Differences in structure:

Graduate programs normally consist of courses, qualifying or comprehensive exams, and a practicum, thesis, or dissertation, but every program differs in what is required and in what order. There are no standard practices, but there are typical formats according to level and field.

  • Professional Masters – These degrees are similar to undergraduate programs in that no thesis is required, but they generally require some kind of capstone project before the degree is awarded. Examples include the MBA and the MEd.
  • Professional Masters in Health and Human Services – These degrees are often course based, but may also require a thesis and some kind of internship or practicum. Graduates must often pass a licensing exam before they can begin practice. Examples include MSW, MPH, and MS in Medical Technology or in Speech-Language Pathology.
  • Fine and Performing Arts – Students demonstrate their creative ability through performances, recitals, or works of art. Course work includes numerous studios, ensemble, or performance courses. In many programs, the Master of Fine Arts (MFA) is the terminal degree, requiring intense study not unlike doctoral work, but some programs do offer the Doctor of Fine Arts (DFA). Examples include MFA in Art, Dance, and Theatre, MMus in Music, and MA in Creative Writing.
  • Academic degrees in the Arts, Humanities, Natural and Social Sciences – At both the Master and PhD levels, students usually complete a series of courses, take comprehensive exams, write a thesis or dissertation, and pass an oral defense of their work.
  • Laboratory Sciences – At both the Master and PhD levels, students are expected to do real science in a lab with a supervising professor from the beginning. Much of this work is collaborative and will lead to a thesis or dissertation topic. Examples include MS or PhD in Biology, Chemistry, Microbiology, and Oceanography.
  • Professional Doctorates – These degrees require both course work and applied practice at the highest levels of the professions. No dissertation is required, but intense testing and practice is involved. Examples include MD, JD, and PharmD.

Course Work: Master degrees and doctorates usually require students to complete a certain number of credits. At UHM, the number of credits required varies from 30 to 60. Full time at UHM is 8 credits per semester, which indicates how much more intense this level is. Also, to remain a classified graduate student, you must maintain a 3.0 grade point average (GPA), not the 2.0 required for undergraduate work. In graduate school, you are expected to earn mostly ‘A’ grades; a ‘C’ grade indicates unsatisfactory work.

Seminars: In graduate school, many courses are seminars – discussion-based courses in which students research a subject then share their findings with the seminar group. Seminars often meet once a week for several hours.

Comprehensive Exams are most common at the doctoral level and are designed to test whether students have gained a thorough foundation in their field. Comprehensive exams range from a few hours to as long as a week; some are proctored, while others are take-home. Some doctoral programs require two exams, one that tests students’ foundation and another that tests knowledge of their specialty area. Exams often include history, current issues, and the work of leaders in the field.

Theses and Dissertations: Some, but not all, Masters degrees require theses; doctoral degrees almost always require dissertations. (Some programs use “thesis” and “dissertation” interchangeably.) The purpose of a Masters thesis is to demonstrate that the student is capable of carrying out the technical aspects of scholarship in their field. Theses are generally reviewed by a committee of at least three faculty and must be defended orally, usually in a public forum. The purpose of a doctoral dissertation is to demonstrate the student’s original and significant contribution to the field’s body of knowledge. Dissertations are generally reviewed by a committee of three to five faculty, and both the proposal to write the dissertation and the completed dissertation must be defended orally, usually in a public forum.