Graduate School

The decision to attend graduate school can be overwhelming. We're here to guide you from start to finish.

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Types of Degrees

Master's Degree

An advanced degree in a specific area of study. For example: 

  • Master of Arts (M.A.)
  • Master of Science (M.S.)
  • Master of Education (M.Ed.)
  • Master of Business Administration (M.B.A.)
  • Master of Fine Arts (M.F.A.)

Specialist Degree

Study beyond the master's level. For example: 

  • Specialist in Education (Ed.S.)

Professional Degree

A degree that prepares individuals to enter specific professions. For example: 

  • Juris Doctor (J.D.) 
  • Doctor of Medicine (M.D.) 
  • Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (D.V.M.) 
  • Doctor of Dental Surgery (D.D.S)
  • Master of Divinity (M.Div.)

Doctoral Degree

The highest post-undergraduate degree. Most require completion of an academic program, a comprehensive exam, and a dissertation. Some examples include:

  • Doctorate of Philosophy (Ph.D.)
  • Doctorate of Education (Ed.D.)
  • Doctorate of Psychology (Psy.D.)


Post-doctorate programs do not confer a separate degree, but they provide further experience, normally in order to advance an academic career. Many are completed at the end of a Ph.D. They allow degree holders to pursue advanced study, research, or training in a specific area.

Joint Degrees

Some schools also offer joint degree programs, such as the J.D./M.B.A. and M.D./Ph.D. programs. Many programs have an accelerated structure that allows students to finish two degrees more quickly as a joint degree than they could separately. 

Reasons to Attend 

Pursuing an advanced degree is a big commitment in terms of time, money, and work. Some students carelessly choose grad school to avoid the job search or to extend their undergraduate experience. Grad school should be a means to a professional goal, not the end in itself. Here are some legitimate reasons to attend grad school:

  1. Your chosen career field requires more than an undergraduate degree.
    If you need certification, licensure, or an advanced degree for your chosen profession, grad school could be necessary.
  2. Your chosen career requires graduate study for advancement.
    Some professions require advanced degrees for pay increases, promotions, and other added benefits.

Additional Considerations

When should I go to grad school?

Some individuals begin grad school upon completion of their undergraduate degree. Others take time to gain additional work or volunteer experience before applying. Can you make the necessary commitment in time, effort, and resources? Evaluate your personal goals and aspirations to determine the best option for you. 

How much time will it require?

Plan for at least two years of full time study at the master’s level and four to six years to obtain a doctoral degree.

How will I pay for additional schooling?

Grad school tuition may be thousands of dollars per year. Think through various loan, grant, and work options. Some employers provide benefits packages that include paid or reduced tuition. Review Graduate School Funding.

What do I do about stress?

It's important to think about the stress involved in attending grad school. Stress may result from financial concerns, academic workloads and competitiveness, long study hours, deadlines, and time constraints. When choosing a school, consider geographic location, areas of support, and ways to balance school and personal life.

Application Timeline

Second Year

  • Begin evaluating your career aspirations
  • Explore various graduate school programs
  • Talk to alumni, faculty and current graduate school students
  • Look into school requirements

Third Year Fall

  • Continue to explore your career options and possibilities
  • Continue targeted research and information gathering
  • Research information on entrance exam testing

Third Year Spring

  • Prepare for your entrance exam
  • Obtain applications from specific schools you are interested in attending

Third Year Summer

  • Take entrance exam now or in fall
  • Begin drafting application essays and your personal statement

Fourth Year Fall

  • Meet with school representatives
  • Visit schools
  • Have application essays critiqued
  • Ask for letters of recommendation
  • Conduct a mock interview with the career center
  • Submit materials for early decision if applicable
  • Research scholarship, fellowship and assistantship opportunities
  • Complete financial aid documents
  • Submit all application materials to schools

Fourth Year Spring

  • Continue visiting schools if possible
  • Ensure your application is submitted by the appropriate school deadlines
  • Keep track of acceptances and rejections
  • If you have multiple acceptances, make a final decision on which school you plan to attend
  • Notify the schools that you plan not to attend

Note: This timetable provides a sample timeline of events for applying to graduate or professional school. Many applicants do not fit this pattern of applying during their undergraduate study. Please consult a career counselor if you have questions.

Entrance Exams

Most graduate schools require an entrance exam as part of the application process. Common exams are the Graduate Record Examination (GRE), the Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT), and the Miller Analogies Test (MAT).

Tips for Success 

  • Research your programs of interest and know what entrance exam is required.
  • Start your exam preparation early.
  • Find a study preparation method that works for you.
  • Register for your exam early.
  • Know how long your exam scores are valid.
  • Ensure that you have all the appropriate materials on test day. 

Statement of Purpose

Almost all grad school applications require a statement of purpose. Take advantage of the chance to express your passion for what you'll be studying, your commitment to your work, your plans for using and applyling the knowledge and skills you'll gain, and your sincere desire to contribute to the program to set yourself apart from other applicants.


  • Aim for depth, not breadth.
  • Focus on one or two specific themes and discuss experiences related to them.
  • Concentrate on capturing the reader’s interest in the opening paragraph.
  • Strive to make the essay unique by using concrete examples from your life experience.
  • Select people you trust to read and critique your personal statement.
  • Connect life experiences to your professional goals and career motivation.
  • Articulate career goals clearly.


  • Write a clichéd introduction or conclusion.
  • Preach to the reader.
  • Be repetitive.
  • Discuss money as a motivating factor.
  • Cram too much information into the essay.
  • Exceed word and/or page limits.
  • Exaggerate your qualifications or experience.
  • Discuss potentially controversial topics (e.g., politics or religion) unless your program of study is directly related to the topic.
  • Include spelling, punctuation, formatting or grammatical errors.
  • Apologize for any preconceived shortcomings: instead, discuss areas in which the program will help you grow.

Letters of Recommendation

Most graduate programs will require letters of recommendation from individuals who can speak to your academic ability, interest in the field of study, or personal character.

Potential Recommenders

  • Professors/Instructors/Teachers
  • Teaching Assistants 
  • Academic Advisors
  • Association Deans
  • Supervisors

Asking for Letters

Plan ahead! Make an appointment with the letter writer and take with you a brief description of your plans and the degree programs to which you're applying, as well as copies of your resume and academic transcripts. If you are requesting a recommendation from a professor, also take any papers written for that professor. Usually, you'll need to ask for recommendation letters in late summer and/or early fall semester of the year in which you are applying to graduate school. In any case, you need to ask well in advance of when the letter is due. Keep track of deadlines and request letters two to three months in advance.

Provide the recommender with the proper forms and information to submit your letter. Most applications require a recommendation cover sheet, and most cover sheets ask if you agree to waive your rights to view the letter. You should always agree; not doing so may raise suspicion. Once your recommenders have submitted your letter always follow-up with thank-you notes.

If you intend to go to graduate school but do not plan to apply right away, you should ask for letters from your professors before you leave school so that your letter writers will still remember you and your accomplishments. Use a service like Interfolio to store confidential letters for later use.

More to Explore

Schedule an appointment through Handshake, or by calling the UVA Career Center at 434-924-8900 M-F from 8 am-5 pm.

Networking is one of the most successful ways to develop your career path. 

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