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Graduate studies are a popular destination for university students after they’ve graduated. Graduate studies are a higher level of education which tend to be more focused than anything you studied in undergrad; for example, if you studied history in university, your graduate studies might be specializing in the Renaissance period.

Not only that, but graduate studies put more focus on you, the student, doing your own work and your own research instead of attending classes and taking tests. In the sciences, for example, graduate programs are almost all about research – you will typically join a lab under the supervision of a Principal Investigator and assist in some of their research; that portion of their research will be considered your master’s project.

“What’s a ‘masters program,’” you ask? That’s what you call a graduate program. It’s so named because you earn a masters degree upon completion, such as a Master of Science (M.Sc.) or a Master of Arts (M.A.). These are typically only offered by universities.

What does it involve?

Masters programs generally last 1.5 to 2 years. The specifics depend on the school and the program in which you’re enrolled, but typically your work will be overseen by a supervisor or team of supervisors, who will monitor your progress and guide you on your way. Masters programs will also typically require a certain amount of coursework to be completed, usually in the form of seminar courses.

What does it require?

Generally, a masters program will require you to have a bachelor degree. These are usually awarded by universities, but certain colleges offer bachelor degrees as well. Although the type of bachelor degree is not usually a restricting factor (e.g. you may be able to apply for a Master of Arts program with a Bachelor of Science), it certainly can be, depending on the program. For example, a Master of Nursing program will almost undoubtedly require a Bachelor of Nursing degree – which may itself require a Bachelor of Science!

What can I do with it?

Well, job opportunities will be a lot more plentiful – and more fruitful, too. But if you just love research, or maybe want to consider teaching at a university, why not move on to a Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) program? Discuss this option with your supervisor or your school’s guidance counsellor to see if it’s right for you.



So maybe a masters program isn’t for you. Why not go back to college? Where universities offer bachelor degrees and focus on theoretical learning, colleges offer more specific degrees and focus on developing practical skills for the workplace. At a college you can learn the skills necessary to go into health care (such as nursing, medical or dental assisting), cooking and hospitality services, art and design, and more!

What does it involve?

These kinds of programs are far too varied to possibly give a broad overview here. Contact the program you're interested for further information.

What does it require?

Perhaps the most attractive thing about college programs is that they don't have the strict requirements of graduate or professional programs. After all, some people enter college from high school, so you can enter one at any time after that! However, these programs may require certain courses, or you may have to submit examples of work that you've already done (for example, to an arts and design program), so be sure to look into the specific requirements and prepare ahead of time.



If you’re looking to get into medical school or law school, among others, then professional school is what you’re looking for. These are typically the toughest schools to get into, and the admission process is highly competitive, but that’s because it’s such a popular choice for so many people and requires a high level of critical thinking.

What does it involve?

Like college programs, professional schools are extremely varied in what their programs involve, so the best way to get information is to contact your program of choice and ask directly. Your school's guidance counsellor may also be able to give you some information on what the proram you're interested in is like.

What does it require?

Going into professional school is something you’ll have to work towards from day one of your university or college career. They will typically have stringent GPA requirements for entry, and may even require you to take certain courses throughout your career, so early planning is essential. Many professional schools also require you to write a standardized test, and will weigh the score as part of your admission. Surely you’ve heard of the MCAT, for example – the Medical College Admissions Test. Or the LSAT, for those of you interested in law – the Law School Admissions Test. These tests are important, and in order to do well, you’ll want to study smart and start early. Special programs and course books exist to help you prepare for these tests, and they will likely be advertised all over your university or college campus.

Since professional programs are so competitive, you can expect there to be unwritten requirements to set you above and beyond the rest of your peers. Volunteering is an important one, so take as many opportunities as you can during your undergraduate career. If you get any other opportunity to set yourself apart – for example, taking special courses, doing a fourth-year thesis project, or applying for consideration to special awards or scholarships – take them!



Some people do indeed decide to go straight to work after graduation. Where do you start looking? Fortunately, your school is there to help you. Every school has a career centre that can help you find jobs or put you in touch with employers who are looking for skilled graduates. The best thing to do is to try and locate yours as soon as possible and make use of their services.

Canada is not lacking for job search websites – sites like Monster and Workopolis are great places to begin your job search, and let you narrow down your search criteria to include things like jobs that require a Bachelor degree.

Tips

If you’re currently working toward a Bachelor degree and plan to work instead of (or before) going into a graduate program or college, it would be a good idea to get as much work experience as you can while you’re still in university. If you’re in the sciences, try working in a lab with a professor who works in your desired field – start by volunteering, and then if you’re lucky, work your way up to a paid position. If you’re in the arts, likewise, get in contact with a professor and see what you can do for them.



Never fear. Another popular choice after undergraduate studies is to take a year or two off and just do a little work or relaxation. “Why would I want to do that?” That's a fair question; you've just spent the past few years in high gear mode, so the thought of slowing down is incomprehensible to a lot of people at that stage. The answer is simple. Sometimes you graduate and you realize you just don’t know what to do with yourself. There's a saying that goes, "The best laid plans of mice and men often go astray." In other words, sometimes things just plain don't work out the way you thought they would. Taking a year or two off is a great way to relax and figure out where you want to head next.

If you’ve got the money, some people like to take that time off and travel. Seeing the world has a way of helping you discover what’s important to you. If not, you might just want to find a job and make a change or two in your life – move in with a friend, for example, or out on your own, and get a new perspective on life.

Remember, there’s no need to rush things. Life is short, but it's not that short. Don’t be afraid to take it slow, step back, and see what the world has to offer you before going after it!