Lesson 2: Common Graduate School Programs


In this lesson, we'll look at some common graduate and professional school programs. Unlike undergraduate programs, when you choose to apply to graduate or professional school, you should have a very clear career goal in mind. This unit will give you an overview of some of the common types of graduate school programs. And, for those of you still in an undergraduate program, we'll examine how you can tailor your undergraduate program to fit your future goals.

We're going to give you a brief overview of the four most common types of graduate programs-- business school, law school, medical school, and concluding with a broad introduction of masters degrees and doctoral programs. I often see students research these programs and find that there are many adjacent programs that fit equally well or better for their career objectives. Look at the coursework offered by a program. Visit a school or class. Talk to students and alumni of different programs. Continue to use your interlocutors and reflection exercises to see if a certain program feels right to you.

You may not realize that the admissions office or professors at these programs are very happy to talk to you and to discuss whether your goals fit with their programs. Reach out. Let them know where your interests lie. They want to ensure that you're a good fit for their program, just as much as you do. We're going to review the four most common types of programs.

Obtaining a masters of business administration is one of the most common professional goals we hear from transitioning veterans. There is not one course of study or major that you must study in order to apply to an MBA. Students from a variety of backgrounds and majors apply successfully to MBA programs every year. You don't need an economics or finance major to apply to an MBA, however, the program does expect you to have foundational and strong quantitative and analytical skills.

So if you think an MBA may be appropriate for you, you'll want to make sure that your undergraduate work prepares you now by considering math, finance, economics, or accounting courses. Check with the business schools to get a sense of the kind of academic preparation they expect from applicants.

Just like you would with your courses, look at the classes offered in the program. See if they're exciting to you. Listen to your instincts. There may be many different types of programs out there to think about that are similar but not the same as the MBA. Perhaps you're interested in how organizations make decisions and a PhD in organizational psychology may be a good fit. There are many options, and maybe the MBA is the right one for you.

Beyond academic prerequisites, MBA programs typically demand a certain level of prior professional experience before you can begin a course of study. That is, unlike most other graduate programs, MBA programs often require applicants to have several years of work experience after they've taken their undergraduate degree. You may want to connect with admissions to see if your military service provider to your undergraduate degree may count as your work experience.

Students are often surprised to learn that law schools are looking for applicants from a variety of academic backgrounds. You do not need to major in pre-law or even a seemingly related field. While strong research and writing skills are very important, increasingly, law schools are looking beyond humanities majors to science and social science majors as the field of law becomes more complex and lawyers require diverse skill sets from a variety of backgrounds. Again, look at the law school courses. Go in and sit on a law school class. Talk to practicing attorneys.

If you're thinking about medical school, take the time to explore this direction by working in hospitals, research laboratories, and other health care settings. There are many different directions to think about within the health field, from becoming a doctor to a degree in public health. Explore through your courses and experience what may be best for you.

While a pre-med undergraduate degree is not required, students interested in applying to medical school should be aware that the prerequisite courses requirements can be significant. Most undergraduate programs have a pre-medical advisor who will help you when selecting your coursework that will be required for admissions to medical school.

Make sure that you check in with this advisor and check the Association of American Medical School's website. In fact, a number of universities offer post baccalaureate programs, courses of study that do not lead to a degree, but instead offer students a chance to take undergraduate courses to prepare for medical school applications.

Of course, law school, business school, and medical school are only three options available to you. There are thousands of different degree types out there. While we can't cover them all, we'd be remiss if we failed to mention a few of the non-professional degree paths out there.

Earning your masters of arts, masters of science, or doctor of philosophy can help you reach a particular goal. But you will need to do a lot of research upfront to see if a particular path and program is right for you. . For these types of programs, the coursework and major that you choose can be important. If you would like to continue to graduate school in computer science, for example, but choose a sociology major, you may need to do a significant amount of other coursework to meet the prerequisites.

Unlike professional schools, your choice of major and courses can make a big difference in your ability to have the foundational credentials to apply to a particular program. Even with this in mind, there are many other types of programs. for example, in education or social work, that do not require a particular undergraduate major. Make sure that you use your coursework to test your assumptions. And if you'd like to pursue further education in a particular field, that you choose a major or course that fits with your path.

Masters and doctoral degree programs and the arts and sciences can have wildly variant prerequisites and expectations. Connect with your professors and the graduate departments that you're interested in to see how your coursework and majors may fit with your future career path. With so many options available to you, finding a right-fit graduate school might offer challenges you did not anticipate when you were considering undergraduate programs. Still, if you take the time to reflect on your values and goals, use your coursework and major to test your assumptions, and connect with those who you trust to provide you with guidance, you will find the program that fits your personal and career goals.


  • General Tips and Guidance
    • Handout: Questions you should be asking potential Graduate Schools (download link)
    • Handout: Graduate School Entrance Exams at a Glance (download link)
    • Handout: How to Craft a Personal Statement (download link)
    • Statement of Purpose Tips from UC Berkeley (web link)
  • Business School
    • MBA.com (web link)
    • Peterson's (web link)
    • The MBA Tour: Organizes events in cities throughout the world to help introduce future MBA students to the world's business schools. View schedules and register online. (web link)
    • Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC): A non-profit education organization dedicated to creating access to graduate management education and supporting business schools worldwide. (web link)
  • Law School
    • Law School Admissions Council (LSAC) (web link)
    • Peterson's Test Prep | College Finder | Scholarship Searches (web link)
  • Medical School
    • American Medical College Application Service (AMCAS) (web link)