Students who want to pursue more specialized training for academic or research-oriented careers may continue directly from undergraduate to graduate degree programs. These programs could lead to a Master of Arts (MA), Master of Science (MS), or Doctorate (PhD) degree. Master’s degrees in the United States usually take one intensive year or two years to complete and doctoral programs generally take between five to eight years to complete. The development, writing, and defense of the doctoral thesis is often a factor in how long it may take an individual to complete a Doctoral degree.
Some graduate students come into their programs after having extensive work experience. Therefore, graduate students are typically older than undergraduate students. Whereas many undergraduate students live on campus, graduate students often choose to live off campus and participate less in on-campus extracurricular activities.
There are two primary types of master’s programs—ones with a thesis and ones without. Both programs require coursework but students in a thesis program conduct research and defend their thesis in front of an academic committee while non-thesis program students are typically required to complete a practicum, internship, portfolio, or a combination of these three in order to graduate.
Most students in doctoral programs have already completed a master’s degree. However, some programs are designed for students to transition directly from their undergraduate program to doctoral program.
Some of the most common doctoral programs are in the fields of health, legal professions, education, engineering, and biological and biomedical sciences.
Doctoral programs include extensive coursework, comprehensive exams, and a dissertation. Students may also be required to complete a preliminary exam and defend their research proposal before starting the research itself. Learning how to conduct scientifically rigorous and ethical research and present it in a comprehensive manner both in writing and orally is at the core of many doctoral programs.
The application process for graduate programs is slightly different than for undergraduate. Most universities require applicants to submit scores from either GRE or GMAT tests that measure prospective students’ verbal and mathematical skills. In addition, graduate school applicants may need to write in length about their motivation for pursuing a graduate degree and explain the type of research and career goals they want to achieve.
As part of the application process, international students who have completed undergraduate degrees outside the United States may need to have their transcripts evaluated by credential evaluation agencies like Educational Credential Evaluators (ECE) or World Education Services (WES). Advanced English language proficiency is also required so students usually need to submit TOEFL or IETLS scores and possibly take the university’s own language assessment exam.