What Graduate Program Should I Choose? 7 Things to Consider

What Graduate Program Should I Choose
August 22, 2023 5 min read Liaison

Here are the most important factors to consider when deciding which graduate program to enroll in.

Key Takeaways

There are three types of graduate programs. You can earn a master’s degree, doctorate, or professional degree.

For some individuals, online graduate programs are a better choice because they offer flexibility and are more convenient for people with jobs and families.

With a graduate degree, you can work in more specialized positions, such as managerial roles, and potentially earn a higher salary.

The first things you need to consider when choosing a graduate program are your interests and your envisioned career path.

Then, you should check eligibility for specific programs to see whether you meet the requirements.

After that, you need to check the program's cost, length, and format.


As you stand at the crossroads of your academic journey — contemplating the question, "What graduate program should I choose?" — the crucial factors you should consider include your personal interests and the career development plan you envision for yourself.

There are many specializations and industries, so selecting the ideal graduate program is a big step that requires introspection and planning.

In this article, we talk about key factors you should consider when choosing a graduate program and things you can do to find out more details about the program you’re interested in.

which graduate program to choose

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Types of Graduate Programs

During the 2020–21 academic year, 866,900 students earned their master’s degrees and 194,100 earned doctoral degrees, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

Here's a closer look at different types of graduate programs:

  • Master’s degree programs — This type of degree is the most common one students pursue after earning a bachelor’s degree. The time needed to complete the master’s program ranges from one to three years. A master’s degree offers specialization in a chosen field of study. There are Master of Science, Master of Arts, and Master of Business Administration degrees, as well as other specializations.
  • Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) programs — A Ph.D. is the highest form of education, and you’ll need three to eight years to complete a Ph.D. program. The focus is on research and testing theories. You can earn a Ph.D. in education, English, audiology, psychology, physics, etc.
  • Professional degree programs — A professional doctorate, or a professional degree, is for a specific career path. Students usually need three to six years to complete these studies. You can earn a professional degree in medicine, education, law, pharmacology, etc.
  • Graduate certificate programs — These programs are credit-based and last two semesters. If you don’t need a graduate degree and wish to switch careers, a certification is a good option. A graduate certificate program usually consists of three to five courses that can be finished in a year.

How to Choose a Graduate Program: 7 Things to Consider

In the section below, we’ll discuss several things to consider when choosing a graduate program.

Assess Your Career Path

A bachelor’s degree can open the door to many entry-level jobs, but if you wish to have specialized knowledge in one area, do more rewarding work, or have a higher salary, a graduate degree may be necessary. Thinking about what you felt passionate about during your undergraduate studies may help you focus on choosing a career and professional specialization.

Check the Program’s Requirements

After you’ve figured out what your career path will look like, you need to find schools that offer programs you’re interested in. Most grad school programs have similar requirements, including minimum GPA, GRE or GMAT scores, recommendation letters, essays, and perhaps some professional or volunteering experience.

The best option is to check the precise requirements to see if you’re eligible. Depending on the type of graduate degree you’re considering, there may be more requirements. You may also need to pay a fee for each application you submit.

Ask Alums for Details

You can do a little research on social media and ask alums for specifics about the program and their experiences. Also, you can talk to current students of the program you’re interested in to hear more about it.

Program Length

Completing a master’s degree program generally requires one to three years. Some colleges and universities offer “4+1” programs (four years of undergrad studies followed by a one-year master's program). On the other hand, some online master’s degree programs may allow you to complete your studies in two or more years, depending on your pace.

Earning a professional degree can take three to six years (depending on the specialization), and getting a Ph.D. can take three to eight years.

Program Format

Many grad schools in the US offer flexible programs (part time or full time) as most students are employed in some capacity. In case you need total flexibility, online graduate school programs often let students complete courses at their own speed. There are also accelerated graduate programs that you can complete in less time.

Program Cost

On average, public schools tend to be cheaper than private institutions — $29,150 vs. $62,100, respectively. The overall cost of a master’s degree typically ranges between $30,000 and $120,000. The cost depends on the state, program, and the school.

If you need help with tuition, you can apply for financial aid or scholarships and grants. Be sure to check eligibility requirements and submit your application before the deadline.

Location and Cost of Living

If you can’t find a suitable school in your home state and decide to study elsewhere, you may have a higher cost of living in your new location. If you can't cover living expenses, you may need to opt for an online graduate program. In that case, keep in mind that you may still be required to be on campus on certain occasions, such as to take exams.

What Graduate Program Should I Choose — Conclusion

While a bachelor’s degree is a doorway to a lot of good job opportunities, you’ll need a graduate degree (a master's degree, doctorate, or professional degree) to be hired for more specialized roles.

The first things you must consider when finding a graduate program are your academic interests and your career path. The second thing to do is confirm your eligibility for admission to the program. After you find a program, you need to make sure its length and format suit your schedule. Most importantly, you must check the program's cost and whether you can afford it.

If there are no good-fit programs for you in your state and you can’t afford to live in another state, you can try online graduate programs, which offer more flexibility. As with in-person grad programs, you should consider all the factors involved in order to find the program that best fits your career path.


There are three types of graduate programs. You can earn a master’s degree, doctorate, or professional degree. Each degree offers a different level of specialization in a chosen field. Even though it’s not a degree, a graduate certificate can be enough for some job roles.

Most experts say that you should apply to between three and six graduate programs. Start by including as many options as possible, then exclude the ones that don’t have what you seek.

When choosing a graduate program, you should consider the following factors: Your career path, your eligibility for a specific program, the program’s length and format, and feedback from current and former students.

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