Before you start to research, be sure you are familiar with the terms and concepts commonly associated with graduate school.  These terms often represent key components of graduate programs that you will need to understand before you commit to a program:

  • Thesis: Research paper completed after course work for master’s degree; the length varies to as many as 75 pages
  • Dissertation: Extensive research paper completed after course work for a doctorate; usually more in-depth than a thesis and may exceed a hundred pages in length
  • Nonthesis option: Option to take 12 or more additional hours as a substitute for a thesis
  • Comps: Written and/or oral exams administered at the end of course work for graduate programs.  Oral exams are administered by a committee of faculty members for the program (students may or may not be allowed to contribute to the composition of the committee)
  • Thesis or dissertation committee: Faculty members who direct and evaluate the development of your thesis or dissertation
  • Cohort: A group of people sharing a common demographic; many graduate programs may be cohort based meaning, each year, the new group of students start and end at the same time and primarily adhere to a strict curriculum of courses which they take together
  • Full load: Nine hours (9 hours is a heavy load in graduate school)
  • Major professor or advisor: The faculty member who most closely guides your work
  • Professional graduate degree: Can be earned at the master’s, specialist and doctoral levels; designed to prepare individuals for specific professions like law, medicine, college student personnel, education, and many others
  • Research graduate degree: Can be earned at the master’s, specialist and doctoral levels; designed to contribute original research to a particular discipline such as the humanities, the social sciences, engineering, communication, and may others
  • GA: Graduate assistant
  • TA: Teaching assistant
  • RA: Research assistant or residence assistant
  • Failing grade: A "C" may be considered a failing grade; most graduate programs require students to earn A’s and B’s
  • Residency requirement: Required on-campus full-time residence at the university; varies by institution
  • Reading list: Materials to be read in preparation for comps
  • GSA: Graduate Student Association

Portions of this website were adapted with permission from The University of Tennessee in Knoxville’s Admission Guide for Graduate School.