Which Graduate Degree is Right for You?

Academic graduate programs include master’s programs (e.g. Master of Art—MA, Master of Science—MS, or Master of Fine Art—MFA) or doctoral programs (Doctor of Philosophy—PhD) programs in various fields.  Master’s and doctoral programs both provide additional expertise, but MA/MS degrees usually require only two years or less to complete and may emphasize coursework over original research.  PhD programs require a combination of coursework and research and culminate in a dissertation based on original research; they may take 4-6 years or longer, depending on the discipline and specific advisor.

Master’s Programs

  • Usually 1-2 years
  • Usually requires tuition payment
  • Appropriate for career advancement in some industries
  • Can be research-based or curriculum-based

Ph.D. Programs

  • Usually 4-6 years
  • Tuition usually waived and stipends provided through teaching and research assistantships
  • Appropriate for careers in research in academia, government agencies, or industry
  • Combination of classroom study and intensive research

Common types of graduate and professional degrees (from Purdue University)

Which school is right for you?

Students who want to expand their mastery of a specific subject area sometimes struggle to identify the right school to attend.  Research faculty in the subject area you wish to explore are the best resources for learning more about specific degree programs, and anybody planning to apply to PhD programs should discuss likely destinations with a research supervisor or trusted professor.  Students who want a master’s degree to secure a job in business or industry should discuss their career goals with people already in the field.  An informational interview is a good way to learn about which programs are especially valued in the workplace.

Below are some other suggestions for identifying PhD programs for which you would be a good fit:

  • Choose programs based on type of research or work (generally) you plan to conduct after you earn the degree.
  • Review scholarly publications and conference proceedings to determine labs and programs that share your interest.
  • Discuss appropriate programs with your research faculty at Georgia Tech.
  • Consider the environment beyond the university (do you prefer a big city, a mild climate, a specific region?).
  • Think about cost of living when considering financial packages.

Below are some suggestions for identifying master’s programs that might serve your long-term goals:

  • Discuss your career plans with faculty and workplace colleagues.
  • Ask for guidance about whether the master’s degree is necessary or valuable for your long-term plans.
  • Consider the cost of MA/MS programs and the potential return on investment for these programs.
  • Ask potential employers if they would pay for some or all of the tuition costs for graduate programs.
  • Consider whether an on-line degree from a reputable school would allow you to save money or combine work and school.