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Types of Graduate Degrees & Learning About Programs

Types of Graduate Degrees

There are two traditional categories of graduate degrees -- master's and doctoral -- although there are also numerous hybrid combined-degree and certificate programs at many universities.  Research your field well and be sure to select the type of degree that most closely fits your interests and career goals.

The Professional Master’s is generally a terminal degree and stresses the practical application of knowledge and skills and often involves an internship, practicum or field work.  The professional masters degree is designed for employment or advancement in a given field such as education (M.Ed.), business (MBA), or social work (MSW).

The Academic or Research Master’s is designed for intellectual growth and gives you experience in research and theory. While it may be a final step, the academic masters degree is sometimes a prerequisite for doctoral work within a given field. Master's degrees may take one to three years to complete.

The Professional Doctoral degree stresses the practical application of knowledge and skills.  These degrees include the Doctor of Medicine (MD), the Juris Doctor (JD), the Doctorate of Education (Ed.D.) and the Doctorate of Psychology (Psy.D.)

The Research Doctoral degree is the Doctorate of Philosophy (Ph.D.).  This degree involves advanced coursework in a chosen field and a major research project called a dissertation, and usually takes from three to six years to complete.  The Ph.D. is generally the required degree for university teaching positions.

Best Sources to Learn about Graduate Programs

Professors:  This is your best source of information and input into graduate school.  Professors know you, they know the field, they know which programs are a good fit for students from Pomona College, and they even have personal friends and colleagues at graduate programs where you might like to apply.

Other Students and Alumni: Pomona alumni at or from specific graduate programs can give you their personal perspective about the quality of the program and the faculty.

Peterson’s Guides:  Peterson’s list every accredited graduate program in the United States.  They are a little dense and boring, but if you want to learn about programs there is no other complete resource.  The full set of Peterson’s guides is available in the CDO and in all major university libraries.

Specialty Guides:  Many professional associations list recommended or accredited graduate programs in their field.  Identify the key professional associations for your area and check out the recommendations on their website or in their publications.

Academic Journals in Your Field:  Top students should get grad school ideas directly from the academic journals.  Often, the best programs generate the best and the most articles, so look in the journals for writing and/or research that interests you.  Then find out where the author teaches or what graduate program they are from.

Internet Resources:  Check for key online resources for graduate school information through the CARL system in the CDO.  Be sure to include leading professional association websites as they often have excellent graduate program recommendations and career advice.

Choosing a School and Program

Once you have determined a specific career goal, look for programs with strong reputations in those particular areas. Many professional associations will list recommended or accredited programs in their field.  There are also outside publications that “rank” schools and programs.  But remember sometimes the school with a strong reputation in your area of interest is not a school with an overall national reputation. The best way to find programs suited to you is to do research in your specific areas of interest.

  • Ask professors for their recommendations.
  • Read journals in your field and discover who is writing articles that excite you and where the author is teaching.
  • Talk to alumni who recently attended your target programs and ask about their experience.
  • Talk to career services at that school to learn where graduates find jobs and what type of work they are doing.

You can also research graduate fields through various online resources. Examples include,, and   There are many resources available with graduate school profiles, financial aid information, and additional graduate school information.  Check out your target university and program sites as well as the resources available through the CARL online database system.

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