Graduate Studies: Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
Graduate degrees are required for certain careers. For other careers, these degrees may help you to be more competitive in applying for positions with more responsibilities and higher salaries. The type of degree and the area of study will depend upon the profession you choose.
On this page:
- types of degrees
- MSU Department of Zoology programs
- preparation (courses, degrees)
- mentoring at MSU
- finding programs
- applications, admission requirements, tests
Generally, graduate work occurs at two levels: Master's and Doctoral.
I. Studies leading to a Master's degree usually involve specialized course work in a specific scientific area and perhaps laboratory and library research resulting in a thesis. These can take anywhere from 2 - 4 years. The M in the degree stands for Master. The second initial stands for the type of degree, e.g.
- M.A. = Master of Arts in __________ (a liberal arts field)
- M.S. = Master of Science in _________(a science area).
The Master's degree can be used in two ways:
- as credential in itself, like the Bachelor's degree;
- as a stepping-stone to doctoral work.
II. Doctoral studies include even more specialized course work and very involved laboratory / field and library research activity. The course work, research and resulting production of a publishable manuscript can take at least three years - usually far longer. The degree awarded at this level is a Ph.D. (Doctor of Philosophy) for most fields, whether science, liberal arts, social sciences, etc.
What fields of study are available?
Graduate studies (Master's or Ph.D.) may be done in:
- any of the disciplines that one studied as an undergraduate (Zoology, Psychology, Anthropology, etc.).
- interdisciplinary areas. In MSU's College of Natural Science, some examples of these programs include Cognitive Science; Ecology, Evolutionary Biology, and Behavior; Environmental Science and Policy or Quantitative Biology and Modeling.
- "professional" graduate programs.
What is a professional graduate degree?
"Professional" graduate programs usually prepare one for entry into a specific profession. Examples include human, osteopathic or veterinary medicine, dentistry, public health, optometry or podiatry. Depending upon the field of study, these degrees may be earned at either the Master's or the Doctoral level.
In a Professional Master's degree, the initials following the "M" indicate the type of degree. For example,
- M.B.A. = Business Administration
- M.P.H. = Public Health
- M.F.A. = Fine Arts.
Professional Doctoral degrees normally take 3 - 5 years to complete. Classroom work covering very specialized material usually fills the first year; it can occupy up to three years. These courses are followed by 1.5 years [or more] of clinical or other hands-on experience.. The initials with the "D" indicate the type of degree. For example:
- M.D. = Doctor of Medicine
- D.O. = Doctor of Osteopathy
- D.V.M. = Doctor of Veterinary Medicine.
Sometimes the schools will offer the same type of degree but have different arrangements of letters:
- D.V.M. = Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (MSU)
- V.M.D. = Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (U. Penn.).
Do all graduate programs offer both Master's and Doctoral degrees?
No. In the past, the Master's degree was viewed as a necessary stepping stone to the Doctoral degree. Students were often encouraged to complete a Master's at one institution and a Doctoral degree at another.
These days, a few institutions still may offer both degrees. More frequently, however, you will find that programs offering only one or the other.
M.S.U.'s Department of Zoology offers a professional Master's degree (proMSc) in Zoo and Aquarium Science Management. This interdisciplinary Master's program builds upon the B.S. in Zoo and Aquarium Science. Students will complete 30 credits of courses that combine advanced zoological knowledge, theory, and skills, with specialization within the student's chosen field, as well as a summer internship at a participating institution. Alongside these courses, students complete the Business Management and Communications Skills Certificate Program offered by The Graduate School.
Where do I get more information about the MSU Department of Zoology's graduate program?
Can I complete a graduate degree while finishing my undergraduate degree?
MSU's College of Natural Science offers its students the opportunity to pursue a dual degree (BS / MS) from departments within the College. The BS and the MS do not have to be from the same Department although in most cases they are. To apply, students must have completed a minimum of 60 undergraduate credits and have a minimum 3.0 GPA (overall and in CNS courses). They also should have approval for admission from the department to the respective graduate program. Each individual class can only be counted once - toward either the undergraduate or the graduate degree.
My undergraduate degree has nothing to do with what I want to study in graduate school. Does that matter?
Yes, it does. Your graduate studies will build upon the foundation that you established with your undergraduate coursework. In your undergraduate curriculum, you should have gained a fairly detailed overview of the field. In graduate school, you will delve into a particular area of that field in much more detail.
In some cases, however, the graduate studies you wish to pursue may be so specific that it is not possible to gain an overview of exactly that field as an undergraduate. In this instance, you should obtain a strong background in a closely related field. For example, any of the Zoology undergraduate programs may provide adequate background for M.S. or Ph.D. level training in Zoology, or for graduate studies in related fields, such as Fisheries and Wildlife, Zoo and Aquarium Science or Environmental Studies.
I want to go to graduate school in Zoology. Are there advantages/disadvantages to choosing a BS in Environmental Biology/Zoology major rather than a BS Zoology with a particular concentration?
Whichever degree in the MSU Zoology program you choose, you will have a strong foundation in basic science (biology; chemistry; physics) as well as calculus and perhaps statistics. On that base, you then add 33 credits in upper level Zoology (and occasionally other sciences like microbiology; biochemistry or Fisheries & Wildlife) courses. Thus, your undergraduate curriculum will give you a fairly detailed overview of the field.
In graduate school, you will delve into a particular area of that field in much more detail, applying the information and skills you gained from your undergraduate coursework.
So is a graduate program going to care what major you chose? It depends upon the program. You will have a strong science foundation, which is essential. Most graduate schools will not expect you to have gone into depth on a particular topic, because that is what one does in a graduate program. If you need the information from a course you may not have taken as an undergraduate in order to complete your graduate studies, you usually can take that course as part of your graduate curriculum.
On the other hand, a particular graduate program may expect a certain body of knowledge and skills in its students.
Therefore, check with each program you are interested in. Find out from each one what is desirable.
Can I be mentored by a current graduate student?
Yes. The Graduate Women in Science - MSU Chapter can connect an undergraduate (whether female or male) with a mentor.
Once you know the field of Zoology that you wish to study, conduct a web search to find schools with relevant programs. Professional organizations associated with that field, such as FASEB, may list relevant programs. Read research papers in the relevant professional journals to find out who is conducting research that might interest you; then find out where that individual teaches and conducts research. Students interested in graduate work in Zoology or related fields then should contact a Zoology faculty member for names of appropriate graduate schools.
It is better for you to have a few years in the workforce befoire applying to graduate school. First, graduate programs are much more narrowly focused than undergraduate programs. Graduate programs also often are quite short in duration. By having clear goals and ideas about what you intend to study before you apply, you will get the most out of the program.
Graduate programs, too, ask you to have a clear set of expectations, and that clarity often only comes after one has spent a few years in the workforce.
When do I apply for graduate school?
Each school will set irs own application deadlines, so be sure to be sure to double-check the dates. Applications to graduate school, particularly if they include an application for financial aid, usually are due early (January-March) in the year you plan to enter. Applications to professional graduate schools, particularly if they include an application for financial aid, may be due up to a year before the year you plan to enter.
Tuition will vary according to the school you choose to attend. Many graduate programs offer stipends (payment for duties performed (e.g. teaching a lab class) for the relevant department) to eligible students. These stipends cover tuition and sometimes other expenses. You can get a sense of the cost by looking at the relevant pages for the MSU Department of Zoology graduate program pages.
Information on the application process at other schools can be obtained from web searches or by directly contacting the Admissions Office of that university. You can get a sense of this process by looking at the relevant pages for the MSU Department of Zoology graduate program pages.
Are there admission requirements for graduate schools?
The first requirement is a strong GPA. Admission to graduate programs normally requires a minimum grade point average of 3.0 for the undergraduate work and at least a comparable or higher average in zoology and related science and math courses. Many graduate schools, though, will admit only those with a significantly higher G.P.A.
Laboratory or field experience is necessary for research oriented graduate programs: these graduate programs will not even consider your application unless you have this experience.
Letters of recommendation will also be required.
Other requirements will apply too. Each program and school will determine its own set of admission requirements, so be sure to check the specific admissions requirements for EACH of the schools you choose. Graduate programs in Zoology or related fields may require additional course work in chemistry, mathematics or statistics, or specific courses, such as Genetics or GIS. Most graduate schools ask that your application be accompanied by the results of the verbal, quantitative and government portions of the Graduate Record Examination (G.R.E.), but some schools may accept, or even require, more specialized GRE tests or other tests such as the MCAT. Begin to investigate taking the G.R.E. in your junior year. I
Information on the G.R.E. is available in the MSU Testing Center, Room 207, Student Services Building. Preparatory seminars for the G.R.E. or MCAT are occasionally offered by the Learning Resource Center, Bessy Hall. Other on-campus resources available at no charge to MSU students are listed on the MSU Test Preparation Consortium webpage.
Where (on the MSU campus) can I take the GRE / MCAT / LSAT ?
Can I get help on-campus to prepare for the GRE / MCAT / LSAT / etc. ?
Do professional graduate schools have different admission requirements?
Each school will have its own set of admission requirements (entrance tests, courses, volunteer or work experience, letters of recommendation, etc.) Be sure to check with each school you wish to attend to see what those are. Some may require specific admissions tests, such as the MCAT. Additional course work may be needed to prepare for these tests. For example, students may wish to take CEM 142 (3) and CEM 162 (1) or 262 (3) to prepare for the MCAT.
Specific course background in certain areas may be required for admission to a professional school. For example, M.S.U.'s College of Veterinary Medicine requires specific science courses for admission.
See the Department of Zoology wepage for preprofessionals.