Graduate school is an in-depth, specialized education within your chosen discipline. Attending graduate school is a big commitment and needs careful consideration.
The decision of whether to pursue graduate study usually follows from your professional goals. The Career Center offers appointments, career assessments, and a variety of online resources to help you determine your target career (see: Discover Your Options).
Once you’ve chosen a career path, your next task is to answer the following questions:
- Do I need a graduate degree to pursue this career? How will it benefit me? (In some fields, a bachelor’s degrees provides adequate training to enter the workforce. In others, a graduate degree is needed for entry and/or advancement.)
- What types of degrees do most people hold in my field? Which would be most beneficial to me?
- Which institutions should I apply to?
There are many ways to answer these questions. You can visit the Career Center, research online, and talk to people who work in your field. There are also other campus resources such as the Counseling Center and the Office for Academic and Pre-Professional Advising. (See: Additional UMBC Resources.) In addition, these websites may help you make a well-informed decision: gradschools.com, Petersons, “Is Graduate School The Best Option?”
Pursuing a gap year, typically 12-24 months in duration, is one way to gain meaningful experience if a decision to attend graduate school at a later time is made. This experience provides you with an opportunity to assess your strengths and career interests, and build skills that are transferable to the workplace or graduate school. Different types of gap year experiences include traveling, volunteering, teaching, and post-graduate service programs. These opportunities are available to all majors, and may offer benefits including stipends, housing, and/or tuition assistance. For more information see our Gap Year page.
Types of Graduate Degrees
Degrees beyond the bachelor’s degree fall into three broad categories:
- Master’s degree – most commonly, Master of Arts (M.A.) or Master of Science (M.S.) – provides in-depth knowledge in one or more area. A master’s thesis is sometimes required.
- Doctoral degree – Ph.D. (Doctor of Philosophy) – provides understanding of how to do structured research. You will complete a dissertation and contribute new knowledge to your field of study.
- Professional degree – such as J.D. (Juris Doctor), M.D. (Medical Doctor), M.S.W. (Master of Social Work) – provides specialized training for employment in a specific profession (law, medicine, social work). Clinical or practicum work is often involved in such degree programs.
Graduate degrees may also be pursued through joint degree programs, such as B.A./M.A. programs that allow completion of the requirements for both degrees in five or six years. Other joint degree programs combine graduate degrees into packages, such as J.D./Ph.D. or M.D./Ph.D. These programs often allow for completion of the two degrees in a shorter period of time than if pursued sequentially. This is achieved by allowing certain courses to count toward each of the two degrees. Joint degrees also offer the advantage of allowing a student to apply for and be admitted to both programs at the same time.
Individuals who hold a bachelor’s degree may also undertake postgraduate certificate programs to expand and document their knowledge in specific areas. In general, postgraduate certificates require less time to complete than degree programs.
Special Requirements for Professional Degrees
The application timeline and procedures for professional schools may vary from those of the typical graduate program described on this site. For example, professional degree programs may:
- Require the completion of very specific prerequisite courses
- Have very early application dates
- Require that application materials be submitted through a centralized service (e.g., Law School Data Assembly Service or LSDAS, American Medical College Application Service or AMCAS).
Medical, Optometry and Dental programs
For students applying to medical, optometry and dental programs, UMBC has a structured process to support students with their application. This program helps students to assemble their materials early for review by a UMBC faculty Health Professions Committee. The Health Professions Committee endorses candidates, provides information about the strength of the endorsement (Recommended without Reservation, Highly Recommended, etc.), and creates a cover letter to the professional schools that summarizes the applicant’s qualifications for admission. See the UMBC Pre-Med website for more information.
Pre-Professional School Resources
Another way to obtain information about preparing for professional school is to become a member of related student organizations such as the Pre-law Society, the Pre-Med Society and the Pre-Dental Society, and the Councils of Majors. The Office of Student Life maintains a complete list of student organizations, including those with an academic or pre-professional purpose.
Be alert to the requirements in your chosen field and seek pre-professional academic advisement from the appropriate advisor at UMBC beginning early in your undergraduate career. These advisors hold information sessions, workshops with professional school representatives, maintain libraries of materials from professional schools, and provide tips for applicants.
For additional information on UMBC’s undergraduate advisement coordinators, see Preparing for Graduate School.
Applying to Graduate School
Timeline for Applying