The Faceoff: The graduate school debate

Amelia Stymacks, News Editor

Graduation is rapidly approaching for seniors and graduate school application deadlines are nearly upon us. We’ve declared our majors and explored our interests, but that doesn’t mean we all have a future in mind. The “real world” may be intimidating but I feel that if you’re not certain where you want to end up, there’s no point wasting time and money in graduate school.

I have a lot of friends who know exactly what they want to do and the only way to get there is with a master’s degree. If that’s the case, then go for it. I admire your ambition and frankly, I’m envious of your vision. I wish I had one of my own.

For those of us stuck in the middle, unsure of where we want to go, why not jump right in? Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Take some time, do some volunteer work, try something new, just get out there and experiment. Figure out what you love before you invest all that money.

Cost is a major issue for most of us. What is that $50,000 really buying? Two years of hard work, semi-real world experience with the helping hand of a professor and the alumni network. In an economy like ours the network is a tempting promise but I don’t think it’s worth the price, especially if you don’t know where you want to end up. And frankly, it’s not that hard to create your own network.

My main issue is my indecision. I’m afraid that if I go to graduate school, I won’t be able to be picky when it comes to choosing a job. There may be more options available with a master’s degree but there won’t be time to delay once the debt starts piling up. I don’t want to settle. I’ll take a part time job as an assistant or even an unpaid internship if it sounds interesting enough, but I don’t want to settle on the kick-start to my career just because I have to start paying back my loans. I want to be interested and I want to be able to quit if I find that I hate my job. I want to shop around.

I don’t see any problem with starting out at the bottom, wherever that may be, and learning on the job. In the time it takes to go to graduate school, I could be working my way up the ladder in whatever field I decide to stick with.     

It’s a terrifying prospect; most of us have never been truly independent, but it’s also the most exciting transition in our lives. This is the first time we’ll be able to do whatever we want without anything to tie us down. There will be loans to pay back but they’ll be manageable. If there’s ever a time to explore, it’s now. We can move around the world, try different fields and start building that network. Most importantly, if things aren’t working out, we can go back to school with a better idea of what we want to pursue.

Charles Schulz, Public Relations Manager

Graduate school is absolutely necessary for the overwhelming majority of undergraduate students. It’s an obvious necessity for graduates seeking careers in fields such as medicine, law and education. It’s still essential for other careers that don’t necessarily require a graduate degree.

People that aren’t planning on graduate school don’t want to hear what awaits them in the job market. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that the median starting salary for individuals with an undergraduate degree was $27,000 in 2010. That average is just for the people that were able to get jobs, not necessarily jobs in their field of study.

Moreover, most undergraduates in the workplace feel unprepared for their desired career. “More than 60 percent of those who graduated in the last five years said they would need more formal education to be successful,” as reported in The New York Times. Students that opt out of going to graduate school are at a significant risk for lacking the education needed to be successful.

The argument against attending graduate school is primarily focused on the high financial costs. There are several factors that should greatly reduce the gross exaggeration of these expenses. Most importantly, graduate programs have been transformed to pack more information into a shorter amount of time – often only one or two years. Decreasing the amount of time out of the work force and paying tuition significantly reduces the costs. Graduate schools also offer graduate and teaching assistantships in undergraduate classes, again decreasing tuition.

Another major source of expense reduction is that graduate schools can offer financial aid based on the individual student, not their parents or other family members that the student had previously put on their financial aid forms. This distinction allows many students to receive a large amount of financial aid. Graduate students also often get a variety of merit-based scholarships for their undergraduate work.

The bottom line is that graduate school attendance is still rising because of the growing perception that a graduate degree is integral to success in the workplace. Though there was a slight dip in enrollment from 2009 to 2010, according to The New York Times, there has been an 8.4 percent increase in applications. It will be tough for people with undergraduate degrees to compete with an increasing number of people with graduate degrees that are also searching for jobs.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics found that almost 96 percent of people over 25 with a master’s degree have a job, even in this tough economy. Additionally, individuals with a graduate school degree earn over $10,000 per year more out of college than people holding solely undergraduate degrees.

Graduate schools offer their students increased and advanced learning that is specific to their field of study, as well as alumni networks, which serve as resources in the job market. Furthermore, graduate schools now train students specifically to make them more marketable to employers. They’re invested in the success of their graduates because this success is used to attract new students to their institution.

I have “real-world” experience in my field of study. I still feel the need, however, to go to graduate school to further develop my career skills at an institution that is invested in my success. I want to be part of the 96 percent of people that hold a master’s degree and have a job.