When students decide to go to graduate school, they are faced making choices in several different areas, like degree type, school choice, and paying for school.

graduate Degree program Type

Graduate degrees are broken down into two types: doctoral and master’s degree. To some extent, career choice will dictate which graduate degree field to choose. For example, if you want to be a medical doctor, you will go the Doctor of Medicine (M.D.) route. Because of specialization at this degree level, this rationale holds true for most professional doctoral degree fields. However, for students seeking a master’s degree, the choice may be more general in nature.

According to a recent report from Sallie Mae, 28% of graduate students select the doctoral route while 72% go the master’s route. These percentages are further broken down into the different types within each degree level:


  • Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D) – 41%
  • Doctor of Medicine (M.D.) – 21%
  • Doctor of Education (Ed.D.) – 17%
  • Juris Doctor (J.D.), including Doctor of Juridical Science (S.J.D.) – 17%
  • Doctor of Dental Surgery (D.D.S.), including Dental Medicine (D.M.D.) – 4%


  • Master of Science (M.S.) – 48%
  • Master of Arts (M.A.) – 24%
  • Master of Business Administration (M.B.A.) – 22%
  • Master of Laws (LL.M.) – 4%
  • Master of Fine Arts (M.F.A.) – 2%

School Choice

Another interesting find in the report are the three considerations that went into selecting a school. The top three are:

  • School quality
  • Personal convenience
  • Cost

School quality

Data in the report showed that 4 in 10 students chose this consideration to be the driving force behind their school selection. The three top factors affecting their choice of school choice in descending order were:

  • An academic program in their chosen career field
  • Prestige of the school
  • Track record of the school’s job placement

Personal convenience

This was another major concern with slightly more than 4 in 10 students choosing a school based on:

  • Flexible coursework
  • Location
  • Personal reasons, like activities available and religious affiliation


This consideration came in a distant third and just over 1/10th of grad students chose a school based on cost, and in particular the financial aid package available and cost of attendance. Whether the school was public or private did not seem to be a factor as the students were split fairly evenly at 52%/47% – private/public, respectively.

Paying for school

While the average amount spent on graduate school during the 2016/2017 academic year was $24,812, it was surprisingly not that much more than the average spent in undergraduate programs – $23,757. What was different is how graduate students funded their education.

On average, the funding of graduate degrees came from the following sources:

  • Student borrowing – 53%
  • Someone else borrowing for them – 1%
  • Grants and scholarships – 15%
  • External contributions – 7%
  • Student earnings – 24%

Benefits received from the GI Bill falls under student earnings, but only accounted for 3% of the student earnings. This is due to two main factors: not having GI Bill benefits left to use for graduate school and only a small percentage of students having served in the military.

Conserving GI Bill Education Benefits

Addressing the first factor, there are two great ways to keep GI Bill benefits in reserve, so they are available to use in graduate school:

  • If still serving, get a bachelor’s degree while still on active duty by maximizing the use of Tuition Assistance. It is free money and does not reduce GI Bill education benefits.
  • If transitioning out soon or already out, consider paying out-of-pocket to attend a community college for the first two years. Then use your GI Bill to finish the last two years of your bachelor’s degree and have enough left to help fund two years of graduate school. It makes financial sense to pay the cheaper tuition at a community college than the higher graduate school tuition, which can be 10 times more expensive than at a community college.

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Kness retired in November 2007 as a Senior Noncommissioned Officer after serving 36 years of service with the Minnesota Army National Guard of which 32 of those years were in a full-time status along with being a traditional guardsman. Kness takes pride in being able to still help veterans, military members, and families as they struggle through veteran and dependent education issues.