or her recommendation? On letterhead and/or signature title
Writer's relationship to individual Is writer individual's supervisor, professor, co-worker?  How long has writer been in a position to judge individual's talent and performance? In second sentence in opening paragraph of letter (see letter format section below)
Writer's overall opinion of individual Is the writer strongly positive about individual, lukewarm, or something else? Made clear in first sentence of opening paragraph and  reiterated in closing (see section below on communicating your overall opinion of the individual)

(Source: Letter of Recommendation Guide,

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Graduate School - Statement

Graduate and professional schools often require some sort of written statement -- often called a "statement of purpose," "personal statement," or "letter of intent"-- as a part of the application. Some statements require rather specific information--for example, the applicant's intended area of study within a graduate field. Still others are quite unstructured, leaving the applicant free to address a wide range of matters. The importance of the statement varies from school to school and from field to field. More can be found here.

Determine your purpose in writing the statement

Usually the purpose is to persuade the admissions committee that you are an applicant who should be chosen. Whatever its purpose, the content must be presented in a manner that will give coherence to the whole statement.

  • Pay attention to the purpose throughout the statement so that extraneous material is left out.
  • Pay attention to the audience (committee) throughout the statement. Remember that your audience is made up of professionals in their field, and you are not going to tell them how they should act or what they should be. You are the amateur.

Determine the content of your statement

Be sure to answer any questions fully. Analyze the questions or guidance statements for the essay completely and answer all parts. Usually graduate and professional schools are interested in the following matters, although the form of the question(s) and the responses may vary:

  • Your purpose in graduate study. Think this through before you try to answer the question.
  • The area of study in which you wish to specialize. Learn about the field in detail so that you are able to state your preferences using the language of the field.
  • Your intended future use of your graduate study. Include your career goals and plans for the future.
  • Your unique preparation and fitness for study in the field. Correlate your academic background with your extracurricular experience to show how they unite to make you a special candidate.
  • Any problems or inconsistencies in your records or scores, such as a bad semester. Explain in a positive manner. Since this is a rebuttal argument, it should be followed by a positive statement of your abilities. In some instances, it may be more appropriate to discuss this outside of the personal statement.
  • Any special conditions that are not revealed elsewhere in the application, such as a significant (35 hour per week) workload outside of school. This, too, should be followed with a positive statement about yourself and your future.
  • You may be asked, "Why do you wish to attend this school?" Research the school and describe its special appeal to you.
  • Above all, this statement should contain information about you as a person. They know nothing about you unless you tell them. You are the subject of the statement.

Determine your approach and style of the statement

There is no such thing as "the perfect way to write a statement." There is only the one that best fits you.


  • Be objective, yet self-revelatory. Write directly and in a straightforward manner that tells about your experience and what it means to you. Do not use "academese."
  • Form conclusions that explain the value and meaning of your experience, such as what you learned about yourself and your field and your future goals. Draw your conclusions from the evidence your life provides.
  • Be specific. Document your conclusions with specific instances. See below a list of general words and phrases to avoid using without explanation.
  • Get to the point early on and catch the attention of the reader.
  • Limit its length to two pages or less. In some instances it may be longer, depending on the school's instructions.


  • Use the "what I did with my life" approach.
  • Use the "I've always wanted to be a _____" approach.
  • Use a catalog of achievements. This is only a list of what you have done, and tells nothing about you as a person.
  • Lecture the reader. For example, you should not write a statement such as "Communication skills are important in this field." Any graduate admissions committee member knows that.

Words and phrases to avoid without explanation

feel good
appealing to me
appealing aspect
I like it
it's important
I can contribute
meant a lot to me
helping people
I like helping people

Where to go for help

  • If you need some help figuring out what to write, make an appointment with a Career Center counselor to come up with a plan.
  • Once you have done a draft (or 2 or 3), show it to people you trust such as faculty, GSIs, family, friends, letter of recommendation writers, etc. The best people to review your statement are those who know you well and have excellent writing skills.
  • If you want to improve your writing, the Student Learning Center Writing Program offers programs on writing technique as well as individual tutoring.
  • is an excellent resource that includes essay critiques and writing tips.

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