In Commonwealth countries, a graduate program is toward an undergraduate bachelor degree like a B.A. or B.S. But in America, a graduate course is higher than the bachelor degree; it can be a Master’s program like M.A., M.S., and M.B.A., or a doctoral program like Ph. D. The curriculum for both is a combination of research and coursework.
A graduate school, popularly called ‘grad school’, awards the degree. There’re also many universities that confer graduate degrees. One can pursue a graduate program either through a regular school or through a distance education program, which can be the distance education program of a regular school or an online college. In either case, both the college and the course should be accredited by a recognized agency.
Both regular and correspondence programs follow the same norms for admission. Admission to grad school requires completion of a bachelor’s degree with a good GPA from an accredited undergraduate school. A high grade in the area of specialization is very important.
In addition, the applicant needs to get a good GRE score. Students from non-English speaking countries need a TOEFL score. Business management courses require the GMAT test. Distance programs give more importance to work experience than to GRE/GMAT scores, in cases of older applicants.
Good recommendation letters from undergraduate instructors are a must. Many schools require the applicant to write a comprehensive Statement of Purpose (SoP) justifying his/her candidature, why s/he wants to study from that school and why s/he chose a particular area of specialization.
Higher studies in America are quite expensive. Tuition (the cost of the instruction) and fees (library, laboratory expenses etc.) comprise the cost of the program. The cost may differ from school to school, and is not indicative of quality. Private universities charge more than state universities. International and out-of-state students may be charged more. Educational loans are the popular choice to pay the costs, but funding may be tough for distance programs. Schools give financial assistance in the form of fellowships based on academic performance in the first year, and assistantships subject to performing service of around 20 hours per week related to the field of study.
The academic year lasts nine months – it starts in late August/early September and finishes in mid/late May – and is divided into Fall and Spring terms. Three to four courses are taught in each term. Performance is graded on a scale of A-D. F indicates failure. A regular Master’s program requires 30-60 credits and can be completed in one or two academic years from a regular college. A doctoral program may need 4 or 5 years or more. Distance programs take much longer. Online courses can be completed in a short time but they carry less weight than regular programs.