Which Degree is Right for Me?
A first step in choosing an appropriate subject and program is to ask yourself which fields of study best suit your academic interests and career goals. Second, consider which degree program (Professional Master's, MA, PhD, etc.) best supports these goals. Career Advancement advisers can help undecided students determine how much formal education is necessary, given their career goals.
Here is some general information about each type of degree:
- Depending on the program, a Master’s degree can take from one to three years to complete.
- A non-professional Master’s degree may not directly relate to career preparation or advancement.
- Many are unfunded or have limited funding available.
- The National Opinion Research Center (NORC) Survey of Earned Doctorates reports that, depending on the field of study, the median time spent as a registered doctoral student ranges from six to nine years. Graduate students and post-docs can provide the most recent testimonials about time to degree.
- Most often, but not exclusively, doctoral degree programs in the humanities and social sciences prepare students for careers in the academy: teaching, research, writing.
- PhDs allow students to pursue research and scholarship in a particular area of interest.
- Writing a dissertation is often a long process; it can be both intellectually stimulating and isolating.
- Doctoral programs are mostly full-time and are funded through grants, scholarships, fellowships, and often research or teaching assistantships.
Professional Degree (JD, MD, MBA, etc.)
- Professional Master’s degree programs educate and train students for specific careers (e.g. MPH, MFA, Social Work, Public Policy), and they often prefer that students have several years of work experience before applying.
- Professional degrees generally take 2-4 years to complete.
- Most professional degrees are not funded. Students often take out loans to finance their education with the plan that their degree will enable them to repay their loans.
There are many people on campus available to help students in the College determine which graduate degree programs best suit their needs. Academic mentors (faculty, post-docs, graduate students, etc.), College advisers, and Career Advancement staff are all able to help students succeed before, during, and after graduate school.
Researching Different Programs
Deciding where to go to graduate or professional school can be a difficult decision. These are some general suggestions on how to research programs and what questions to consider when deciding on a program.
- Talk with faculty, graduate students, and other professionals in your field of study. Ask them for suggestions of strong programs and faculty whose interests align with yours.
- Review your own research materials. Consider whose work you like, where they are teaching, and where they did their graduate work.
- Conduct internet and print research on different programs and application requirements. Consider the positions students obtain after completing these programs.
- Consider standardized rankings of programs.
Tips for Students Pursuing Doctoral Study
Look for programs that have more than one faculty member working in your areas of interest (where possible).
- Investigate issues of faculty accessibility and how often they meet with their advisees.
- Consider the types of funding available. Find out about the eligibility requirements for research assistantships, teaching assistantships, fellowships, and/or grants.
- Find out how long, on average, students in that program are taking to complete their degrees.
- Consider the kind of research groups and opportunities for professional development that are available.
Tips for Applicants to Any Program of Study
- Visit campuses to talk with faculty and current students and sit in on classes.
- Look at the relevant facilities, especially libraries, classrooms, computer labs and career services departments.
- Remember that no matter how much research you do, a campus visit may be the best way to gauge whether the intellectual environment and atmosphere of the department and school are a good “fit” for you.
- Ask about placement figures and if the program/school helps students obtain the kinds of jobs they wish to get, such as academic, government, and private sector.
- Learn about the educational approach of the program. Is it theoretical or applied? Lectures or seminars? Case-Method or quantitative? Find a program that is a good fit for your learning style.
- Consider location. Graduate students tend to remain in an area for a significant period of time, and perhaps even after graduation.
- Apply to a variety of schools/programs based on selectivity. Faculty and Career Advancement advisers can help you rank your choices.
It is also important for applicants to consult University and departmental web sites as well as graduate school catalogs and brochures.