If you're thinking of seeking an advanced degree to change careers, get a promotion or re-enter the job market, "You're far from alone," says Edward Caress.

"In the past 10 to 15 years," notes the assistant dean of George Washington University's Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, "there's been an enormous change in the makeup of the graduate student body.

"Most of our part-time students are re-tooling for a new career, or to advance in their present job. We're seeing a lot of re-entry women, and we've got a number of retired civil servants, military and Foreign Service people in our Ph.D. program. There's never been a better time to be an older person going to school."

Older -- and younger -- prospective graduate and professional students can hear Caress discuss the "Why, When and Where of Going to Graduate School" as part of next week's graduate and professional "school days," sponsored by a dozen Washington-area universties.

The Tuesday-Wednesday event in GWU's Marvin Center ballroom will feature free workshops on the admissions process for law school and graduate school, financial aid, entrance tests and choosing a program. Participants also can "school-shop" by talking with representatives from nearly 200 colleges.

"It makes sense to go around and visit as many schools as possible," says Caress, "to see what is advised and offered. An event like this will allow someone to see more people in one afternoon than they might be able to do on their own in weeks."

To make best use of the resources offered, Caress advises; "Have your goal in mind. Look at your skills and interests, and your career orientation. gThat way you can determine what type of program and degree will best help you reach that goal.

"For example, a Ph.D. is traditionally required to teach at college level.

So if that's your goal you'll need a Ph.D. For other occupations -- or perhaps for a pay increase on your present job -- you might want a masters."

Humanities programs usually require earning a masters before entering a Ph.D. program, says Caress. "But in sciences it's typical to go straight from a bachelors into a Ph.D. program."

A Ph.D. says Caress, "is a research degree.It may be research in a library, or research in a laboratory, and involves a singificant commitment of time (4 to 6 years full time)."

A masters may be useful "as advanced training for your job, to set you up a grade higher, or to change directions to another career entirely. In the Washington area it's very common for someone in a government-related position to take a masters part time.

"An English major who winds up working with a council on environmental quality may go back for a master of science degree like (GW's) in regulatory policy."

A traditional masters program for a full-time student, says Caress, involves either 24 hours of course work and 6 hours of thesis, or 36 hours of course work -- usually completed in 2 to 2 1/2 years. Part-time masters students normally can only take 6 hours a semester.

Many prospective advanced-degree students, particularly those re-entering college, "take one or two courses to see -- given age, ability and home situation -- whether they can handle it."

Caress advises such students to consult an adviser from the degree program they eventually hope to enter, just to make sure those credits would be applicable in the future.