Tips | Considering Grad School

‘Graduate school’ is just one type of further education program completed after undergraduate studies. Other types are Professional programs and Post-Graduate programs (see our other tip sheet on the latter program type). This tip sheet discusses how to consider your options around both Graduate and Professional Schools. 


1. Graduate School

Compared to undergraduate studies, graduate and professional programs are more: 

  • Advanced –build upon undergraduate education    
  • Focused –  emphasize depth of knowledge and skills 
  • Scholarly – require advanced critical analysis abilities, analytical/interpretive skills and may require in-depth research 

A master's degree takes an additional 1-2 years of full-time study after an undergraduate degree and doctoral/PhD programs can take 4-6 additional years of study following a master’s degree. Professional programs can be from 2 to 5 years in length. 


2. Types of Programs and Degrees 

Research or Academic Stream Master's or PhD

  • Research-oriented programs involve conducting independent research under the supervision of an established academic scholar. There are two types of academic programs: 
    • Terminal programs – master’s and doctoral degrees are achieved separately. Students may apply to doctoral programs after their master’s degree. 

    • Non-terminal programs – master’s program feeds directly into the doctoral program without the option of stopping after master’s. Entered directly from undergraduate.

Applied Master's 

  • Provides advanced study to prepare for a career and/or further research in a specific career area that is not a regulated profession (e.g., Public Policy, Global Health, Sustainability, Developmental Psychology). 

Professional Degrees 

  • Provide specialized skills and qualifications to enter a specific profession that is regulated by a governing body (e.g., Medicine, Law, Teaching, Psychotherapy). 


Programs may be course and/or thesis-based and may include some or all of the following: 

  • Course-based – a combination of course work, practicum placement, qualifying exam, and independent research. Typical of professional and applied master’s programs. 

  • Thesis-based – a combination of required courses and a thesis project under the supervision of a thesis advisor. Typical of academic/research-oriented programs. TIP: If you plan on entering a thesis-based program, gain research experience at the undergraduate level by completing a thesis, participating in the Research Opportunity Program, and/or obtaining research-related work or volunteer experiences. See the Research Experience tip sheet for more information. 


3. Why Do I Want to Go? 

Given the amount of time and money involved, consider your motivation for continuing your studies carefully. Graduate or professional school may be a logical step to: 

  • Meet professional ambitions – Some careers require a graduate degree (Librarian, R & D Scientist, Psychologist) 
  • Prepare for a career in post-secondary education – College professors typically have a master's degree and university professors typically have at least a doctoral degree.
  • Pursue a love of knowledge – For those who truly enjoy their field of study and wish to learn more about it 
  • Allow for a career change and advancement – To change career path or better position yourself for promotion opportunities 
  • Start early and take time to reflect. Being able to articulate your motivations and goals is key to making a strong application. 


4. Is Graduate or Professional School Right for Me?

Some questions to consider before committing to graduate or professional school: 

  • Do I want to study this subject at a more intense level? 
  • How will the program or school help me reach my career goals? What are my other options? 
  • How well do I meet the entry requirements?


5. How Will My Application Be Evaluated? 

Entry into graduate and professional programs is highly competitive. Factors that contribute to admission decisions are: 

  • GPA – most require a minimum B+ (3.3 GPA) during the last two years of undergraduate study to apply but some programs require higher GPAs to be competitive 
  • Suitability for the program – determined by the quality of application, compatibility with the program, your interests, and match with faculty (for research programs) 
  • Skills and experience – your relevant undergraduate coursework, research experience, volunteer/work experiences, and extracurricular activities 
  • Reference letters – the type of referee and relevance of their comments are very important (see our tip sheet “Academic References”) 
  • Admission test scores – if required e.g., GRE, GMAT, LSAT, MCAT etc.


6. Prepare Early

  • Strengthen your GPA – Although many programs look primarily at your final two years, a GPA that is consistently high will impress admission committees. 
  • Explore your options – Take a variety of courses and gain relevant experience to help determine your career and research interests; talk to T.A.s about their experiences; take part in networking activities; participate in the Job Shadow Program; attend program open houses and talk to professors about graduate programs and alumni about their experiences. 
  • Cultivate references – Graduate applications require between 2-3 references. Get to know your professors by taking more than one class with those whose research focus interests you, participate in class discussions, attend office hours, and join clubs and associations that allow professors to get to know you outside of the classroom. 
  • Build experience – Gain research experience through senior-level thesis courses, the Research Opportunity Program, UTM internships, the Work-Study program or volunteer with a professor. Other relevant experience may be required for professional and applied master's programs. 


Additional Resources

Events and Workshops 

  • Further Education Showcase, in mid-September 

  • Law, Teaching, and Medical Schools Information Sessions – offered in both fall and winter terms. Visit CLNx for more information.

  • The Road to Graduate School Workshop – Offered both fall and winter terms 


  • Graduate School Admissions Advisor, Graduate Admissions Essays, 50 Successful Harvard Application Essays 

  • Personal Statements/Essays: Personal Statement E-Module and workshops help you prepare a first draft (refer to CLNx for an up-to-date calendar). Follow up with a critique with a Career Counsellor booked by phone. 

  • Tip Sheets: Path to Further Education, Funding Graduate School, Post-Grad Programs, Curriculum Vitae (CV) for Undergraduates, Personal Statements, Academic References, and tip sheets for various professional programs (i.e., Teaching, Law, Medical School, Rehabilitation Sciences, Nursing and Physician Assistant, Dentistry and Optometry, Engineering, Pharmacy, Social Work, Psychotherapy & Counselling).

Services and Programs 

  • Career Counselling – book an appointment to discuss your career direction and your graduate/professional school options and how to plan and prepare 

  • Personal Statement and CV critiques - to refine these crucial application documents 

  • The Job Shadow Program – investigate career interests in short voluntary placements 

Online Resources 


Always refer to program websites for up-to-date information.



Updated June 13, 2023.