Over the years, there has been an increasing focus on higher education with many students going beyond the traditional 4-year bachelor’s degree programs and pursuing graduate school education. Today, we’re going to discuss the different types of graduate schools and find out if any of them are right for you. The following gives you a general idea of some of the most common options students choose to take.
Masters of Arts (MA):
What is it? An MA is a graduate level degree focused on continuing your education and mastery of the humanities and its related subjects. It is often a 2-year degree.
Is it for you? Professor of Public Service Stephen Trachtenberg argues, “The MA permits someone who has a generic BA degree in a field he/she didn’t much care about to change direction, to add a line to her curriculum vitae that says she has a documented competency.” If you aren’t sure where your career path lies, but are committed to continuing your education, then an MA may be for you.
Masters of Science (MS):
What is it? Much like the MA, an MS is a graduate level degree that instead focuses on mastery of the sciences or mathematics. It differs from the MA in the style of learning/teaching, and unlike the MA, almost always requires a thesis. It is often a 2-year degree.
Is it for you? While a career dedicated to the sciences can be a good reason to consider an MS, careers in business and other fields also have opportunities for an MS graduate. Ultimately it boils down to your desired career path, but in nearly every circumstance, an advanced degree will highlight your resume beyond an undergraduate degree.
Masters of Business Administration (MBA):
What is it? While the MA and MS focused more on depth of study and mastering a particular subject, the MBA is more focused on breadth. What the MBA lacks in specificity, it makes yp for in flexibility and universal recognition. It is often a 2-year degree.
Is it for you? If you are confident you want to get a career in business or a better mastery of the skills related to organizing and maintaining a business, an MBA may be for you. Do NOT get an MBA if you are unsure on what you want to do, and are looking for a generic/blanket degree. While an MBA can open up many doors/change your career path midway through, I would not recommend it for those without a deep desire for a business oriented career.
Juris Doctor (JD):
What is it? A JD is a graduate degree in law and its various branches/subject areas. It is often a 3-year degree.
Is it for you? If you are interested in becoming a lawyer, a JD is almost always required, save for a few states where the only requirement is passing the Bar Exam. A JD is also useful for those interested in pursuing a career related to law, but not actually practicing as an attorney. This is because the JD not only carries professional weight, but provides you with expertise in a variety of subjects pertaining to the law.
Doctor of Medicine (MD):
What is it? An MD is a graduate degree in the study of medicine. The degree alone takes 4 years, and is often followed by 3-8 years of residency/internships etc.
Is it for you? If you are interested in becoming a doctor, surgeon, anesthesiologists, or other high level health care career, an MD or a DO are often required. While the other degrees have value beyond their subject areas, an MD is almost exclusively used to further one’s career as a health care professional.
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD):
What is it? The PhD is an advanced postgraduate degree involving three or more years of independent research on an original topic. Is it accompanied by a thesis that provides “significant original contribution to knowledge”
Is it for you? PhD’s a research oriented and require quite a bit of time entrenched in academia and independent study. If you are interested in a career as a professor, researcher, or want to work in the sciences with a practical application, a PhD may be for you.
After you’ve done your research on each type of program and have an idea of what you want in mind, consider the following questions to evaluate whether or not graduate education is a valuable investment.
  • What is the cost of attendance?
  • Does this improve your job prospect?
  • Does this improve your prospective salary?
  • Are you willing to endure the mental and emotional labor associated with academic rigor?
  • Are you able to commit to additional years of education that may prohibit you from full-time employment for the time being?
I hope this article gives you a general idea of some available options if you are considering post undergraduate education. But even if you do not plan on obtaining additional degrees, I believe it is crucial that we never stop furthering our knowledge and continuously pursue learning. As it is often said, “Fiax lux.” Let there be light.


Gina Han, Peer Adviser