Is Graduate School for You?

Is graduate school the next step for you after completing your bachelor's degree at UMBC? This is a very personal decision that requires self-awareness, research, planning, and preparation. The decision to pursue graduate study usually follows from your professional goals. Clarity about your desired career path is needed in order to make good decisions about graduate study – whether to apply, what kind of program to pursue, which institutions to apply to. If you are still weighing a number of career choices, click here for a list of resources to help you explore your options.

There are also several campus resources that can assist with your career planning, such as Career Services, The University Counseling Center, Residential Life Exploratory Majors Floor, and the office of Academic Services and Pre-Professional Advisement. A list of these UMBC departments, along with their contact information, can be found here.

Now or Later?

Although many students apply for graduate programs during their senior year and enter immediately after receiving their bachelor's degrees, others choose to gain perspective and financial stability through full time work before entering graduate school. Others may decide to work full or part-time and pursue a graduate degree part-time. Many graduate programs offer courses in the late afternoon, evenings and even on week-ends in order to fit the schedules of working professionals. None the less, you should keep in mind that progress toward an advanced degree will be faster if you decide to enroll in a full-time degree program.

Common Reasons to attend Graduate School

  • You welcome the intellectual challenge and are intrinsically interested in the subject matter
  • An advanced degree is helpful or may be required to find employment in your desired field
  • An advanced degree may help you to do your job more effectively
  • An advanced degree may lead to advancement in your field or entry into a new field


Applying to graduate school for vague reasons like “I don't have anything else planned,” or “My friends are all heading to grad school” or “Why not hang around UMBC for another year or two?” will probably not motivate you through one to two years of challenging study. If you plan to attend grad school, you must be prepared to work hard. It's a big commitment.

Types of Graduate Degrees

Some bachelor's degrees provide adequate training for entry into the professional workforce, but in other fields more specialized education and training will be needed for entry and/or advancement.

Degrees beyond the bachelor's degree fall into three broad categories:

  1. master's degree – most commonly, Master of Arts (M.A.) or Master of Science (M.S.) – provides in-depth knowledge in one or more area. A master's thesis is sometimes required.
  2. doctoral degree – Ph.D. (Doctor of Philosophy) – provides understanding of how to do structured research. You will complete a dissertation and contribute new knowledge to your field of study.
  3. Professional degree – such as J.D. (Juris Doctor), M.D. (Medical Doctor), M.S.W. (Master of Social Work) – provides specialized training for employment in a specific profession (law, medicine, social work). Clinical or practicum work is often involved in such degree programs.

Graduate degrees may also be pursued through joint degree programs , such as B.A./M.A. programs that allow completion of the requirements for both degrees in five or six years. Other joint degree programs combine graduate degrees into packages, such as J.D./Ph.D. or M.D./Ph.D. These programs often allow for completion of the two degrees in a shorter period of time than if pursued sequentially. This is achieved by allowing certain courses to count toward each of the two degrees. Joint degrees also offer the advantage of allowing a student to apply for and be admitted to both programs at the same time.

Individuals who hold a bachelor's degree may also undertake postgraduate certificate programs to expand and document their knowledge in specific areas. In general, postgraduate certificates require less time to complete than degree programs.

Special Requirements for Entering Professional Degree Programs

The application timeline and procedures for professional schools may vary from those of the typical graduate program described on this site. For example, some professional degree programs:

  • require the completion of very specific prerequisite courses
  • have very early application dates,
  • require that application materials be submitted through a centralized service (e.g., Law School Data Assembly Service or LSDAS, American Medical College Application Service or AMCAS).

For students applying to medical, optometry, and dental programs, UMBC has a structured process to support students with their application. This program helps students to assemble their materials early for review by a UMBC faculty Health Professions Committee. The Health Professions Committee endorses candidates, provides information about the strength of the endorsement (Recommended without Reservation, Highly Recommended, etc.), and creates a cover letter to the professional schools that summarizes the applicant's qualifications for admission.

Be alert to the requirements in your chosen field and seek pre-professional academic advisement from the appropriate advisor at UMBC beginning early in your undergraduate career. These advisors hold information sessions, workshops with professional school representatives, maintain libraries of materials from professional schools, and provide tips for applicants.

For additional information on UMBC's undergraduate advisement coordinators, see the section on “Preparing for Graduate School " on this website.

Another way to obtain information about preparing for professional school is to become a member of related student organizations such as the Pre-law Society, the Pre-Med Society, and the Pre-Dental Society, and the Councils of Majors. The Office of Student Life maintains a complete list of student organizations, including those with an academic or pre-professional purpose.

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