What’s next?

Tara Pringle

Students consider graduate school to help job outlook

Being an undergraduate student is tough. Students can spend four or five years in college, rack up countless dollars in debt from student loans, write dozens of essays and buy expensive textbooks every 15 weeks.

However, after their undergraduate studies are completed, some students opt to continue their education and enroll in graduate school. In Fall 2004, there were more than 5,300 graduate students at Kent State. These numbers reflect a 12-percent increase from Fall 2002.

Although it may seem counter intuitive, students enter graduate school to become more marketable in the eyes of prospective employers — it gives students an advantage over the competition. The Career Services Center helps students who are planning to make that leap.

“Sometimes it does help you stand out from the crowd,” said Ann Motayar, director of the Career Services Center.

The center offers help with resumes, essays, reference letters and financial concerns. Students can also take graduate school entrance exams there.

Another reason students enter graduate school is increased earning potential. A Census Bureau survey released in 2002 reported that people who hold master’s degrees have a lifetime earning potential of $2.5 million, compared to $4.4 million for people with professional degrees, such as doctors or lawyers.

“A graduate degree will bring you economic rewards,” said John L. West, vice president for research and dean of graduate studies. “But other than that, it can broaden your horizons and broaden your understanding of your field.”

Students need to make a careful decision about graduate school, Motayar said. Students should start thinking about graduate school before their senior years.

“The one thing that surprises students is the need to plan ahead,” Motayar said. “Going to graduate school just because you couldn’t find a job isn’t advisable.”

Students need to be aware that when they go to graduate school, they might miss out on other opportunities.

“There are some students whose credentials are great, but their experience is lacking,” Motayar said.

West agreed students need experience, as well as an advanced degree.

“It certainly makes sense to get some practical experience under your belt, either before or during graduate school,” West said. “That balance needs to be considered.

For students in certain fields of study, graduate school might be a requirement. Students who want a career in law, medicine or education, for example, will have to get an advanced degree to work in their chosen field.

Gabriel Swartz, second-year graduate student, said the biggest difference between undergraduate and graduate classes is the workload.

“There are very few tests,” Swartz said, a teachers assistant in the history department. “It’s all papers and more reading than you can ever imagine.”

Is it worth it?

Even with the increased earning potential, obtaining a master’s degree can saddle students with a lot of debt. According to U.S. News and World Report, the average debt for master’s degree students is more than $29,000 and more than $80,000 for professional-degree students when undergraduate loans are considered.

To combat this problem, many students seek out fellowships or graduate assistant positions that will pay for their education. These positions typically help students pay for their tuition and in some cases provide the students with a stipend.

Jennifer Lyles, a first-year graduate student in the higher education administration program, is an assistant residence hall director in Wright Hall.

“I had been working with the Upward Bound program and really loved what I was doing and knew I wanted to do more,” Lyles said. “I always wanted to get a terminal degree, but I just did it sooner than I planned.”

Lyles said the strains of graduate school aren’t that much harder than undergraduate strains.

“I think that if you applied yourself in college, that by the time you complete college you are ready for the type of work graduate school demands,” Lyles said.

Contact enterprise reporter Tara Pringle at [email protected].