As students are finally settling into the flow of classes and coursework given to them by their professors, seniors at Christopher Newport University are facing yet another challenge: the prospect of graduate school.
Every year, seniors must decide if they wish to continue their education by attending graduate school or try their luck with the job market.
Many opt for grad school because it is required for their field or they believe they will earn a higher salary with a master’s degree.
The ultimate worry is whether all the work and money that goes in to grad school will be worth the outcome.
Some fields require a master’s degree as the minimum level of education, such as law, medicine, and education.
For other fields like business, a master’s degree is optional but highly recommended and leads to a higher salary.
Mike Henle, a career counselor at the Center for Career Planning at CNU, said that going to grad school should be looked at on a case-by-case basis.
“I think every student’s situation is different when it comes down to this. Sometimes you get more out of graduate school by going to the work force for a couple of years after undergrad, especially if you do it in the field that you’re going to go to grad school for,” said Henle. “Then when you go to grad school, you can bring in some of that real-life, real-job experience into the graduate program. Many grad programs really like having students coming that have been working in their field. It adds a lot more richness to their programs, to the in-class discussions.”
Many students attend grad school in order to increase their chances of finding a job after graduation. According to e-Campus, 28 percent more companies plan to hire grads with an MBA in 2012 than they did in 2011. The unemployment rate for engineers with a graduate degree has dropped to 2 percent from a previous 6.4 percent.
More than 90 percent of students who graduate with a Master’s in Nursing find a job within six months. It is clear from these numbers that job opportunities are a positive result from going to grad school.
What students worry about most is cost. Many students are already in debt from loans that funded their undergraduate degree.
According to eCampus, the average tuition cost for a year of graduate school at a public university is $8,763. At a private university it would cost $20,368 per year.
On average, the amount of student debt someone with a professional degree would have after graduation is $80,000.
eCampus’ statistics state that it would take more than 10 years to pay off that loan, if the graduate is earning at least $114,000 per year. While the amount of potential debt seems daunting, Henle tells students not to panic.
“Don’t be shocked by the tuition. Tuition is expensive, but you can finance your education quite well if you get a graduate assistanceship, a teaching assistanceship or research assistanceship,” said Henle. “They can waive 50 to 100 percent of your tuition and pay you either a stipend or an hourly wage.”
He recommends looking into available assistanceships during the application process. For those who decide to go into the workforce first, many employers provide financial assistance for graduate school.
Fortunately, the average income for graduate degree holding workers is much higher than the average income, which is about $43,000 per year. Those in the medical profession had a median salary of more than $200,000 per year, according to eCampus.
Those holding law degrees who work for private practice firms earn more than $100,000. Those working for public firms can earn about $60,000 per year.
Aside from a sizeable investment of money, graduate school also requires a large investment of time. Henle said that some programs last more than five years, depending on the field and level of degree a student is working toward. Certain fields require more school than others.
“If you’re interested in higher education, whether faculty or working in administration, it’s pretty much a requirement,” said Henle. “To really have good career outcomes as faculty, you just about have to get a Ph.D. That opens up a lot of options for you in terms of schools that will employ you, it opens up the requirements for not only teaching but research. You have a lot more opportunities in terms of number of schools [and] pay-level. A master’s degree doesn’t help you enough if you want to be a faculty person at a university or college.”
The level of degree a field requires is something students should consider when researching what schools they want to apply to. The application process also requires time and energy. Henle recommends starting the process during the spring semester of junior year.
“I prefer to see students talking and doing their research into schools no later than the end of spring semester their junior year,” said Henle. “That’s going to mean a very busy summer of continuing to research schools, start looking at deadlines, start doing graduate examinations and then getting all the applications in usually by December of senior year, or January and February.”
His biggest piece of advice to students is to keep track of all their deadlines, either by a calendar, a Word document, or an Excel spreadsheet. He also advises getting all the materials a school requires together as early as possible.
“Most students have to consider more than one school. That means deadlines are different, you’re going to prepare more than one application,” Henle said. “The[re are] deadlines for applications, deadlines for letters of recommendations, deadlines for other materials, deadlines for transcripts, deadlines for grad exams–all of that. Deadlines are so critical.”
Students should also give their professors plenty of time to put together letters of recommendation, as professors tend to get very busy once school starts.
At the end of the day, the student must put all the factors together to decide if graduate school is the right choice for them. It requires a lot of time, money, and research but may be worth it if it helps a student achieve their career goals.