Choosing a School or Program

College Classroom with WhiteboardGain a better understanding of the types of degrees available and key tips for researching programs in your field of interest. Also, access special information for international students.

​Types of Degrees

Graduate education involves a more narrowly focused program of study than your undergraduate work. Before entering such a specialized program, one needs to carefully consider his/her reasons for attending and goals once the advanced degree is complete. There are a variety of programs to consider for graduate study so it is important to think about what degree program will be best for you based on your future goals. Degrees may be either academic or professional in nature:

  • Academic degrees (M.A., M.S., Ph.D) involve acquiring and communicating new knowledge through original research, and are awarded in virtually all liberal arts disciplines (e.g., arts and humanities, natural sciences, and social sciences).
  • Professional degrees emphasize practical application of knowledge and skills, and may be acquired in areas such as business (M.B.A), law (J.D.), medicine (M.D.), engineering/engineering management (M.Eng., M.E.M.) and education (M.Ed.). Other fields offering professional degrees include the fine arts (M.F.A.), library science (M.L.S.) and social work (M.S.W.).

Another decision to carefully consider is whether to pursue a Master’s or a Doctoral Degree. Characteristics of Master’s degree programs include:

  • Typically emphasize applied learning and practice, but many also have a research requirement.
  • Usually designed for the purpose of providing additional education or training in an area of specialization.
  • Some programs have a thesis element, while others emphasize course work that culminates with a comprehensive exam. Comprehensive exams may include a written test, an oral test, defense of a thesis or a combination of these. If a comprehensive exam is a written or oral test, the emphasis is usually on the completed course work.
  • Usually range between one and three years in length.

Characteristics of Doctoral degree programs include:

  • Designed to train researchers and thus typically focus on learning through research, especially in the case of the Doctor of Science or the Doctor of Philosophy.
  • Some programs have a blend of applied learning and research-based focus.
  • In professional programs (e.g., law, medicine), there is an orientation to research, but these programs are also designed to produce people with high-level professional skills.
  • Rather than a comprehensive exam, students usually must prepare a rigorous defense of their completed dissertation.
  • Typically require four to eight years to complete.

Researching Graduate Schools

  • When considering graduate schools, it is wise to ask for the suggestions and advice of your undergraduate academic advisor and professors in the appropriate field. They have attended similar graduate programs themselves, have friends and colleagues at various graduate schools, and are familiar with current trends and research.
  • Visit the schools that interest you, take a tour and talk with students and faculty.
  • In graduate school, the activity and reputation of the individual professor or department in which you are studying may be more important than the prestige of the overall institution.

There are several basic questions to keep in mind as you examine institutions.

  • First, consider the academic training and research activities of the faculty. In addition, how do they approach teaching and the area of student development?
  • Other questions to consider include the composition of the graduate student body; the library, research, and laboratory facilities; as well as resources available to the program.
  • What is the nature of the interaction between students and faculty?
  • What kind of financial assistance is possible?
  • What kinds of experiential opportunities exist, such as assistantships and internships, and what types of advisement and career services do they provide?

If you are considering pursuing your degree in a legal or health professional field the Health Professions Program or the Prelaw Program at Lafayette is a great resource to help plan your studies.

International Students

International students are an important part of higher education in this country, however, the United States has no set policy on the education of international students and neither do many universities. There are some consistencies in spite of the lack of national or institutional policies.

  • When applying to most universities, international students will be required to submit scores from the Graduate Record Exam (GRE), Graduate Management Aptitude Test (GMAT), or another appropriate entrance exam, just as U.S. applicants must.
  • Some schools will require the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL).
  • In some cases, an international student will be admitted on the basis of the quantitative section of the above tests, personal statements and letters of recommendation. Check with your schools of interest for admission requirements.
  • Many international students subsidize their graduate education through assistantships. Frequently, these are teaching assistantships (TAs). Many universities screen TAs through interviews and testing to be sure they will be able to communicate effectively with the undergraduates they will be teaching.