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 Handshake @ Illinois 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.


Female professor teaching real analysis to graduate students in Altgeld Hall.

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 international students hoping to attend graduate school in the United States, the application process can seem a little intimidating. The key to getting in is to stay organized and ask for help when you need it. International students and domestic students go through the same application process.

If you are a foreign applicant, however, there are a few extra things you should do:

Make sure you have enough money to pay for school and living expenses. While some graduate programs give financial aid and grants to foreign students, some do not. Be sure you can cover all your costs (including plane tickets home for vacations) if you don’t receive a grant.

Know the deadlines. Be sure you know when all parts of your application are due, and send everything in as early as possible. If you live abroad, it may take several weeks for applications to reach you and a few more weeks for any materials you send to reach the school.

Find out the transcript requirements. You’ll probably need transcripts from every university you attended. Also, most graduate programs require you to submit a transcript evaluation along with your actual transcript. A transcript evaluation allows admissions officers to assess your undergraduate coursework and equate it to U.S. standards. There are fee-based services that provide these evaluations. Investigate them early and thoroughly.

Prepare thoroughly for the GRE. The majority of graduate programs in the United States require that you take the Graduate Record Examination (GRE). While you can take the test more than once, most schools prefer to see no more than two or three scores on your score report. Don’t use the actual exam for practice. Instead, take a free online practice GRE.

Write, rewrite and rewrite your statement of purpose. Have a native English speaker read it to make sure you haven’t made any major mistakes. Do NOT, however, get someone else to write your statement for you. You will be immediately rejected if (and when) you are caught.

Begin the application for a student visa immediately after you’re accepted. If you’re late in applying for a visa, you could miss the first few weeks of classes. Your program will be able to help you with the paperwork. You will probably need to prove that you have the funds for at least one year of study in order to obtain your visa.


To begin your search for funding, visit this searchable database: 


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 Handshake @ Illinois to schedule an appointment.