Research and Evaluate Graduate Programs

Types of Graduate Programs

Some graduate programs train you for a career in industry, while others prepare you for a career in academia and research. Here we break down the different types of programs.

  • Focuses on academic and applied-research fields
  • Typically requires completion of graduate-level courses and seminars
  • May also require passing a comprehensive examination or writing and defending a master’s thesis
  • Research master’s programs are typically designed to prepare students to pursue a PhD
  • Time to complete: varies by degree and program
  • Focuses on preparing students for applied professional work; emphasizes practical skills and the application of theory
  • Examples: Master of Social Work (MSW), Master of Business Administration (MBA)
  • May require one or more professional internships in supervised work settings
  • Time to complete: varies by degree and program
  • A PhD (Doctor of Philosophy) degree has a research focus; typically involves conducting original research and writing a dissertation based on that research
  • PhD graduates typically go on to teach, conduct research, or engage in professional practice
  • There are many PhD programs, in almost any field of study, and each tends to have relatively small enrollment.
  • A typical PhD program accepts only one to ten students per year.
  • 84% of PhD students receive full financial assistance
  • Time to complete: varies by degree and program, but 5-7 years is a good estimate
  • Trains graduates for applied work and practice; emphasizes applying research-based knowledge to prepare for careers in the field
  • Examples: MD, JD, PsyD (Doctor of Psychology in Clinical Psychology) and EdD (Doctor of Education)
  • In addition to completing graduate-level coursework, you may be required to complete one or more internships, a dissertation, or a doctoral research project
  • Obtaining a license may also be necessary prior to beginning practice
  • Time to complete: varies by degree and program
  • A professional doctoral degree
  • Emphasizes clinical work
  • Prepares graduates for professional practice as a clinical psychologist or counseling psychologist
  • PsyD programs are less common than PhD programs, but they are larger. A typical PsyD program accepts as many as 100 students each year.
  • 20% of PsyD students receive full financial assistance
  • Time to complete: 4-6 years

How to Research Graduate Programs

  1. Gather information
    1. Browse rankings and lists to get an idea of which universities have programs in your field of study and how they rate. Some well-known lists are:
      1. Petersons
      3. US News rankings
      4. Princeton Review
    2. Explore professional associations and scholarly journals to gather information on the top programs and leading scholars in your discipline.
    3. Talk to your professors and graduate teaching assistants. They can be excellent sources of information on graduate programs.
    4. Reach out to program offices directly for detailed program information such as courses, faculty, costs, financial aid, and application forms. You can also request informational interviews with current graduate students in the program to get their perspectives and advice.
  2. Determine which factors are important to you, such as cost, location, faculty specialties, reputation, availability and quality of graduate internships, etc.
  3. Select five to fifteen programs that you want to investigate further.
  4. Make a table to compare programs side by side. An example is provided below.
Sample Table to Compare Graduate Programs
Factors ABC University DEF University GHI University
Program Requirements      
Research Areas      
Cost: Tuition      
Cost: Housing      
Cost: Other      

How to Evaluate Graduate Programs

Once you have an initial list of programs, begin evaluating them to determine which ones best fit your goals and interests.


  • Review information on program graduates and where they end up.
  • For disciplines that require licensure, such as psychology, law, or social work, research the percentage of program graduates that successfully obtain licensing or certification.


  • Faculty serve as mentors and role models who will guide your course of study and your research and may also help you launch your career. Determine if there is a faculty member who specializes in your area of interest.

Size of Program

  • Consider the size of the program. Would you do better in a larger program where you’ll have lots of peers, or would you do better in a smaller program where you might get more personal attention?

Financial Resources

  • Funding can vary widely from program to program. Look for graduate assistantships, tuition remission, grants, loans, work-study, etc.

Beyond Academics

  • Look into religious, cultural, or community organizations both on and off campus.
  • Consider what it would be like to live in the surrounding area. Consider access to public transportation and proximity to stores and restaurants. Are there many housing options that are within your projected budget? Would you be comfortable living there?