In 72 school days on May 6, anticipating seniors will be graduating from Northern Kentucky University in the Bank of Kentucky Center. While post-graduation options are endless, two distinct paths come to the forefront: find a job, or continue with education.
For those who choose the latter, NKU offers about 19 master’s programs. However, many students find that the choice in a program is easier than the decision to become a graduate student. Factors such as tuition price, motivation and relevancy of an advanced degree can often make planning difficult.
For senior business informatics major Ryan Fay, the benefit of an advanced degree can help alleviate the stress of a job search. “Everybody that you sit next to in your last semester is probably graduating with you,” Fay said. “Those people are your competition. If you can go forward and advance yourself more it’s only going to help you in the long run.” Fay is expecting to begin his Master of Science in Business Informatics in the fall.
Third-year Master of Public Administration student Victoria Vogelgsang found that her undergraduate bachelor’s in sociology needed to be supplemented with an advanced degree. Vogelgsang said that she felt her degree in sociology was more “general” and “theoretical.” “My grad degree will be much more professional and applicable to the workforce,” Vogelgsang said.
Peg Griffin, director of graduate programs, explained that many of the programs at NKU for graduate-level study are meant for a specific field or profession, such as social work or nursing. They are often fields where an advanced degree is required in order to receive positions and job security. Students in those areas often come straight from undergraduate to graduate studies.
However, many in the programs are returning after being in the workforce for a period of time.
For this reason, the mean age of students in graduate programs at NKU is in the 30’s, according to Griffin.
“The majority of our students are working full-time, they have families, many of them. They have a lot of other responsibilities. And they may have been out for a year, or two, or five,” Griffin said.
“ [The break] gave me time to think about the degree that I was choosing, study for GRE, take it, and do applications. As long as you’re ready to do the work, that gap year isn’t that bad,” Vogelgsang said.
Some students come back later in their career with tuition benefits from their place of employment to further their education.
In addition to the traditional factors students face when making the decision to continue education, students are fighting a national unemployment rate of 8.5 percent according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics in December 2011. This is pressuring many students to continue in higher education for the fear of difficulty in job searching.
“If you’re not willing to put in the time and the effort, you shouldn’t come. You’re wasting your money, and your time for something that you don’t want. It is a commitment of a significant amount of money, of a significant amount of time and effort,” Griffin said.
Shirl Short, associate director of the Career Development Center, echoed her sentiment. “Sometimes people look at graduate school perhaps as a default,” Short said. “They think that because the economy is the way it is, that maybe that’s [their] alternative.”
However, Short sends a word to the wise to those students. “They really need to give that job search a good effort,” she said. “They need to talk to people in their fields of interest…about the need for graduate school, whether it is necessary, and maybe what’s the timing of it.”
Vogelgsang explained the need for self-motivation, what she considered to be the biggest challenge in graduate school. There are no longer “cushion points,” such as homework grades and pop quizzes.
Short went on to mention that students are advised to consider and plan for graduate school before their senior year. However, the Career development Center can provide graduate school preparation checklist for seniors and a timeline for underclassmen.
The Career Development Center also regularly holds various seminars and learning sessions, including one called “Planning for Graduate School,” at 5-6 p.m. March 19 in Student Union room 302.
Vogelgsang had a few general guidelines for students thinking about graduate work if it is needed in their fields. “Look at expense versus earnings increase. Weigh pros and cons there. Look at how well you did in undergrad, if you’re ready for grad work.”