Graduate degrees are either professional or research degrees earned at the doctoral or master’s level.

The Research/Academic/Graduate Degree

The Research/Academic/Graduate Degree focuses on in-depth study in a particular area.

The Doctoral Degree

The Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) is the highest academic degree. It requires the completion of course work as well as an original research project under the direction of a major professor. The candidate is trained to do research which results in the discovery of new knowledge, insight, or ways of doing things.

Admission to a Ph.D. program usually requires a bachelor’s degree in a closely related field. Sometimes, attaining a master’s degree first can be a way to prepare for the Ph.D. especially in a field that is significantly different or more specialized than your undergraduate degree.

Typical Doctoral Program

First two to three years involves:

  • Taking courses, examinations, and selecting dissertation topics
  • Maintaining expected level of quality performance in courses
  • Selecting a major professor
  • Taking the qualifying exam–a general examination separate from course examinations
  • Preparing a prospectus–a preliminary statement of what you propose to do for your dissertation–and having it accepted

The next two to three years involves:

  • Conducting the research
  • Doing the actual writing of the dissertation
  • Defending the dissertation in front of a committee of faculty

The Master’s Degree

In general, it takes about one to three years of full-time study to complete a master’s degree. Master’s degrees can be earned in most fields. The emphasis in these programs of study is research and scholarship. Writing a thesis and/or taking comprehensive examinations is usually required.  This degree can prepare you for a position of greater responsibility in your field than if you had the bachelor’s degree alone. The degree can be an M.A. (Master of Arts) or an M.S. (Master of Science.) This may be a final degree or be a step toward the Ph.D.

In deciding on a degree program, take into account that courses in a master’s degree program are not always accepted by a doctoral program at another institution.

The Professional Degree

The Professional Degree leads to the development of skills necessary for a career in a specific field, such as medicine, law, education, pharmacy, journalism, nursing, social work, or business administration. 

These programs of study provide you with specific knowledge and skills to qualify or enhance your qualifications for a particular profession. You will probably be required to do some type of fieldwork or internship.  In many cases, the professional master’s degree is all that is needed to enter a certain field and is frequently the highest degree in this field, for example, in social work, the M.S.W; in fine arts, the M.F.A.; in library science, the M.L.S.