Grad School Glossary

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Thinking about pursuing a graduate degree? Not sure what degree options are out there? Not familiar with all graduate school lingo? We got you! Check out this starter grad school glossary:

Types of Degrees

Degrees in a Subject Area

Master of Arts in [Subject] 

Master of Fine Arts in [Subject] 

Master of Science in [Subject]

Doctor of Philosophy in [Subject]

Common Professional Degrees

MBA: Master of Business Administration

MAcc: Master of Accounting

DDS: Doctor of Dental Surgery
DMD: Doctor of Medicine in Dentistry

MEd: Master of Education
DEd: Doctorate of Education

JD: Juris Doctorate (to be a practicing lawyer)
MLS: Master of Legal Studies

MD: Doctor of Medicine
MSN: Master of Science in Nursing (to be an APRN, advanced practice nurse)
DO: Doctor of Osteopathy
Pharm.D: Doctor of Pharmacy

MPA: Master of Public Affairs
MPP: Master of Public Policy
DPA: Doctor of Public Administration

MSW: Master of Social Work
MSSW: Master of Science in Social Work

Niche: These Are the Different Types of Grad School Programs (and Why They Matter)
Niche: Best Graduate Programs in America

Entrance Exams

Many, but not all, business graduate programs require the GMAT. It has four sections: Analytical Writing, Quantitative, Verbal, and Integrated reasoning, and is scored out of 800. The GMAT tests your analysis, synthesis, and reasoning skills.

The most common graduate entrance exam, basically a more difficult version of the SAT/ACT. It comprises three sections: Verbal Reasoning, Quantitative Reasoning, and Analytical Writing, and is scored out of 170. Some schools are dropping it as an entry requirement, while others will only look at the scores relevant to your area of study (i.e., humanities programs may not care as much about your Quantitative Reasoning score!).

Acing the LSAT is a critical component to getting into law school. It has four scored sections: Logical Reasoning, Analytical Reasoning, Reading Comprehension, and a Writing Sample, and is scored out of 180. It is focused on testing your advanced logical and analytical skills.

The MCAT tests your knowledge of medical science across four sections: Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems; Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems; Psychological, Social, and Biological Foundations of Behavior; and Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills. The highest possible score is now 528, after a significant overhaul to the exam in 2015 designed to update its relevance to today’s medical systems.

Common Application Terms

An academic resume. Where a resume is designed to promote you as a job candidate, a CV is an exhaustive list of your studies, writing, teaching, and experience. It will include degrees earned, positions held, talks given, publications, etc.

April 15! All reputable, accredited graduate schools have this deadline, to ensure graduate students are able to consider all of their offers before committing to a school.

The “personal statement” can make or break your graduate school application! While each program and institution will have unique requirements, the personal statement generally covers who you are, what your academic and career goals are, and why you want to attend the program you’re applying to. Some schools may require more than one, such as a personal statement (about you) and a statement of purpose (about your studies). A statement of purpose may also be referred to as: admissions essay, application essay, graduate school essay, statement of intent, statement of interest, etc.

Funding Options

Graduate programs may offer “assistantships” (or appointments) as a means of funding your studies. They usually pay some (if not all!) of your tuition, while providing a moderate stipend. Assistantships generally require part-time hours (around 20/wk). There are several types: a teaching assistantship, which requires you to aid a professor in teaching a class, or to teach your own (often called an instructorship); a research assistantship, where you will work in a lab to assist a professor in their work; and general graduate assistantships, which can include a variety of administrative positions. There are not always enough assistantships to go around, and so can be competitive—many institutions require an application process

A “fellowship” is a type of scholarship, often merit-based. These usually provide full tuition assistance and a stipend, with no work requirement. However, fellowships may be restricted to certain areas of study, institutions, or work.

A graduate “stipend” is similar to work-study, in that it puts money in your pocket for stuff other than tuition and fees. The average stipend for funded graduate studies in the United States ranges from $15k-$30k over the nine-month school year.

Academic Terms

Also known as Comps, Prelims, Qualifying Exams (Quals), or Orals are taken at the end of graduate coursework to determine your readiness for dissertation work. Depending on your field of study, the exam may be a series of papers, an extended written test, an oral exam with your committee, or a combination. The goal of these exams is to prove competency in your field of study.

The final presentation of your research and dissertation/thesis, given to your committee. Following your presentation, the committee will ask questions about your work, methods, and results.

A broad field of study such as history, engineering, or social work. A “discipline” may encompass many specializations or concentrations.

Generally the final requirement for a PhD, a “dissertation” is the culmination of your research. While requirements vary by field of study, it is usually between 150-300 pages in length, and will take 3-5 years to complete. A dissertation must contain your own original research, and must advance a new point of view or make a substantial contribution to your field. A dissertation is generally composed of: an abstract, an introduction, a literature review, a discussion of your methods and results, your references, and an index.

Like practice! A “practicum” is a class or work experience tied to your graduate studies that gives you the chance to get hands-on experience in your area of study. A practicum usually lasts the length of a class or semester.

A paper in which you propose your thesis or dissertation topic. This will usually include your research question, your reasoning for choosing it, and the methods you intend to use to answer it. Requirements vary by field and institution, and some must be presented orally as well as submitted in writing.

A specific area of study within your field (such as Asian-American studies within Ethnic Studies, or Biomedical Engineering within Engineering). Similar to an emphasis or a concentration, specialization is a way to show how your work is focused. Some specializations will appear on your transcripts, depending on how your department is organized. What may be a department or program at one institution may be a specialization at another and vice versa.

A “thesis” is often the final requirement for a Master’s degree. It’s form and length will depend on your area of study, though a standard written thesis is usually between 25-100 pages in length.

Administrative Terms

An acronym for “All But Dissertation.” PhD students who are ABD have completed all their coursework and have passed their comps/prelims. Once you are ABD, you are a PhD candidate rather than a PhD student.

The final presentation of your research and dissertation/thesis, given to your committee. Following your presentation, the committee will ask questions about your work, methods, and results.

Your exam or dissertation “committee” is a group of professors you choose to oversee your graduate work. The chair of the committee is usually your faculty advisor, with whom you share a specialization or area of interest. This committee usually sets and oversees your exams as well as your thesis/dissertation defense.

An academic resume. Where a resume is designed to promote you as a job candidate, a CV is an exhaustive list of your studies, writing, teaching, and experience. It will include degrees earned, positions held, talks given, publications, etc.

Who you’re studying with! A “Department” consists of dedicated space, faculty, staff, and budget. They administer degrees (undergraduate and graduate). Often a department may be for a single discipline (English), while offering other specialized programs (Literary Criticism, Composition).

The professor in your department responsible for running the graduate program, including course assignments, assistantship appointments, etc.

Your faculty advisor will guide and mentor you throughout your studies and often beyond. Your advisor will help you choose classes, form a committee, and write your proposal/prospectus and dissertation/thesis. They are also responsible for nominating you for fellowships and grants.

The administrative staff member responsible for running the day-to-day operations of the graduate program, including scheduling, payroll, and records.

The “Institutional Review Board” reviews and approves all research involving human subjects. If your dissertation, thesis, or other project includes studying people, you MUST get IRB approval. Each university has its own IRB and associated procedures.

Sometimes life happens! If you are facing difficult personal circumstances, sometimes a department will offer you a “Leave of Absence,” which will allow you to take some time (usually up to a year) off from your program. An LOA will hit pause on your progress, ensuring you can continue to be in good standing when you come back.

Tenure is the ultimate goal of an academic career–it is a guaranteed faculty position, earned through publication, research, and teaching competency. It was designed to ensure that teachers could practice academic freedom without fear of getting fired.
Ex: some of your professors who have worked at your university may be tenured!

 The highest degree achievable in a field, such as a PhD or an MFA.

The amount of time you have to complete your program.

Still have questions? Need clarification? Feel free to reach out to your Coach! Or, email programs@collegeforward.org to get connected to a College Success Coach.

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