You are here

Graduate School or Professional School?

How is graduate school different from professional school?

Graduate school is for students interested in earning a masters or doctoral degree. Graduate study in the biological sciences can lead to careers in academia as a faculty member and professor, or even as a full-time researcher. A graduate degree can also lead to a career in bio-industry. Unlike professional schools that are primarily coursework-based, graduate school is research-based and is driven by students’ interests.

In the sciences, professional school usually prepares students for a service profession rather than a research or academic career. Students interested in health careers requiring professional school training (e.g., medicine, dentistry, nursing, veterinary medicine, pharmacy) are strongly encouraged to visit the Center for Pre-Health Advising. This comprehensive service offers academic and career planning advice.

How do I know if graduate school is right for me?

Since graduate degrees revolve around research, the best way to decide if graduate school is right for you is to try research as an undergraduate. If you enjoy it and are driven to find out more, graduate school might be the choice for you. Visit the undergraduate research section of this website to learn how to find a research opportunity…on campus, somewhere else in the U.S., or abroad. There are summer as well as academic-year experiences, and you can get credit or get paid for some of them.

How do I find and apply for graduate programs?

To find the graduate programs that are best for you…

  • Look early, as you may want to make choices about your undergraduate education based on the requirements or trends of graduate programs.
  • Use online tools like the National Academies Data-Based Assessment of Research-Doctorate Programs in the United States (updated 4/29/11) This amazing resource lists graduate school programs in a wide range of disciplines and allows you to sort the programs based on your preferences and interests. It includes detailed program information and links to home pages. Two other useful websites are and
  • Attend research conferences to meet people from different graduate programs and find out more about the breadth of research.
  • Ask the people in the lab where you’re working.
  • Stay open to advice and new experiences.
  • Compare programs based on your personal priorities using the handy spreadsheet below: grad_school_comparison.xls.

Here are some tools for applying to graduate school:

  • UW-Madison alum Nick Ellis, who was accepted at top schools in his field, put together a presentation about the application process that you can download in PDF format below: GradSchoolTips.pdf. It includes a timeline, as well as tips for getting good recommendations, writing a personal statement, preparing for the GRE, and interviewing.
  • The UW-Madison Writing Center offers writing workshops focused on graduate school application essays and statements of purpose. They also offer individual appointments for getting feedback on your application.
Files:  File Grad_school_Comparison.xlsx PDF icon GradSchoolTips.pdf