Graduate school is a big decision. The amount of time and money graduate students commit is only for the strong of heart and mind, but the success could be immeasurable. Some careers require advanced degrees, but others do not.

We also recommend interning in your field of interest, or spending a few years after you graduate working in your field of interest, to gauge whether you need a graduate degree. As the cost of higher education increases, we want you to be sure that you need the right studies to do what you want to do.

Thinking Through Grad School

Graduate school is a huge choice — the time and effort spent is significant and lasts several years — but some jobs reward graduate education with significantly larger salaries, too. If you’re thinking about grad school, keep the following questions in mind:

  • How certain am I of my career path?
  • Does my career path require grad school?
  • Can I afford the loans associated with more schooling?
  • Am I burned out after my undergrad degree?
  • Do I know what I want to study?
  • Do I have the necessary prerequisites, or do I need to fill in undergraduate courses?

General Steps to Grad School

  • Define your interest
  • Research schools (keep in mind constraints like location, cost, prestige, and time commitment)
  • Check application requirements and deadlines
  • Take necessary prerequisite courses
  • Take necessary tests
  • Prepare application

Graduate Degrees and Tests

This section provides a general overview of graduate-level degrees. It is not comprehensive, and students should be aware that there are likely many ways to pursue higher degrees in their field of study.

Master of Arts (MA)

For those students pursuing studies in history, literature, philosophy, social science, geography, or fine arts. Usually 2 years. Affiliated test: GRE.

Master of Fine Arts (MFA)

For those students pursuing studies in performing and visual arts, dance, film, and creative writing. Usually 2 years. Affiliated test: GRE.

Master of Sciences (MS)

For those students pursuing studies in any of the hard sciences, and sometimes in accounting and economics. Usually 2 years. Affiliated test: GRE.

Master of Public Administration (MPA) and Master of Public Policy (MPP)

For those students pursuing a professional degree in interdisciplinary studies, focusing on government and public policy. The MPP focuses primarily on policy analysis, and the MPA focuses primarily on policy implementation and management. Usually 2 years. Affiliated test: GRE.

Master of Business Administration (MBA)

For those students pursuing studies in accounting, finance, management, marketing, and other business fields. Affiliated test: GMAT or sometimes GRE.

Master of Divinity (M.Div)

For those students pursuing a professional degree in pastoral ministry. Often, the M.Div is a requirement for ordination, but denominations and seminaries may vary.

Doctorate of Philosophy (Ph.D.)

For those students pursuing advanced studies in a variety of fields. Program lengths vary and may or may not include a master’s degree. Usually 5—8 years.

Doctorate of Education (Eh.D.)

For students interested in pursuing academic, administrative, clinical or research positions in education, civil service, and private organizations — this is a discipline-based degree. Usually 5—8 years.

Juris Doctorate (JD)(3 years)

For those students pursuing a career as a lawyer, especially those seeking admittance to the bar. Usually 3 years. Affiliated test: LSAT.

Note: Before registering for a graduate school admittance test, it is important to validate the need to complete the test with the schools you are considering. Some schools may not require any exam, particularly for very strong applicants. Entrance exams for master’s degree programs are just one facet of your application; schools will also examine your transcripts, recommendations, and other factors when making an admissions decision.