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Education 101: What Is Graduate School?

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Quick Answer

A graduate school is a school that offers specialized training in a specific academic or professional discipline. Students in graduate schools earn a degree higher than a bachelor's degree.

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Historically, graduate schools were designed to give students advanced academic training in traditional academic courses of study. Graduate schools have since expanded, however, to help students develop their skills and knowledge for success in a certain profession or subject area. Some graduate schools offer a combination of academic and professional proficiency training.

A Look at Graduate Schools
Graduate schools differ from undergraduate institutions in several key ways. While most colleges give students an education that encompasses a wide array of academic subjects, graduate schools focus on one particular subject area, such as philosophy, psychology or computer science. Coursework in graduate schools is more concentrated than coursework in colleges. Graduate students also generally have a higher load of coursework than college students, and they are expected to produce work of a higher quality. While many colleges encourage students to take additional elective courses outside their major, graduate schools offer fewer opportunities for elective studies. Graduate schools also tend to have smaller classes with more personal attention dedicated to each student. Students may also be subjected to feedback and critique from their peers in addition to their instructors. Graduate schools may require students to perform some type of in-depth research before they graduate. Some graduate schools give students credit for applying their studies to the real world, such as through internships, teaching positions and research.

Graduate-level Degrees
Students in graduate schools can earn one of three types of degrees, which include specialist, master's and doctoral degrees. Specialist degrees are commonly earned in addition to a master's degree. Students may earn a specialist degree or certificate when they complete additional coursework or training. They may also gain credit toward a specialist degree through internship work. Students typically pursue a specialist degree for work in a professional field that requires a specific license, such as teaching. Master's degrees are another type of credential that graduate students can earn. Master's degrees cover a wide range of disciplines. Some students may get a master's degree as a prerequisite to a doctoral degree, also known as a Ph.D. Master's degrees can also be the terminal degree of a profession. It takes most students two years to complete a master's degree program, although time requirements vary depending on the area of study or professional requirements. The doctoral degree is the highest level of a degree that a student can earn. Doctoral degrees have a more rigorous course of study than the other two types of graduate-level degrees. In many cases, students must perform independent and novel research to obtain a doctoral degree. This research can be applied or basic. Because doctoral degrees are more complex, they are often completed over the course of five to seven years.

Master's Degrees
Of the types of graduate-level degrees that students can earn, master's degrees are the most varied. Master's degrees come in two forms, which are the Master of Art (MA) and the Master of Science (MS). An MA is typically obtained for a career in the humanities and social sciences, while an MS is generally obtained for work in quantitative and scientific disciplines.

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