Graduate or professional school permits you to earn a master's (about 2 years) or doctoral degree (4-6 years) after completing your undergraduate degree.
You do not necessarily have to earn a master's degree before pursuing a doctoral degree. You may be able to enter a Ph.D. program immediately after finishing college.
You do not go to graduate school and then select a major or field of study the way you do in college and you can't just "change your major" or program after admission. Instead, you actually have to apply to the specific program you want to attend at a specific university. For example, you don't just apply to UW-Madison for graduate school. You decide what you want to do as a career, and then apply to graduate programs in that field at different institutions. For instance, you could apply to human development and family studies programs at UW-Madison, Iowa State University, and UW-Stout.
You do not have to have a bachelor's degree in the same field for which you attend graduate school. For example, you do not need a bachelor's in social work to pursue a master's in social work. However, graduate programs may have pre-requisite coursework that does necessitate a specific major or at least a minor. For instance, it often takes longer for those without a bachelor's in social work (two years instead of one) to complete a master's in social work because they have to take foundational classes that BSW students took in college. As another example, occupational therapy graduate programs require significant background in the natural sciences, and the human development major alone would probably not be sufficient for admission; a second major in human biology may be needed. Human Development, though, provides wonderful knowledge of interdisciplinary perspectives on growth and change, along with strong skills, that should enhance your work in both of the fields described above!
Graduate school admission is a time-consuming process. Students are encouraged to think about applying as the equivalent of taking another three credit class during that semester.
Graduate school admission is highly competitive. Even if programs list minimum requirements on their websites, meeting those minimums does not necessarily tell you anything about your chances of acceptance. Most programs receive many more applications than they can accommodate, so they can be as selective with those applications as they choose (e.g., a program could list a minimum GPA of 3.0, but the average GPA of those students who are accepted could actually be closer to a 3.6).
Many, if not the majority, of graduate programs do not have spring admissions, so students can only begin their studies in the fall semester of an academic year.
Application deadlines for graduate school are typically six months or more before you would actually begin your studies (i.e., application deadlines usually fall between Dec. 1 and Feb. 15 of your senior year of college).
The criteria for admission to graduate school are different from institution to institution and program to program. However, most programs tends to consider (not necessarily in this order): GPA, standardized test scores (e.g., the GRE, if required), letters of recommendation from faculty, relevant research experience, relevant applied experience, and the applicant's personal statement (a formal admission essay).
To be competitive, students should begin taking classes and building relevant experiences as early as possible. There are steps you can take even as a first-year student to improve your chances later.
Don't be discouraged! Our students have an excellent track record of successful admission into a wide range of graduate programs over the years. If you would like to see some specific examples, you can refer to the annual survey conducted by Career Services about the immediate post-graduation plans of students in each major. These include a list of graduate programs students will be attending. Simply visit their website, select "Results by Major," and look for Human Development.
Is Graduate School for You?
Should you go? Why Graduate School? How do I find the right graduate school?