Graduate School vs. Professional School

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Updated: January 20, 2024, Reading time: 8 minutes

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Once you’ve decided to pursue higher education, there will be several institutions available that can help you attain your dreams. However, one common question that many fresh undergraduate students ask is whether to attend a graduate school or a professional school. What exactly are the differences between these, too?

Graduate School vs. Professional School - fact

It’s common for undergraduate students to be unaware of the distinctions between graduate and professional schools until they begin looking into their possibilities for further education. It is crucial to understand the differences between these two so you can choose and match them with your chosen major or degree. 

What Are the Distinctions Between Graduate School and Professional School?

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Although professional school is often included in graduate school, there is still a difference between them.

Graduate School

Advanced coursework that goes beyond those offered in a bachelor’s degree is typically offered and found in graduate schools. When you attend this school, it’s likely for you to complete a master’s degree independently or as a prerequisite for a PhD program.

What you can accept in a graduate school while enrolled in graduate programs is that they typically emphasize knowledge acquisition above practical application. The duration of graduate programs varies by institution and curriculum, but they can range from two to four. 

Professional School

On the other side of the fence, a professional school program prepares students for a career in a specific field. Medical, business, legal, pharmaceutical, and social work doctorate degrees are among some that are offered in professional schools. However, these programs have different durations. Students’ dissertations and research projects may affect doctoral degree timelines.

A large portion of the doctorate or professional degree curriculum involves real-world, practical experience. Students usually complete internships before they graduate. A professional program degree is frequently required by state and federal requirements in order to operate in specific sectors.

What Are Their Differences in Admission Requirements?

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One of the differences between these two schools is their admission requirements and prerequisites. For instance, should you want to pursue a master’s degree at a graduate institution, you will have to demonstrate that you possess a solid foundation of knowledge in the topic of study. Even while you might not need a BA or BS in the precise discipline, you nevertheless need one in a similar field because you’ll require the necessary prerequisites to begin further education. 

Meanwhile, professional schools place greater emphasis on job experience than they do on major reviews. In spite of the fact that an undergraduate degree and a respectable GPA are prerequisites, picking a major is not as important.

If you are unsure of the program you should attend, choosing might be very difficult. A graduate school is the best choice if you wish to specialize in a particular profession or if you must obtain your Master’s degree before being licensed or certified to practice locally or nationally.

On the other hand, you should opt for a professional school if you want to work in the business world or gain practical experiences that you can later apply to your existing company. If you are considering attending a professional or graduate school, take your time and thoroughly investigate and even visit each school.

Tips on How to Decide Which One to Choose

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If you’re wondering whether you can apply to a Ph.D. right after a bachelor’s degree, the short answer is yes, given that you’d go for an accelerated combined master’s/doctorate program. If you’re perplexed about what type of school to enroll in, here are some tips to guide you with your decision-making. 

Consider your career goals.

While you may already have set your goals for a long time now, it’s best to revisit them and make action plans. Make sure you research the requirements for the profession you wish to pursue. Assess your career goals and choose a master’s or doctorate that will help you achieve your goals best. 

Consider your financial situation.

The next tip is to consider your finances. Graduate and professional schools’ tuition fees vary, and factors such as the degree programs and location might affect them. Find out what is possible by researching different educational paths and comparing costs.

Explore your career opportunities.

Both graduate and professional degrees will open doors of opportunities that go beyond what undergraduate holders can have access to. The key is to research and compare which one fits you. To forecast industries and their growth, look up the prognosis for the occupations that pique your interest. Obtaining a master’s degree in one field, for example, can have a more promising future than getting a professional degree in a similar one. Visit websites and ask questions in forums. 

Know what major makes you happy and fulfilled.

This tip goes right back to when you assessed your career goals. Every plan should be aligned together as you finally decide on what major or degree can make you happy and fulfilled. Consider your undergraduate courses and note which ones you most enjoyed taking. Think about going to graduate school in a research-based subject if you enjoy conducting research and creating reports. 

Ask yourself when you want to finish school.

Master’s and professional degrees come with their timelines to finish. A master’s degree can be earned in two years, whereas professional degrees often need three to four years or more. It’s important to decide when you want to finish your studies so it can influence your decision.

Questions to Ask When Deciding Between Professional and Graduate School

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If you’re not sure whether to pursue an advanced degree, you can evaluate your decision by answering the following questions:

Checklist in Preparing to Join Graduate or Professional School

When applying for graduate or professional school, there should be preparations beforehand. Here are some activities and action plans to do in order to stand out among other applicants in graduate or professional schools:

Speak with your mentor or advisor.

Your current advisor in your bachelor’s degree can help guide you on whether to pursue a master’s or doctorate. Be open-minded and receptive to your academic advisor in your major or College. Aside from your advisor, you can seek advice from instructors, club leaders, and other professionals that you have a good relationship with. 

Attend relevant events and make use of career centers.

Some graduate or professional schools may hold relevant events like school fairs that can help students learn more about different programs. Many topics and discussions can be held in these activities, and everything can be valuable in your advanced study journey.

Perform well academically.

Sustain a high GPA. Choose a degree that you can excel in since admissions officers usually consider GPA more than major when making judgments.

Be proactive with extra-curricular activities.

Extra-curricular activities can benefit you in many ways. Think about joining organizations and clubs that share your interests and provide chances for you to give back to the community or hone your leadership abilities. Consider taking on a leadership position, starting your own student group, or starting a volunteer initiative after a year of involvement in an organization.

Gain internship, volunteer, and work experience.

Get relevant experience through internships, work, and volunteering. The skills you can develop in these experiences can be applicable when you pursue a master’s or doctorate.

Keep track of your experiences and accomplishments.

Having a journal to re-read and base on when you finally apply to grad school can be handy. You can use your journal as a source of inspiration for your application essays and interviews if you keep a record of your meaningful experiences, accomplishments, challenges, and realizations.

Types of Degrees in Graduate School and Professional School

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Here are the different types of degrees that you can choose from once you decide between a graduate or professional school:

Professional Master’s Degree

Usually a terminal degree, a professional master’s degree lasts one to two years. This degree prepares students for employment in a particular sector like education, business, or engineering.

Research Master’s Degree

This master’s degree can be finished in two years, and it is intended to prepare students for doctoral study.

Professional Doctorate Degree

A professional doctorate is perfect for those who want to be a lawyer or doctor. For medical practice, MDs are typically required, while for law, JDs are required.

Research Doctorate

Another name for this degree is PhD or ScD. It usually requires at least four to six years of full-time study and one to two major research projects.

We’re certain of one thing—your search for more information on picking the best graduate degree or school landed you here. Let our experts help guide your through the decision making process with thoughtful content written by experts.