Graduate degrees are either academic or professional. Academic degrees focus on original research, whereas professional degrees stress the practical application of knowledge and skills required for practicing in the profession. Master's degrees may take one to three years to earn, and doctorates generally take four more years to complete. If you intend to pursue a doctorate, you may elect to earn a master's degree first, then proceed to select a different university, or somewhat different program of study, for your doctoral work. If time is important to you, you might consider a Master's/Doctoral combination program.
For many fields, the Master's may be the only professional degree needed for employment; examples are the Master of Business Administration (M.B.A.), the Master of Social Work (M.S.W.), and the Master of Fine Arts (M.F.A.). For other careers, the doctorate is necessary for practicing in the field; such degrees are the Doctor of Medicine (M.D.), the Juris Doctor (J.D.), and for college teaching in a specific discipline, the Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)
As you evaluate each program, consider such factors as the quality of the faculty, special concentrations, and courses related to your interests, the prestige of the institution, the facilities, the overall cost, placement opportunities, housing, geographic location, surrounding community, and any other factors of personal importance. See if there might be graduate assistantships available from the department you will be studying with.
If you are not sure which route to take, discuss potential program and career options with a faculty advisor or other mentor. Review journals in your field and see which professors are doing research and publishing in your area of interest; you may want to write them for advice on the best programs to consider given your stated interests.
If possible, visit the schools that appeal to you and talk with faculty and current graduate students for a clearer perspective.
Here is a list of some Things to consider when checking out a campus. (PDF)
Career Services Resource Room – houses directories of graduate and professional schools across the country