Exploring Careers

Nailing Down a Program

Not all schools and programs in a given field have the same focus. To find a good match, you’ll want to dig deeper into your area of interest and explore all the ins and outs. Talk to your professors and colleagues. Check out professional associations. The web and any number of books can all yield valuable information, too.

Master’s or Doctorate?

You might be able to change your mind and shorten or extend your education, but knowing how far you want to go is a big consideration in finding the right program.

If you’re interested in teaching at the university-level or working at a research lab or think tank, you’ll need a doctorate. But the competition for these jobs is stiff, so pick a program with a strong reputation in the field.

Think about the kinds of jobs you might ultimately be interested in and research the education and experience required, then investigate programs accordingly. Be sure to speak with people in the field to get their advice and insights.

Word to the Wise:

Even if you’re aiming for a PhD, some schools will grant you a master’s degree after a certain number of credits even if you leave your program early.

Your Criteria: Food for Thought

There’s no right way to choose a graduate program, but it’s important to think through your own priorities. The factors below might help. Some are more pertinent when considering a doctorate, but they can also apply to a master’s program.

  • The academic strength and focus of the program
  • The faculty—what are their research interests? What experiences do they bring?
  • Location, facilities, and proximity to other institutions, researchers, and libraries
  • The reputation of the program—and the faculty—in your field
  • Costs—tuition, living expenses, etc.
  • The feel—is it a place you can spend several years in and be happy?

Now or Later? The Pros and Cons

The Case for Graduation-to-Graduate School

  • Continuity of learning
  • Earlier entry into a professional field (law, for example)
  • You don’t have to give up a salary you’ve become used to

The Case for Waiting

  • Once you begin working, you might discover other aspects of your field or even a new career interest.
  • The extra time will give you space to step back, re-focus, and choose a program that’s right for you.
  • You might be a more attractive candidate with work experience under your belt.

In either case, if you’d like to talk through the decision, make an appointment to meet with one of our career counselors. Undergraduate and graduate students can sign up on BU CareerLink. Alumni, please call 617-353-3590 to make an appointment.

Types of Degrees

A terminal master’s degree, also known as a professional master’s degree, gives you a specific set of skills needed to practice in a particular field, such as education, business, engineering, or other professions requiring specialized training. Generally, it’s considered a final degree and often involves an internship, a practicum, or field work.

A research master’s degree provides experience in research and scholarship, and may be a final degree or a step toward a PhD. A master’s degree usually takes between one to two years of study.

Professional doctoral degrees include the MD for medical practice and the JD for practicing law.

A research doctorate or PhD (Doctor of Philosophy) typically involves coursework and a major research project culminating in a dissertation. A PhD usually takes a minimum of four to six years of full-time study.