There are more than 1,000 universities in the United States that offer graduate degrees, so plenty of time is needed to conduct thorough research about potential graduate schools and programs. You should begin your search approximately 18 to 24 months prior to the academic year in which you hope to enroll at a U.S. college or university.
Study and learning are more self-directed at the graduate level than the undergraduate level. You must have obtained or are about to obtain an undergraduate degree to apply for a graduate degree.
Graduate education is characterized by in-depth training and specialized instruction. The two main graduate degrees in the United States are the master’s degree and the doctoral degree. Both degrees involve a combination of research and coursework.
- Master's Degree
- Typically results in a Master of Arts (MA) or Master of Science (MS)
- Two-year course of study
- Need an undergraduate degree, and usually some selected pre-requisite courses, although usually your undergraduate major is flexible
- Many programs will require the GRE
- Receiving a Master’s will require completing a thesis or a capstone project, or taking an exam
- Doctoral Degree
- Typically results in a Doctorate of Philosophy (PhD)
- Between four and six-year course of study
- Need a graduate degree, and usually some selected pre-requisite courses, although usually your graduate major is flexible
- Some programs allow you to enter directly into a PhD from your undergraduate degree. These programs will require you to write a thesis or pass a Master’s level exam in order to obtain a Master’s degree in pursuit of your PhD
- Many programs will require the GRE
- Receiving a PhD will require writing a dissertation based on original research and defending it in front of a faculty committee.
- Post-Doctoral FellowshipAfter completing a PhD, a student can apply for post-doctoral fellowships. These are paid research positions, typically on a one year contract. The university professor, consortium, department, or laboratory that sponsors the post-doctoral fellowship may require research in a very specific area or may allow you to explore your own research further.
- Virtual Resources to begin Narrowing your SearchA list of our favorite websites to help you begin narrowing your search from the 1,000 universities available to the one that is right for you.
- The Princeton Review’s Best Value Colleges. A standard for college rankings.
- U.S. News and World Report Best Colleges. Rankings for top liberal arts college and universities, along with top academic programs.
- Petersons. Search engine to help you narrow your choices.
- Gradschools.com. Search engine to help you narrow your choices.
- PhDs.org. Search engine specific to PhDs
- Searching for Professional DegreesThe following websites and organizations have search engines to help you determine available universities in your field.
- Business (MBA): searchmba.com
- Dental (DDS): American Student Dental Association
- Law (JD): Law School Admission Council
- Medical doctor (MD): Association of American Medical Colleges
- Optometry (OD): Association of Schools and Colleges of Optometry
- Pharmacy (PharmD): American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy
- Veterinary (DVM): American Veterinary Medical Foundation
As you review these resources it’s important to keep your interests and priorities in mind. Ask yourself questions about where you envision spending your years of graduate education. What kind of community would you like to live in? How important to you is campus life? What research environment are you looking for?
As you narrow your search, create a plan to fund your education. Go to STEP 2: Funding your Studies, for more information.