Abbreviations and Graduate School Jargon

Academic graduate education: This is a graduate education that emphasizes performing and evaluating research in a specific field, such as literature or biochemistry.

Academic master's degrees: These are the broad Master of Arts (M.A.) or Master of Sciences (M.S.) degrees, usually awarded in the traditional arts, sciences, and humanities disciplines. M.S. degrees are also awarded in technical fields such as engineering and agriculture.

Assistantship: A graduate assistantship granted to a student who is admitted to a graduate program for the purpose of earning a master’s or doctoral degree. The position usually involves teaching, research, or working as a staff assistant in exchange for free or reduced tuition as well as other possible benefits, such as health insurance, and/or a monthly stipend.

Comprehensive Exams: A test that covers a broad base of material. It assesses the student's knowledge and capacities to earn a given graduate degree. Depending on the program, it may test course knowledge, knowledge of your proposed research area, but also general knowledge in the field. Nearly all doctoral programs and some master's programs require that students complete comprehensive exams. It is only when a student passes comps that he or she can begin the dissertation, the final phase of a doctoral student's studies. Not all master's programs offer or require that students complete comprehensive exams.

Dissertation: A Ph.D. dissertation is a lengthy, formal document that argues in defense of a particular thesis. Two important adjectives used to describe a dissertation are "original'' and "substantial.'' The research performed to support a thesis must be both, and the dissertation must show it to be so. In particular, a dissertation highlights original contributions to the discipline.

Fellowship: A fellowship is a funding opportunity typically in the form of a scholarship or grant that can be awarded to students in graduate school for a particular purpose.  Award amounts vary on amount, but often may cover such costs as tuition, housing, books, and living expenses.  In exchange, fellowship recipients sometimes may be expected to conduct research, publish articles, or fulfill other scholarly or career obligations.

GMAT: Acronym for Graduate Management Admission Test, a standardized test required for admission to a graduate business school.

GRE: Acronym for Graduate Record Examination, a standardized exam usually required for admission to graduate schools. There are two types of GRE, the General Test, which covers writing, math, and verbal skills and the Subject Tests, which focus on one area of study. Subject Tests are available for the following fields: biochemistry, cell and molecular biology, biology, chemistry, computer science, literature in English, mathematics, physics, and psychology. Check the graduate programs you are applying to in order to determine if you will need to take the GRE, or which type(s) you will need to take.

Internship: Work experience as part of a field of study, which usually takes place over several months. It may be full-time, may require you to move, and could be paid. An internship may be required for graduation from a graduate program but may be waived under certain circumstances.

LSAT: Acronym for Law School Admission Test, a standardized test required for admission to law school.

MCAT: Acronym for Medical College Admissions Test, a standardized test required for admission to medical school.

Orals: These are essentially final exams for graduate school, which are sometimes required for master's-level programs and doctoral degrees. These comprehensive exams are presented verbally and usually graded by a small committee of professors who will require you to demonstrate your mastery of the concepts you've covered in your studies.

Ph.D. (Doctor of Philosophy): This is an advanced degree beyond the master's level, which requires further courses as well as several years of original research culminating in a dissertation.

Practicum: A work experience or hands-on portion of a class offered in graduate schools. For instance, clinical psychology students may spend 8 hours a week seeing clients to fulfill requirements for some classes. A practicum is smaller in scope than an internship and usually only lasts as long as the length of the course which requires it.

Professional graduate education: This is a graduate education that emphasizes learning the skills and knowledge necessary to practice a profession such as attending medical school or studying social work.

Terminal master's degree: Terminal degrees are usually seen as the maximum level of education available in a given field, but it typically is not required for obtaining initial employment related to the subject.

Thesis: A thesis is a hypothesis or conjecture usually used in master's programs to present the author's research and findings. Your thesis is your shining academic achievement, an original and significant contribution to research in your field.


Adapted from Peterson'