What is Grad School? Everything You Need To Know

Ready for college, round 2?

For some students, finishing their undergraduate degree is only the beginning. The next logical step for you might be graduate school. But what exactly is graduate school, and how do you know if it’s the right option for you and your academic or professional goals?

We’ve laid out the entire graduate school application process, along with the ins and outs when it comes to finding a program, writing any personal essays, and finding enough money to fund your dreams. Don’t let anything hold you back—get cracking on that master’s degree or Ph.D. program!

What Are Graduate Schools?

Graduate school is a degree program that will award you a higher education past your undergraduate degree. The two most common programs are a master’s and a Ph.D.

A master’s degree is a specific academic degree earned after your bachelor’s. It’s for individuals who are ready to demonstrate mastery of their specific field of study. You can go straight into a master’s program after earning your bachelor’s, but some students choose to take a few years off before returning to get their master’s.

A Ph.D. is a doctoral degree for students after they have earned their master’s degree. It’s a globally recognized academic degree awarded to students who have submitted a thesis at the highest possible academic level. There is a lot of study and research involved in getting a Ph.D.

The curriculum is more rigorous than that of an undergraduate degree, as it is an advanced academic degree. You would normally pursue the degree in whatever your undergraduate degree was in, but there are certain exceptions to this.

Undergraduate v. Postgraduate Education

There can be a bit of confusion when it comes to terms like undergraduate, graduate, and postgraduate. Here’s a quick rundown on each:

  • Undergraduate
    • Studying for a postsecondary (after high school) degree
    • Will likely take between 3-4 years
  • Graduate
    • Studying after having received either an undergraduate or first academic degree
    • Will likely take between 1-6 years
  • Postgraduate
    • Studying after having received a graduate degree, likely a master’s
    • Duration depends on field of study and program requirements

How Long Is Grad School?

The timeline for grad school varies by program. A typical graduate program can last anywhere between 1 and 6 years.

An average master’s length is about 30 to 60 credits, which is why it takes about 3 years, on average. The length of the program also depends on if you’re a full-time or part-time student. Obviously, you’ll get done faster as a full-time student, but you can potentially work to help the cost of a master’s if you work and only enroll part-time.

Some schools allow undergraduates to enroll in a 5-year master’s program in order to accelerate the timeline upon receiving a graduate degree. For others, you’ll have to reapply and start at the beginning of the program in order to earn your degree.

A popular course load for master’s students is anywhere between 9 and 15 credit hours.

How Much Does Grad School Cost?

Again, this varies widely between schools and programs. If you’re looking for an average estimate though, expect to spend around $30,000 per year for your graduate degree.

Typically, programs cost anywhere between $44,000-$57,000 per year, with the most expensive programs being more than $60,000 per year. It all depends on the school, field of study, and length of the program.

There is, however, financial aid available for graduate students, too. There are scholarships, loans, and federal aid available (which we’ll get into more detail below). But remember, some master’s programs are fully funded! Obviously, these programs are highly competitive and usually only accept a handful of students every year. If you’re really looking to go to graduate school for the cheapest option though, these are the programs for you.

How To Pay For Graduate School

Paying for graduate school is a bit trickier than paying for your undergraduate degree. The scholarships and grants are much more competitive, and you’re unlikely to get as much aid as you did when you were getting your bachelor’s.

But don’t worry—there’s still some tips and tricks you can use to help fund your grad school experience:

  • Apply for scholarships, loans, and grants (even if they’re highly competitive)
  • Plan to keep on working while you pursue your graduate degree
  • See if your employer has any incentives for employees pursuing higher education
  • Don’t be afraid of delaying your enrollment to save money
  • Cover any remaining debts with loans

Do You Get Financial Aid?

Even as a graduate student, you can still receive financial aid. FAFSA also applies to graduate students, which we’ll get into in more detail below. States also usually offer forms of financial aid to grad students, so be sure to check if you can apply through them, as well.

FAFSA For Grad School

When filling out the FAFSA for graduate school, the process is the same as if you were an undergrad. The only key difference is that you’ll omit your parents’ financial information this time around. Your aid will likely be different than what you received during your undergraduate degree, but every little bit helps when it comes to funding grad school.

Grad School Scholarships

Much like applying for scholarships for your first degree as an undergrad, there are thousands of scholarships available for graduate students—you just have to know where to look.

Here is a list of some of the best websites when it comes to finding scholarships and grants for grad school:

When To Apply For Grad School

While this does vary by school and program, the general rule is to apply 6 months in advance of the deadline. Most schools’ deadlines are between October and January. But if your school does rolling admissions, the earlier you apply, the more of an advantage you’ll have over other applicants.

As far as a timeline goes, start researching schools during the winter with plans to send your finalized application in the spring. That way you’ll have plenty of time to gather materials, take exams, write essays, and do anything else you need to finalize your submission.

How To Ask A Professor For A Letter Of Recommendation For Grad School

Asking for a letter of recommendation can seem like a daunting task, but it’s nothing to be worried about. Most professors are more than willing to write a letter for you in the process for applying to grad school.

The first step is choosing a professor who knows you and the caliber of your work well. This is likely someone within your department and field of study or possibly even the professor who advised you on your final capstone or thesis as an undergraduate.

Next, you’ll want to formally ask them, the operative word being “formally.” This would usually be in the form of an email or requesting an appointment with them during their office hours. Explain what you need the recommendation form and why you chose them, specifically.

Remember, give them enough time to write the letter. Ask well ahead of the deadline, and make sure the school(s) you’re applying to receive their submission.

Common Grad School Interview Questions

Graduate school interview questions can range from a variety of topics. A lot of them are questions you’ve likely been asked when interviewing for a job, or even if you had to interview for your undergraduate college. Here’s a sample list of the most common grad school interview questions:

  • Tell me about yourself
  • Why did you choose to apply to our school/program?
  • Why should we accept you?
  • What will you contribute to our program?
  • Why are you interested in this field of study?
  • What are your career goals?
  • What are your research interests?
  • Tell me about a time when you failed.
  • Describe your greatest accomplishment.
  • Where else are you applying?
  • What are your hobbies or interests?
  • What are your strengths and weaknesses?

Types Of Master’s Degrees

The type of master’s degree will depend on your field of study. Here is a list of every type of master’s degree you can receive:

  • Master of science (M.S.)
  • Master of arts (M.A.)
  • Master of public health (M.P.H.)
  • Master of business administration (M.B.A.)
  • Master of public administration (M.P.A.)
  • Master of fine arts (M.F.A.)

Is A Master’s A Graduate Degree?

Yes, a master’s degree is a graduate degree. It’s usually the second step in achieving your Ph.D. in a certain field of study. However, a Ph.D. is known as a postgraduate degree, not a graduate degree.

Doctoral Degrees

Despite what many believe, there is actually a huge range of doctoral degrees you can receive, based on your field of study. We’ve broken down the most common types:

  • Ph.D. (research-oriented)
    • Doctor of Arts (D.A.)
    • Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)
    • Doctor of Business Management (Ph.D.)
    • Doctor of Education (Ed.D.)
    • Doctor of Theology (Th.D.)
    • Doctor of Public Health (DPH)
  • Professional Doctorate (application-oriented)
    • Doctor of Business Administration (DBA)
    • Doctor of Healthcare Administration (DHA)
    • Doctor of Professional Studies—Instructional Design Leadership
    • Doctor of Finance (DPH)
    • Doctor of Social Work (DSW)
    • Doctor of Pharmacy (Pharm.D.)
    • Juris Doctor (JD)

What Is A Graduate Program?

Simply put, a graduate program is an in-depth study and exploration of a specific field. These are pursued by post-secondary students who have already earned their bachelor’s or undergraduate degree equivalent.

Your graduate program is likely going to be in the field that your bachelor’s degree is in, but there are exceptions to this as well. Most programs will allow you to apply to a field outside of your degree as long as you meet certain academic requirements.

The most common master’s degrees are:

  • Master of Business Administration
  • Healthcare Administration
  • Engineering
  • Computer and Information Sciences
  • Nurse Anesthesia
  • Human Resource Management
  • Physician Assistant
  • Math

Writing A Grad School Statement Of Purpose

Essentially, your statement of purpose is a way to market yourself to your prospective graduate program. Your statement requirements will likely fall into one of the following categories:

  • General, comprehensive statement
    • Allows the most freedom in terms of what your write about
    • Often used for medical or law school applications
  • Specific responses to questions
    • Required to answer a specific question presented on the application
    • Often used of business and all other graduate programs

Make sure to answer the questions that are asked of you. Really concentrate on your opening paragraph, find and angle, and be as specific as you can. You want to get to the point as soon as possible to keep your application panel engaged from the start.

College Degrees In Order

While there are some variances in this track depending on your field of study, the typical path of college degrees is as follows:

  1. Undergraduate degree (bachelor’s)
  2. Graduate degree (master’s)
  3. Postgraduate degree (Ph.D.)

Trying to get your college dissertation all ironed out? Find out everything you need to know before you submit your final paper.