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What is Grad School?

Nathan Wilgeroth / More Grad Advice »

What is grad school?

Sounds like a simple enough question—a graduate program is just a more advanced version of undergrad, right?

Well, not exactly. In its most basic sense, a graduate degree is an advanced specialization in a specific area of study. Graduate school, however, is not so basic, as it can come in many different forms, operate on many different timeframes, and gear students toward many different outcomes. Grad school isn’t simply a harder version of college; it is a rigorous, often career-focused venture that varies across schools and across disciplines.

Perhaps the better question is, “What is grad school like for you?” Because so many programs are offered for so many different kinds of people, you can best get an idea of what grad school is like when you understand the options available for your personal goals. There are so many benefits to earning a master’s degree, so take charge and find the program that will allow you to thrive!

Grad School Should Be Accessible

Unlike many undergraduate programs that include a general core curriculum, graduate-level study is always specific to the student’s area of study. Every class is directly related to the degree, and so each rigorous course is vital. School is hard enough as it is, so you should make sure you look for a program that makes each one of these courses accessible and relevant to the education you’re hoping for.

A strong graduation program should come with a strong support network. Rather than deliver nothing but long lectures, a grad school should make it easy for students to interact with their professors and classmates, even if it’s online. This access allows for anyone to ask questions and even bring in outside perspectives that may not have otherwise been part of the curriculum. With an interconnected classroom, students can get the help they need to grasp a concept, develop an idea, and get a fully developed educational experience.

Beyond the classroom, a graduate school must provide other supportive resources for its students’ academic and personal success. Resources like tutoring, a library and databases, and academic advisors keep students on the right track toward their degree, while other services like childcare, IT support, and other resources that operate outside of normal business hours help them balance school with other responsibilities.

Grad School Should Accelerate Your Time to Completion

The pursuit of a graduate degree is one with intention—the more quickly and efficiently you’re able to finish, the more quickly you’re able to reap the benefits and get back to a normal work-life schedule. As you choose a grad school, see that there are options available for you to complete your degree on your time and with your other commitments in mind.

As an adult, you likely have a number of responsibilities that make it impossible to take classes within the typical 9-5 timeframe, and so it’s important to find a school that will enable you to cater your studies to your schedule. Look for flexible programs that offer courses in the evening, on weekends, and even online. You don’t have to put your life on hold to get a degree!

Not only should you be aware of a program’s course schedules, but you should also get a clear idea of its overall timeline. Some programs are offered in accelerated formats that allow for completion within two years of study or less. And with the possibility of earning credit for prior experience, that time could be cut even shorter! Others may be stretched out for a longer period of time so that students can take on a smaller workload with fewer courses at one time. Ask yourself: how much schoolwork can you handle on top of your current responsibilities, and how quickly do you hope to get your degree? No matter what, it is worth it to study your options and know that you can earn your graduate degree as quickly as you need to.


9 Unique Reasons to Pursue a Master's Degree


Grad School Should Be Transparent About Affordability

Time is not the only thing that can impact your decision for a graduate program. Money, too, is an enormous obstacle to factor into your search. There’s no doubt that higher education is costly, but many schools make it difficult to understand just how costly their programs are.

Textbooks, confusing credit costs, and an infinite possibility of other hidden fees can be incredibly shocking. It’s important, therefore, that grad schools share transparent information about all the costs involved before a student commits and enrolls. It’s your program’s responsibility to be clear about application fees, full tuition, the cost per credit, required fees for certifications or exams, and whatever else is required.

In addition to transparent, a grad school should be generous. Tuition costs in the United States are astronomical, and very few students can afford an education without some form of financial aid. Ensure that the programs you’re researching have scholarships, grants, and loans available to their graduate students, not just their undergrads. Funding can come in a variety of forms to a variety of recipients, so do your research to see how you will be able to afford such a large yet worthwhile commitment!

Grad School Should Advance Your Skills, Knowledge, and Earning Potential

Ultimately, grad school is an investment in your future. An advanced degree is meant to be a tool for your post-graduate success, so the education you receive should be one that prepares you for what lies ahead.

Stagnant lectures and impersonal communication will not have nearly as great of an impact as lively discussion and real, hands-on experience. No matter the area of study, a strong graduate program is one that gets students to engage with their field in a meaningful way. Such experiential learning is key to enabling students to jump straight into the workforce and maximize their degree’s potential. Whether its students conduct research or do on-site field work, a grad program must expose them to the kinds of challenges they’ll take on in the future. Further benefits arise when the school utilizes partnerships with area companies to set students up with internships and potential employment!

So, What is Grad School?

A master’s-level education is a fully immersive exploration of a specific field. And as you consider your future life and career plans, you just might find that that kind of rigorous study is just what you need to take the next step. Unfortunately, there is no clear-cut answer to such a seemingly simple question, but for good reason—your experience of grad school can come in a variety of formats, cater to your schedule, and prepare you specifically for what you hope to achieve in the future. As long as you do your research, the answer to “What is grad school?” will be made clear: exactly what you need.

More About Abound: We’re here to help. Abound: Grad School narrows down your options and gets you in touch with schools that we can confirm are Accessible, Affordable, Accelerated, and Advanced. Take a look at the schools we trust and find the program that works for you.


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