What is a Graduate School

What is a Graduate School?

Whether you are a recent graduate or have been working for quite some time now, the thought of enrolling in graduate school probably crosses your mind a few times. 

It is a term often thrown around when you were in college, around your professors, in the office breakroom, the human resource department, around your friends, and so on. 

So graduate school has always looked appealing and an interesting path to take. 

At some point, you might even think to yourself “graduate school seems easy. I passed my undergrad. This couldn’t be that hard.”

However, as much as we want to tell you that graduate level would just be like your undergraduate education, we couldn’t because it isn’t. 

While it is a continuation of your undergraduate study, the reality is graduate school is on a different level. 

It demands more of your time, money, and determination. 

So before you decide to enroll in any graduate school program, we encourage you to read this guide first. 

What is a graduate school?

Graduate school is an extension of your undergraduate degree. It is an advanced program that focuses on a particular discipline or subfield. 

Most students pursue a graduate program related to their major in undergrad; while some take on a completely different path and an entirely different subject area. 

Aside from medicine and law (which is considered a graduate program in other countries), there are four common types of graduate degree

  • Master of Arts (MA)

It offers a variety of programs in the field of arts and humanities. The program usually takes at least 1.5 years or more to finish and students are required to complete and publish their thesis.  

  • Master of Fine Arts (MFA)

MFA is somewhat similar to MA. They also offer a variety of programs in the field of arts and humanities. However, rather than honing your skills in analysis and theory like MA, recipient of MFA focus more on performance and creative skills instead. 

  • Master of Science (MS)

This professional degree offers a variety of programs in the field of science. Recipients of this degree commonly undertook rigorous research and complete a thesis within two years or more. 

  • Master of Business Administration (MBA)

MBA programs are centered around subjects related to business or investment management. It allows students and working professionals to develop concentrations in a particular field or industry. 

What is the Purpose of Graduate School?

Specialize and Hone Skills 

Most people enroll in graduate school for personal development. Even if you are a recent graduate or a working professional, you are required to put in much work and dedication. 

Although graduate school sounds like you are going back to college again, it is much more fun and exciting because you get to focus on a single subject or subfield you enjoy the most. No one will force you to attend electives or other subjects you are not really interested in. 

Since it takes initiative and commitment to finish a single program, you would surely acquire new skills and advance your knowledge in the field you chose. 

With that, your knowledge and skills in a specific area would be much more advanced than others. This would make you more confident in the field, which can in turn give you a bigger breathing room to discover your other passions or interest in life.  

Professional Options and Prospects

You may have heard this from some of your friends or from other people working in HR, but a master’s degree could step up your resume and open more career opportunities for you. 

A master’s degree shows that you put in the work, time, and effort to specialize and master a specific subject. That dedication alone would surely impress people in your field. 

Since graduate schools have a rigorous requirement for completion, it enables you to delve in and learn more about your area of interest. 

While there are plenty of jobs that do not necessarily require a master’s degree, having one would surely set you apart from the other candidates because of your mastery in the field. 

In addition, you will be eligible for more jobs if you are a recipient of a master’s degree. As a matter of fact, the unemployment rate (2.0%) goes down as your educational attainment goes up. 

Intellectual Curiosity

Some graduate programs are so specific that it is often too difficult to find a job in that field. 

But that’s okay. 

Your graduate program does not have to always translate to a career. Sometimes, curiosity and interest are just enough to make you want to pursue it. 

Some people enroll in graduate school simply to satisfy their intellectual curiosity and fully immerse themselves in their subject of interest. 

Besides, almost all graduate programs require dedication, commitment, and rigorous research. The fact that you finished your graduate program already shows how passionate and committed you are. 

So even though your field of study does not have many work opportunities, the solid foundation and skills you gain in graduate school can be transferable in other fields. 

However, keep in mind that graduate school can be costly and could take up much of your time. With that, we highly recommend you to weigh other factors and not only consider your intellectual curiosity.  

Social Impact

Aside from self-development and benefits in your career, graduate school is also a way to contribute and make a difference in society. 

With the help of these graduate programs, you would be able to frame problems from a different perspective and you would better understand the underpinning of our society. 

Through several research opportunities, you would be able to come up with solutions to issues surrounding your community and society as a whole. 

Apart from that, graduate education also plays a crucial role in innovation because most of the new inventions starts in schools and research institutions. By means of research, you would be able to contribute to the advancement of knowledge and technological progress. 

Some graduate school is also connected with the government and private sector. This means that materializing your research and making your invention more accessible to the public is less difficult.

Expand Network

Another purpose of graduate school is to connect you with like-minded individuals. 

By doing this, you can exchange their ideas and make intelligent comments and criticisms based on research. 

Since the people in your field are also well-versed in the same subject, you would be able to expand your network and learn more from them. These people can give you constructive criticism and lifelong advice. 

Given that some programs are also interconnected; you would be able to work with other people outside your field as well. This would not only help your research, but it would also make you a more well-rounded person.  

In a way, this is one of the most exciting parts of being in graduate school. Given that both of you are considered an “expert” in the field, sharing your ideas as well as understanding their viewpoints makes the whole graduate school journey worthwhile. 

What to Expect from Graduate School?

To help you put it into perspective, graduate school is like being an undergrad student while having many academic part-time jobs. 

Yes, you would still be attending class and writing papers, but that is just as far as it goes when it comes to similarities.

Graduate school builds your knowledge and lets you specialize in a certain field. Unlike your undergraduate program, you would be less supervised in graduate school and your success would ultimately depend on you.

It is not about the amount of work you put in, but it is about the precision and quality of work you produce.

These are the two most important thing in graduate school that you have to do


Keep in mind that most graduate schools would require you to write your own study or research paper.  

You would still be taking classes but almost all the course load is mainly there to help you write your research paper. That being said, the success of your research paper would ultimately depend on how well you process and understand all this information thrown at you. 

So expect to do a lot of research when you enroll. 

Even though the coursework does not look much, the amount of reading, analyzing, and writing you need to do is not that easy. 

Given that class sizes in graduate school are smaller, your class participation is also important. Since almost all of you are well-versed in the same subjects, you have to provide insights and inference based on data and research.  


One of the most critical parts of being a graduate student is getting your paper reviewed and published. 

Over the past few years, the volume of research studies has skyrocketed because SOME (not all) schools require students to publish their papers. 

That being said, most graduate students start working on their dissertation early so that they can submit it and have it reviewed on time. 

If you are eyeing publication after you finish writing your paper, keep in mind that professors and committees might also encourage you to present your research in seminars and conferences. 

So regardless of whether publications are a requirement in your school or not, you should also consider it as one of your top priorities. 

This would not only open doors for your future career, but would also enable you to share your ideas as well as what you have learned when you were in grad school. 

What is a Graduate School

Should you Apply?

Deciding on whether you should apply for graduate school would ultimately depend on you. 

However, if you are still confused, we have listed a few factors that you should also take into consideration 

Program Availability 

Since not all programs are available in some schools, we highly suggest you to check the school your vying for and see if the master’s program you want is being offered.


Are you currently employed full-time? 

Does the class schedule match your free time? And if it did, do you still have spare time to write your paper, do your homework, meet with your friends, etc.?

Because even though you have time to attend classes, you still have to consider your work-life-school balance. 


How will you pay for your tuition, research cost, etc.? 

Graduate school can be costly and can amount to more than a thousand dollars. Apart from that, you have to be prepared to shoulder some of the cost of your research study.

With that, we highly suggest you to check out some scholarships or financial aid programs that are available near you. 


Would you like to be an international student or are you vying for a degree program offered in other states? 

If your graduate program is not being offered in the schools near you, is it worth it and can you financially sustain yourself if you relocate to another state or country?

What is a Graduate School

Tips for Applying

Determine Field of Study You Want to Pursue

Only apply for graduate school if you are genuinely interested and curious about the program. 

It is hard to deal with burnout especially if you are working, studying, and writing your research paper at the same time. 

List All Possible Schools

Since not all universities offer the grad program you want, it is best to start looking for schools that offer that program. 

This way, you would have several options and back-up. 

Note All Deadlines 

Keep in mind that the admissions committee follows a strict deadline. It is also worth mentioning that not all graduate schools have the same requirements and deadlines. 

Take Assessment or Entrance Exam

Admission requirements can vary from school to school. But generally, you need to take at least one of these exams to qualify in the graduate degree program.

  • Graduate Record Examination (GRE)
  • Graduate Management Admissions Test (GMAT)
  • Law School Admission Test (LSAT)
  • Medical College Admission Test (MCAT)

Please note that graduate program in other countries have different requirements

Prepare for the Interview

Many graduate admissions now require an interview as part of the application process. This is a prerequisite in order to assess and evaluate your academic skills and potential. 

Top Universities per Subject

According to the QS World University Rankings, these are the top universities in the world per subject. 

Arts and Humanities

University of OxfordUnited Kingdom
Harvard UniversityUnited States
University of CambridgeUnited Kingdom
University of California, Berkeley (UCB) United States
Stanford UniversityUnited States
Yale UniversityUnited States
New York University (NYU) United States
University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) United States
Princeton UniversityUnited States
Columbia UniversityUnited States

Engineering and Technology

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) United States
Stanford UniversityUnited States
University of CambridgeUnited Kingdom
ETH Zurich – Swiss Federal Institute of TechnologySwitzerland
University of California, Berkeley (UCB) United States
University of OxfordUnited Kingdom
Imperial College LondonUnited Kingdom
Nanyang Technological University, Singapore (NTU) Singapore
Tsinghua UniversityChina (Mainland)
National University of Singapore (NUS) Singapore

Life Sciences and Medicine

Harvard UniversityUnited States
University of OxfordUnited Kingdom
University of CambridgeUnited Kingdom
Stanford UniversityUnited States
Johns Hopkins UniversityUnited States
Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) United States
University of California, San FranciscoUnited States
University College LondonUnited Kingdom
University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) United States
Karolinska InstitutetSweden

Natural Science

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) United States
Harvard UniversityUnited States
Stanford UniversityUnited States
University of CambridgeUnited Kingdom
University of OxfordUnited Kingdom
California Institute of Technology (Caltech) United States
ETH Zurich – Swiss Federal Institute of TechnologySwitzerland
University of California, Berkeley (UCB) United States
Imperial College LondonUnited Kingdom
Princeton UniversityUnited States

Social Sciences and Management

Harvard UniversityUnited States
The London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) United Kingdom
Stanford UniversityUnited States
University of OxfordUnited Kingdom
University of CambridgeUnited Kingdom
Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) United States
University of California, Berkeley (UCB) United States
Yale UniversityUnited States
University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) United States
Columbia UniversityUnited States


Applying to graduate school requires a lot of thought, preparation, and consideration. 

With that, we hope we managed to satisfy your curiosity about what it is like being in grad school. 

To briefly recap, we answer and discuss the following questions

0 0 votes
Article Rating
The following two tabs change content below.

Todd VanDuzer

Co-Founder & CEO at Student-Tutor
Hello! My name is Todd. I help students design the life of their dreams by ensuring college, scholarship, and career success! I am a former tutor for seven years, $85,000 scholarship recipient, Huffington Post contributor, lead SAT & ACT course developer, host of a career exploration podcast for teens, and have worked with thousands of students and parents to ensure a brighter future for the next generation. I invite you to join my next webinar to learn how to save thousands + set your teenager up for college, scholarship, and career success!
Notify of

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments