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These Are the Different Types of Grad School Programs (and Why They Matter)

After much consideration, you’ve decided to attend graduate school. But your choices don’t stop there. Now you’ll need to choose which graduate schools to apply to, and ultimately which graduate school to attend.

To make an informed decision, it’s important to understand the different types of grad school programs. You want to choose the program that will best prepare you for your future. You also want to select a program that will give you the greatest competitive advantage in your field.

We’re here to clear up the confusion and make your choice an easier one. Let’s look at the different types of graduate schools and degree programs.

Public vs. Private

There are hundreds of graduate schools to choose from, but they all fall into two categories: public and private. Which type of graduate school is best for you?

What’s the Difference?

The first factor to consider is cost. Typically, private schools are more expensive than public schools. They’re funded by tuition and other sources, while public schools receive government funding.

However, there are some inexpensive private schools and some costly public schools. Research tuition at each school on your list before deciding.

Another consideration is size. Private schools are usually smaller than public schools. Advantages of attending a smaller school include more personalized attention, smaller class sizes, and closer relationships with peers and professors.

Often, however, large schools have more facilities and present more opportunities to network. They’re also may offer more organizations, entertainment, dining options, etc.

Finally, you’ll want to look at reputation and academics. Private schools are known for being academically rigorous. They’re often more prestigious than their public counterparts as well. Still, any graduate school will present a challenge academically.

The simple fact that a grad school is “public” or “private” won’t give you enough information to make a decision. You’ll need to look into the specifics of each school to determine which is right for you. And while some students may prefer private, others will find that a public school is a better fit.

Learn more about public vs. private universities

Types of Graduate Degree Programs

Another way to categorize graduate programs is by the type of degree you’ll earn. Some professions require a specific degree, so this information is essential.

You can pursue a master’s degree or a doctorate degree. Typically, you can finish a master’s degree in about two years. Completing a doctorate degree requires four years or longer in most cases. Doctorates also come with more challenging requirements, like researching, writing, and presenting a dissertation.

Only about 2% of Americans have a doctorate. However, some careers require a doctorate, such as:

  • Research scientist
  • Professor
  • Doctor
  • Lawyer
  • University president
  • Healthcare administrator
  • Psychologist (most types)

Before choosing a grad school program, research which degree is required in your chosen career field. In addition, which degree will give you access to the best opportunities?

You’ll need to earn a master’s degree before advancing to a doctorate. However, you can apply directly to most doctorate programs and earn your master’s along the way.

Types of Master’s Degree Programs

There are several types of master’s degree programs. The most common in the United States are the Master of Arts and Master of Science.

Another popular option is the Master of Business Administration, or MBA.

Master of Arts (MA)

The Master of Arts degree typically falls within the industries of education, communication, social sciences, and music.

Similarly, you can pursue a Master of Fine Arts (MFA) in areas like photography, painting, and creative writing.

Master of Science (MS)

Master of Science degrees are generally in science, health, technology, and mathematics. Schools sometimes offer an MS for social science professions. These degree programs emphasize research more heavily than MA programs, which focus more on course content.

Some programs offer both an MS and an MA in a single subject. In this case, the MS tends to have additional academic requirements. It will also require more research than the MA option.

Students with a background in the field are typically required to choose the MS, while students who are new to the field may prefer the MA.

Master of Business Administration (MBA)

The Master of Business Administration is steadily gaining in popularity. MBA students receive broad training in all aspects of business, including operations, management, accounting, marketing, human resources, and more.

Students who already have a specialty in mind may choose a concentration. If concentrations aren’t available, students can typically select electives based on their personal interests and goals.

Types of Doctoral Degree Programs

Doctoral degrees are terminal degrees. This means you’ve achieved the highest degree possible in your field.

The two main types of doctoral degrees are the Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) and professional doctoral degrees.

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

The Doctor of Philosophy prepares students to do academic work in their discipline, such as research and teaching at the university level. Students build knowledge in a highly specialized area and develop their academic inquiry and research skills.

PhD programs generally begin with core coursework, followed by an exam. Students must pass the exam to continue with the program.

Next, students begin conducting research and ultimately working on their dissertation. Along the way, students may be required to submit papers to academic publications, give oral presentations at conferences, and otherwise prepare to be a leading scholar in their field.

These programs can take anywhere from 3-8 years to complete. On average, you should expect to spend 4-6 years in a PhD program.

Professional Doctoral Degrees

Professional doctoral degrees focus on building career skills. Students learn to apply research to practical problems within their field.

Many professional doctorates are intended for working professionals who want to advance their knowledge and skills. These students plan to advance their careers and pursue more influential positions.

However, most professional doctoral programs require some research as well. Typically, students identify a real-world problem in their field and research potential solutions.

Professional doctoral degrees include:

  • Doctor of Business Administration (DBA)
  • Doctor of Pharmacy (PharmD)
  • Doctor of Medicine (MD)
  • Doctor of Education (EdD)
  • Doctor of Public Health (DPH)
  • Juris Doctor (JD)
  • Doctor of Healthcare Administration (DHA)
  • Doctor of Information Technology (DIT)
  • Doctor of Psychology (PsyD)
  • Doctor of Social Work (DSW)

These degrees take about the same amount of time to complete as a PhD. The key difference is that they’re designed for students interested in professional rather than academic careers.

Final Thoughts: Different Types of Grad School Programs

As you research grad schools, you’ll need to decide between public or private. You’ll also need to choose which type of degree program will help you meet your career goals.

Options include MA, MS, MBA, PhD, and professional doctoral programs. Doctoral programs take several years to complete and are extremely challenging. Unless your chosen career path requires a doctoral degree, it’s generally wisest to go for your master’s.

Of course, these decisions are yours to make. With this information in mind, you’ll choose the right grad school to successfully launch your future.

Author: Jason Patel

Jason Patel is the founder of Transizion, a college counseling and career services company that provides mentorship and consulting on college applications, college essays, resumes, cover letters, interviews, and finding jobs and internships. Jason’s work has been cited in The Washington Post, BBC, NBC News, Forbes, Fast Company, Bustle, Inc., Fox Business, and other great outlets. Transizion donates a portion of profits to underserved students and veterans in of college prep and career development assistance.