Graduate Studies


What are Graduate Degrees?

More than 1,600 U.S. universities offer graduate degrees in a wide range of fields. The two main graduate degrees in the U.S. are the Master’s Degree and the Doctoral Degree. Both degrees involve a combination of research and coursework. Graduate education is characterized by in-depth training and specialized instruction. In addition, study is more self-directed at the graduate level.

Types of Degrees
The Master’s Degree
  • provides education and training in a specialized branch or field.
  • can be academic {e.g., master of arts (MA) or master of science (MS)} or professional {e.g., master of business administration (MBA), master of fine arts (MFA), master of social work (MSW) or master of education (MEd)}.
  • many programs offer a thesis or a non-thesis option.
  • generally requires one to three years of additional study beyond a bachelor’s degree.
The Doctoral Degree
  • is designed to train research scholars and future college or university faculty members.
  • may be academic {e.g., doctor of philosophy (PhD)} or professional {e.g., doctor of education (EdD) or doctor of business administration (DBA)}.
  • to receive a doctoral degree, candidates must pass a comprehensive, or "qualifying," examination after three to five years of study and completion of all coursework, and with the recommendation of the candidate's advisor.
  • requires anywhere from five to eight years beyond the bachelor’s degree, depending on the field of study.
Professional Degrees
1. Academic Master's:

Master of Arts (M.A.) and Master of Science (M.S.) degrees are usually awarded in the traditional arts, sciences, and humanities disciplines. The M.S. is also awarded in technical fields such as engineering and agriculture. These programs usually require one or two academic years of full-time study beyond a bachelor’s degree and may lead directly into doctoral programs.

2. Professional Master's:

These degree programs are designed to lead the student from their first degree to a particular profession. Such master’s degrees are often designated by specific descriptive titles, such as Master of Business Administration (M.B.A.), Master of Social Work (M.S.W.), Master of Education (M.Ed.), or Master of Fine Arts (M.F.A.). Other subjects of professional master’s programs include journalism, architecture, and urban planning. Professional master’s degrees are oriented more toward direct application of knowledge rather than original research. They are more structured than academic degree programs and often require every student to take a similar or identical program of study that lasts from one to three years, depending on the institution and the field of study.

3. MBA

A Master’s of Business Administration (MBA) is one of the most popular graduate degrees related to business education in the U.S. MBA curriculum often includes coursework in topics such as management, finance, accounting, marketing, economics, organizational behavior, entrepreneurship, globalization, and social responsibility. On average, students can earn an MBA in two years, although accelerated programs do exist.

Doctoral programs in business include the Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in business and the Doctor of Business Administration (DBA). The PhD program is designed to lead graduates to state-of-the-art business practices that improve the impact of the business sector on a large scale. The DBA program is designed to improve business practices, processes, and programs, ranging from the management of people to the management of operations and projects.

Graduate programs in business may include programs courses on finance, accounting, banking, or others; various short-term certificate courses may also be explored.

Videos: MBA at Harvard Business School
Learn more about MBA
4. Study Law in the U.S.

In Hong Kong, students begin law studies right after secondary school; however, studying law in the U.S. is quite different. Law is a professional academic field, and is considered the equivalent of a graduate degree in other parts of the world.

There are two pathways to obtain a Master of Laws:

  • Juris Doctor (J.D.)

The Juris Doctor program typically lasts 3 years for full-time students and 4 years for part-time students. International students should be aware that for the most part, a J.D. from a U.S. law school will not prepare them to practice in their home country, as U.S. law schools teach students the common law based on the British system. J.D. graduates must take the bar exam for the U.S. state where they plan to practice. Contact the American Bar Association (ABA) for more information about the American Bar exams.

Check out the Law School Admission Council (LSAC) website for more information about Law Schools.

  • Master of Laws (LL.M.)

A U.S. LL.M. program provides foreign-educated lawyers experience in a U.S. law school for one year where students learn how traditional U.S. law is practiced. Once foreign-educated lawyers complete an LL.M. program, they have the opportunity to sit for the bar exam. Learn more about the LL.M..

Rosie Edmond explains Law programs in the U.S.
5. Study Medicine in the U.S.

It can be challenging for international applicants who are not citizens or permanent residents of the United States to gain admission to U.S. medical schools. International applicants who are considering a career as a medical doctor and hope to receive their education at a U.S. medical school should think carefully before applying for admission to an undergraduate program in the United States. There is only a small percentage of medical schools in the U.S. that consider international students for admission to their M.D. programs. Private universities are more likely to consider international students than public universities.

6. Study Veterinary Medicine in the U.S.

Fewer than 30 schools of veterinary medicine exist in the U.S. Competition for veterinary study is even more rigorous than for study in medicine. Some veterinary schools do not accept applications from international students. In addition, international students are not eligible for most financial aid sources such as U.S. government-sponsored student loans.

To practice veterinary medicine in most of the U.S., a majority of internationally-trained veterinarians must hold certification from the American Veterinary Medical Association’s Educational Commission for Foreign Veterinary Graduates (ECFVG).

How can you learn more?

What are Some Popular Graduate Programs in the United States?
Course Contents

Graduate programs assume that students are well-prepared in the basic elements of their field of study. Depending on the subject, courses may be formal, consisting primarily of lecture presentations by faculty members, or they may be relatively informal, placing emphasis on discussion and the exchange of ideas among faculty and students. Class participation, research papers, and examinations are important in graduate education.

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