What Is a University Graduate Program?

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A graduate program is a post-college program of study that prepares a student for advanced work in a particular academic area or profession. Graduate programs can include advanced studies in science, math, psychology and more.

After college, students may enroll in a graduate program for several reasons. Graduate programs are ideal for people who need a higher degree to advance in their field of work, such as teaching and doing social work. Some students attend graduate programs because they like to learn new things and would like to have a deeper understanding of their field. Because research is a major component of graduate-level education, many students enroll in a graduate program to hone their research skills and perhaps make new discoveries in their disciplines by conducting research.

Types of Graduate Programs
Graduate programs prepare students for their futures in several ways. Students who graduate from a graduate program will earn one of three types of degrees, which include a professional degree, master's degree or doctoral degree. Professional degrees equip students with the skills and knowledge to do well in specific professions, such as law and medicine.

Master's degrees break down into two categories, which are Master of Arts (MA) and Master of Science (MS). Most MA degrees prepare students for work in the social science and the humanities. MS degrees, on the other hand, are designed for advancement in the physical sciences, although MS degrees can apply to some social sciences too. The amount of time it takes to earn a master's degree varies based on the discipline and the school's specific requirements. However, most degrees are completed in one to three years. Many master's degree programs culminate with students writing a thesis. In completing a master's degree program, students learn essential research skills to progress in their chosen professions. Some students end their education with a master's degree, while others earn a master's degree in preparation for getting a doctoral degree. In addition to the standard master's degrees, students may get semi-professional or professional degrees that are tailored to a specific area of study, such as a Master of Forest Science.

Doctoral degrees are the most advanced degrees that students can earn in graduate programs. The most common type of doctoral degrees are Doctor of Philosophy degrees, or Ph.D.s. Ph.D.s are research degrees that generally take longer to complete than master's degrees. It may take a student between four and eight years to earn a doctoral degree, depending on the discipline and program requirements.

Choosing a Graduate Program
When choosing a graduate program, people should apply to multiple schools, just as they did for college. Students seeking a doctoral degree may apply to five or six schools. As with college, students often choose one or two safety schools that they feel they could get into easily, and one or two dream schools, which have more stringent requirements that students may not fully meet. When choosing a graduate program, people generally have a much narrower set of criteria for selection. Instead of focusing on the school's size, location and cost of admissions, as many do for college, graduate students generally pick a graduate program by asking themselves what kind of research they want to perform and finding an adviser or mentor who can provide guidance in that area.