Graduate and Professional School

Making the decision to go to graduate school is one that takes time and careful planning. It is also one that can be tremendously rewarding and challenging.  No matter where you are in the process, ECS can assist you!  To meet with an ECS Advisor to discuss your interest in graduate or professional school, please visit I-Link to schedule an appointment.

Ask yourself and research the answers to these questions:

  • How long will it take?
  • How much will it cost?
  • Am I ready to do the work?
  • Is this going to make a difference for my career and long-term income?
  • If I need to take out student loans, is it still worth it?
  • Should I gain work experience first?


  • You are passionate about scholarly work and academic study.
  • You are certain about your career path and, after researching this field extensively, you know that an advanced degree will either be a requirement or significantly help you reach your career goals or improve your income potential.
  • You enjoy pursuing your own research topics in a specific field independently and can envision yourself conducting such research for several years to come.


  • I do not know what else to do.
  • I can put off paying my college loans.
  • My parents/teachers expect me to go.
  • It is a way to avoid finding a real job.


Although many students speak generically of “graduate school” to refer to any form of study undertaken after completing a bachelor’s degree, it is important to keep in mind that there are several varieties:


  • “Professional school” is the name given to schools that prepare students for careers in medicine, law, business, education, journalism, divinity, and other fields where a clear set of methods is central to their practice.
  • Each year, many U of I engineering graduates decide to attend professional schools, including medical school. Students interested in medical school typically make abundant use of both Engineering Career Service Premed Advising Services as well as The Career Center Health Professions Advising resources.   For more information about applying to medical school please visit: .


There are numerous options for getting a graduate degree as an engineer.  While many students pursue a degree in their current field of engineering (Civil, Electrical, Computer/Software, etc.); many engineers actually choose to earn a similar, but different degree, such as Engineering Management or Project Management.

  • Professional Master’s Degree:  A professional master’s degree is a non-thesis, non-research degree.   These programs are practice-oriented degrees, in which one seeks to obtain deeper post-graduate training in a discipline prior to undertaking its practice.  Most professional master’s degree programs range between one and two years in duration.  Most professional master’s degree do require the student to provide funding, i.e., students will pay for their own tuition and fees.
  • Master’s with Thesis Degree:  A master’s with thesis degree is a research-based master’s degree that requires students to complete graduate-level coursework, research, and write/deposit a thesis.  Most master’s degree programs with thesis are approximately two years in duration.  Students will often receive funding for their education in addition to working as a research or teaching assistant.
  • Before pursuing a Master’s degree: If you are planning a career in industry, then it would be a good idea to consult with prospective employers about their view of a master’s degree. There will be variation from one industry to another as to whether the master’s degree is seen as a desirable entry credential or if it is more commonly something that people do after several years on the job. In the latter case, ask whether the company has a plan under which they will pay for you to receive the master’s degree. Although U of I faculty members, as professional researchers, may frequently be more familiar with doctoral programs, those with close ties to industry should be able to comment on the value of a master’s degree in the field you plan to pursue and to suggest institutions with strong master’s programs in that area.


Doctoral programs lead to the Ph.D. degree, which is the fundamental qualification for conducting independent scholarly research.  Although a master’s degree may be awarded incidentally in the course of a Ph.D. program, and some students who start out as master’s candidates might stay on to complete a Ph.D., there is sometimes little connection between terminal master’s degree programs and Ph.D. programs, even if they are conducted by the same faculty. If research is your primary interest at this point, then you should be considering Ph.D. programs.

While pursuing a Ph.D.,  you will be closely affiliated with a single department, even with a single professor, often from the beginning of your work.  His or her job is to provide intellectual vision and guidance, to represent the research group at conferences and other professional meetings, and to raise money, while graduate students and post-docs (scientists doing a sort of post-Ph.D. apprenticeship before taking up a long-term faculty appointment) conduct much of the actual research.  You will be expected to devote many hours to your research and related professional development activities, such as helping to teach courses.

The fundamental distinction is: master’s=practice, doctorate=research.

For more information about graduate and professional programs, please visit this College of Engineering site: Road Map to Graduate School to find more information, advice, tips and resources.


To meet with an ECS Advisor to discuss your interest in graduate or professional school, please visit I-Link to schedule an appointment.