Getting Started

Questions to Consider 

  • Is a graduate degree needed for your professional and occupational goals, and are you passionate about the field?
    Talk to professors, advisors, and professionals in your field about career opportunities. Will you need a graduate degree to reach your goals?
  • Have you decided on a specific career path?
    If not, then graduate school may not be the best option for you at this time. Graduate programs are typically very specialized and will not give you an opportunity to explore a variety of options.
  • How will your personal values and goals fit into graduate school life?
    Depending on the degree you are working towards, be prepared to spend two to seven years working towards your goal.
  • Assess yourself!
    Graduate program culture, advising, supervision, and requirements can widely differ from school to school. How is your stress management? Can you work well in a situation with little structure? Are you self-motivated?

Exploring fields of study

Choosing a field of study in graduate school is critical, as it will significantly shape your professional life and career path.

  • Review coursework
    If you are considering a few different disciplines, take some time to look over class offerings to decide if any one program seems better tailored to your interests. Keep in mind that many students pursue a graduate degree in a field unrelated to their undergraduate major.
  • Talk to faculty in your field of interest
    Ask professors for their recommendations of top graduate schools. Ideally, speak with professors in your intended field of study to get a better understanding of your options. Professors can often make personal referrals to colleagues at other universities.
  • Visit the MU Career Center
    The resource library has directories of graduate schools as well as books on how to submit applications. You also have the option of speaking with a Career Specialist to discuss your ideas and plans.
  • Explore Professional Associations
    Many professional associations publish career information and explain graduate study options on their websites. Access hundreds of international and U.S. professional associations at CareerOneStop searchable database.

Types of graduate degrees

  • Master’s degrees (e.g., MA, MS)
    A Master’s degree tends to be more career-oriented and allows for specialization within a field. The degree works especially well for those who have been working for some time and are seeking a promotion or new knowledge that will qualify them for an advanced position. A Master’s degree can also be an excellent method of changing careers. Typically a full-time student can acquire a Master’s degree in about two years.
  • Professional degrees (e.g., MBA, DVM, JD, MEd)
    A professional degree is an academic degree that prepares the individual for a particular profession by emphasizing practical skills. These professions are typically licensed or regulated by an approved body. Areas such as architecture, law, medicine, dentistry, accounting, pharmacy, or social work, among others, often require such degrees for licensing. Most professional degrees are expensive and require student loans since financial aid is not widely available.
  • Doctoral degrees (e.g., PhD, EdD)
    Doctoral degrees are more research intensive since they are preparing people for research-oriented careers. People interested in pursuing a doctoral degree should love learning and their area of study. A PhD is practically mandatory for anyone seeking to be a professor. A doctorate can also be helpful outside of academia in an increasingly competitive job market. The many years of school required for a PhD require great perseverance, but often partial or full financial aid is available for doctoral candidates.