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Graduate School

For adults with bachelor degrees, earning a graduate degree may be the right step for you.

Reasons to Consider Graduate School

Career/Salary Advancement

Graduate school allows you to build your knowledge and skills, providing opportunity for further career progress. Specialization can also be beneficial in standing out in the job market In addition, some career fields require advanced degrees.


You may want to teach a class. A master’s degree is required of community college instructors and increasingly required of high school teachers especially for subjects requiring highly qualified status. To become a professor at a four-year college or university, a doctorate is required.

Professional Licensing

Social workers, therapists, psychologists, and others who directly treat or counsel patients generally need a graduate education to meet state and national licensing requirements.

Before Applying

Ask yourself:

  • What degree do I want to earn? 
  • How will I pay?
  • Do I have enough time to invest in a graduate degree? 
  • Do I have support from family and close friends? 
  • Do I enjoy this degree’s subject and coursework?
  • Will this degree help me achieve career goals or advancement?

Answering these questions will help guide your program search and application process.

Graduate School Search

Sort and search for graduate schools by programs, area of study, state, cost of tuition, and more.

Choosing the Right Program

Master's Degree Programs

Graduate degree programs (meaning anything after a bachelor’s degree) offer advanced instruction in one subject area. 

Graduate programs are split into two distinct degrees: the master’s and the doctorate. A master’s degree, either in a professional or academic field, typically requires one to three years of study or demonstrates mastery of coursework in a specific subject area.

  • The professional master’s degree is the most common advanced degree for students looking to advance in their career and can be awarded in the following subject areas: the fine arts (Master Fine Arts), education (Master of Education), nursing (Master of Science in Nursing), business (Master of Business Administration), or public health (Master of Public Health). Many professional master’s programs follow the same format for instruction: you will first choose a concentration of study along with your coursework, participate in an internship or professional experience, complete a special project and capstone, and take a final assessment.
  • The academic master’s degree is a close relative to the professional master’s degree because it also demonstrates mastery in one subject area, but often with a research or theory focus. These programs are often awarded as a Master of Arts or a Master of Science and follow a similar format to professional master’s program, with the exception of a dissertation proposal and defense.

Doctoral Degree Programs

Doctoral degree programs can also be either professional or academic, but take more time to complete—roughly three to eight years. Usually before pursuing a doctorate, you must have earned a master’s degree, but many universities offer dual master and doctorate programs.

  • Professional doctorates focus on the practical knowledge and skills required for a specific job. Common professional doctorate programs are in psychology, medicine, business administration, and physical therapy. Professional doctorate programs typically require students to take advanced courses, complete a practicum, internship, and/or fellowship, and take comprehensive final exams. Some programs will also require a dissertation.
  • An academic (research) doctorate, or PhD (Doctor of Philosophy), is a degree awarded to students who create an original dissertation which contributes new knowledge to their subject area. Doctorates in academic fields follow a similar format to professional doctorates, but require a dissertation. Dissertations are the culmination of a PhD and typically requires three to five years of research, with the dissertation defense as the final exam.
  • For some jobs that require a doctorate degree, the employer will allow you to be employed and work toward your degree at the same time. 
  • So which program is best for you? To answer this question, it is best to do some research on your chosen career. Look through job listings for your selected career path and read the education requirements. What does this job require? Will you need a master’s or a PhD? Also consider reaching out to individual departments and setting up an informational phone call to learn about their program.

Additional Considerations

Just like applying to undergraduate programs, the school and the program need to be the right fit for you and your goals. Consider:

  • Location and environment
    • Will you live on or near campus? Have a commute? Prefer an online program?
    • What other resources do you need on or close to campus- opportunities for work, an internship, or research, public transportation or parking, child care, etc.
  • Timeframe
    • How many years do you plan to be in school?
    • Full-time or part-time?
  • Program characteristics
    • Even when programs lead to the same degree, they can vary widely in their paths to get there.
    • Look into required classes, tracks or specialties (sometimes like a major), available electives, field work, internships, even extra-curricular activities!
    • Consider each program’s requirements and opportunities. There may be a better fit for you and your career goals. 
Graduate School Application

10 Tips for Graduate Applications

  1. Get specific information from each graduate school to which you are applying. Inquire about the various campus services, like the library and career services offices, you will need to access.
  2. Most applications can be completed electronically. Get electronic confirmations of anything you submit. Keep hard and electronic copies as backup of the work you do.
  3. Put together an admission timeline so that you know exactly when each item is due at each school to which you are applying.
  4. Some schools require two copies of all forms—one for the admissions office and one for the department.
  5. Keep track of which, if any, of your graduate schools have supplementary materials that must be completed beyond the Personal Statement and application.
  6. Be sure to check the specific testing requirements of the departments you are applying to—never assume anything. Each department may have their own prerequisites.
  7. Your Personal Statement should be between one and two pages in length. Some are required to be between 500 and 1000 words. Be careful of length—writing too much will not impress the admission committee.
  8. Get three recommendations from colleagues, past professors or mentors who can speak to your likelihood for success in the program. Also, find out if recommendations must be sent directly from those who write them.
  9. Many graduate schools will require two copies of your official transcript. They should be official copies (sealed and/or sent directly from your undergraduate institution) to ensure content has not been altered.
  10. Most application fees can be submitted online with a credit card, or you can send a check through the mail. Be sure that you have your financial arrangements in place and that you account for any additional time for processing.

Master The Entrance Exam

Graduate school standardized tests are designed to test general knowledge, reasoning skills, and ability to communicate. Some exams will often also ask for specialized knowledge pertaining to a field. An exam’s score can be a crucial component in the evaluation of an application. Testing is not the be-all and end-all of admission, but it can be a more important consideration at the graduate level than it was for undergraduate admissions. Different programs require different exams, so check the admissions requirements for the programs where you’re applying first. 
GRE: Graduate Record Examination

  • Time: around 3 hours, 45 minutes plus short breaks
  • Structure: Three sections – Verbal Reasoning, Quantitative Reasoning, Analytical Writing
  • Scoring: Verbal and Quantitative are each scored on a 130-170 scale in 1 point increments. The Analytical section is graded 0-6 in 1/2 point increments.
  • Testing: Registration can be done online, by phone, email or fax. Test is computer based with testing sites available across the country.

GMAT: Graduate Management Admission Test

  • Time: 3 hours 30 minutes
  • Structure: Four sections – Verbal, Quantitative, Analytical Writing, Integrated Reasoning
  • Scoring: Each section is scored on an individual basis; the total score is then put into a 200-800 range.
  • Testing: You can register online and take the test online at test centers across the country.

LSAT: Law School Admission Test

  • Time: Half-Day
  • Structure: Five 35 minute multiple choice sections – Reading Comprehension, Logical Reasoning, Analytical Reasoning, and a Variable Section. There is also a 35- minute unscored Writing Sample.
  • Scoring: Is based on the number of questions answered correctly (the raw score). There is no deduction for incorrect answers, nor are individual questions on the various test sections weighted differently. Raw scores are converted to an LSAT scale that ranges from 120 to 180, with 120 being the lowest possible score and 180 the highest possible score. This is done through a statistical procedure known as equating, a method that adjusts for minor differences in difficulty between test forms.
  • Testing: Though you may register online, the LSAT is not given online. You must sit for this exam at a test center. Plan to take the exam by December of the year prior to the fall you wish to enter Law School.

MCAT: Medical College Admission Test

  • Time: 7 hours 30 min.
  • Structure: Four sections-
    • Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems,
    • Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems,
    • Psychological, Social, and Biological Foundations of Behavior,
    • Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills
  • Scoring: You get a separate score for each section of the exam. The section is scored from a low 118 to a high 132. Your total score is the sum of the four individual section scores and will range from 472 to 528.
  • Testing: You may register for the MCAT online. The MCAT is administered online, and you must sit for this exam at a test center. Plan to take the exam in the year in which you apply for medical school. When you arrive at the test center, you will be checked in by a Test Center Administrator. You will be asked to sign a sign-in sheet, present a valid ID document, have your fingerprints digitally collected, and have a test-day photograph taken.

Writing the Personal Statement

What is the Personal Statement?
The Personal Statement is the graduate school version of an undergraduate college admission essay. Almost all graduate applications have a required Statement in some form. The Statement provides the admission committee a chance to personally distinguish you from other applicants and the opportunity to see you as a person instead of as a number and a statistic. The personal statement varies by institution.

Content. The majority of schools will ask you to explain why you want to study in the program, how you became interested, and how your previous academic work has prepared you for your graduate studies.

Writing. As you write your Statement, remember that how you communicate is just as important as what you communicate. When we read a book, we can hear the author’s “voice.” The same should be true in your statement. The reader expects a polished piece of writing in your unique voice. Write a preliminary outline, make a first draft, redraft, edit your drafts, and have someone else review your writing. Continue to revise until you have a version you are proud to submit.

Attitude. Attitude is revealed through the combination of content, writing, and style. The Statement ultimately shows your passion for your studies, confidence in your ability to succeed, and pride in your accomplishments. Your style will help demonstrate that you will be a valuable and productive student in a particular program.

How Do I Write a Personal Statement?
The most important factor is to ensure you answer the question! Essay topics can vary, so read them carefully. The structure, flow, grammar, and vocabulary of your essay is important, too. With a well-structured essay, the reader will not only be interested in the content of your essay, but will also know you have the capacity to think clearly and logically. There are several different ways you can structure your essay but the most common format includes an introduction, several body paragraphs, and a concluding paragraph.

Need Help?

NHHEAF’s Center for College Planning is dedicated to serving all students throughout their education and career planning journeys, for free!