What is graduate school?
Graduate school includes master's programs (one to two years of full-time study following an undergraduate degree), which can be followed by doctorate programs, such as Ph.D. (approximately four to six additional years of study).
Compared to undergraduate studies, graduate-level work is more:
- Advanced - it builds upon undergraduate education
- Focused - it emphasizes the depth of knowledge
- Scholarly - it requires advanced critical analysis abilities, analytical/interpretive skills and the production of research
Types of programs and degrees
Graduate programs may be separated into three broad categories:
- Professional programs - provide specialized skills and qualifications for a specific profession (e.g., Speech-Language Pathology, MBA programs).
- Terminal programs - considered an end in itself. The terminal master's gives you flexibility; if your interests change or you decide against the doctorate, you graduate, not quit. In some fields, a master's degree is considered the 'terminal professional degree' in that it provides the knowledge and training you need to join a profession.
- Non-terminal programs - Master's program feeds directly into doctoral program. The master's is simply the first stage of Ph.D. completion. May be entered into directly from undergraduate studies.
Additionally, your degree may be:
- a combination of required courses, practicum placement, qualifying exam and independent research; it typically prepares students for professional practice
- a combination of required courses and a thesis project under the supervision of a thesis advisor; it typically prepares students for research.
Tip: If you plan on entering a thesis-based program, gain research experience at the undergraduate level by completing a thesis and obtaining related work or volunteer experiences.
Why go to graduate school?
Given the amount of time and money involved in pursuing a graduate degree, consider your motivation for continuing your studies carefully. Graduate school may be a logical step to:
- Meet professional ambitions - some professions require a graduate degree
- Prepare for a career in teaching – college professors typically have a master's degree and university professors typically have or are completing 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 self for promotion opportunities
Is graduate school right for you?
Some questions to consider before committing to graduate school:
- Do I want to study this subject at a more intense level?
- How will graduate school help me reach my career goals?
- Do I have the necessary financial resources?
- Is this the right time for me to go (personally, financially, career-wise)?
- What are my chances of being accepted? What other programs are available to help me achieve my goals?
How will your application be evaluated?
Although standards and criteria vary across programs, one common factor is that the competition is intense. Factors that contribute to admission decisions include:
- GPA - most schools look for a minimum B+ average during the last two years of undergraduate study
- Suitability for the program - determined by the quality of your application, your research interests and your compatibility with the program/faculty's research interests
- Skills and experience - your research experience, volunteer/work experiences and extracurricular activities
- Reference letters - the type of referee and relevance of their comments are weighted more heavily than the number of reference letters you submit
- Admission test scores - if required by the program or institution (e.g. GRE, GMAT)
Prepare for graduate school during your undergraduate studies by:
- Strengthening your GPA – although many programs look primarily at your final two years, a GPA that is consistently high will impress admission committees
- Exploring your options - take a variety of courses to help determine your research interests, talk to T.A.s about their experiences, take part in networking activities, and talk to your professors about graduate programs and their areas of research
- Identifying references – graduate applications require between two to three references. Get to know your professors by taking more than one class with those whose work interests you, participate in class discussions, attend office hours, and join clubs that allow professors to get to know you outside of the classroom
- Building experience - gain research experience through part-time or summer jobs, senior-level thesis courses, faculty research projects, the Research Opportunity Program, undergraduate research awards, UTM Internship program, or volunteering with a professor. Experience as a teaching assistant would be an asset. Don't forget to check out our Research Experience Tip Sheets, too.
How the Career Centre can help
- Information Sessions - Applying to Graduate School, Teaching, Law, Medicine
- Library Resources - Personal Statements/Essays Guides, Admissions Tests
- Services and Programs - Career Assistants, Career Counsellors, Job Shadowing Program, Alumni Profiles, Skills Articulation (SA) Module
- Tip Sheets on Considering Grad School and Research Experience
- Your Future: A Guide for Potential Graduate Students
- Resources and Links for Further Education
updated July 2023