Pursuing further education

There are only three months left before graduation. For many seniors, the days of partying late, waking up late and choosing sleep instead of classes are numbered. So does this mean, gasp, getting a job? It could, unless seniors are willing to stay in school for another few years to further their education.

Harsh economic periods are often the most popular time to go to graduate school, said Jeanne Fiander, Columbian College director of graduate admissions.

“Bad economic times are usually good for us,” she said, “and that seems to be happening now.”

With the recent downturn in the economy, graduate schools are seeing a boom in applications. But deciding if graduate school is the best choice is a complicated decision.

If students are planning on becoming lawyers or a doctors, chances are they are part of the 23 to 25 percent of GW students who annually go directly into grad school after graduation.

“Typically, folks who head right off to grad school are seeking professions in law or medicine – careers that require entry level degrees,” said Irene Honey, director of career services at the GW Career Center.

Unlike the broad range of topics covered in an undergraduate education, graduate programs are much more intensive and focused. Fiander described them as “much more personalized than undergraduate education.” Rather than taking unrelated curriculum requirements and electives, graduate students focus on a particular area within a field.

The difference between graduate and undergraduate school begins at the admissions process. Instead of applying to a general school, applicants apply to particular departments. And unlike an undergraduate admissions office, which looks at an applicant’s overall high school performance, the department faculty decides graduate school admissions.

Academic achievement and good GRE scores are only two criteria for acceptance into grad school, said Marva Gumbs, executive director of the Career Center. Graduate schools are looking for individuals with work experience, travel, leadership, language skills or volunteer work.

“All are important because they are a form of support for a job they want to do,” Gumbs said. “(The school) wants a diverse class; people who really bring different kinds of experiences to the class.”

Gumbs said many GW students either remain at GW or move to another East Coast university. Also popular for further education for GW students are many of the schools best known at the undergraduate level, such as Columbia, New York and Johns Hopkins universities. Another option is to move back home to take advantage of in-state tuition.

Senior Scott Hammer, an English major who will begin his master’s degree in secondary education next year, said he would rather get a higher degree before beginning the job search.

“For a lot of people, getting an undergraduate degree will always be enough,” he said, “but when I’m looking for a job, I’ll be at a higher level where people will be more inclined to hire me because of my qualifications.”

For some students, a GW education has not given them enough knowledge to begin a career at a bachelor’s level. Senior Lacey Soslow, who is applying for applied film production and film studies at Columbia University, said she needs to further her education to begin her career.

“I’m going to grad school because GW didn’t have an extensive program for what I wanted to do,” she said. “A more substantial education will definitely make getting a job much easier.”

Soslow said even for students who do feel prepared to enter a career with just a bachelor’s degree, more education usually means more money.

“I feel that in most offices you can get a job with a bachelor’s degree, but in order to get the higher paying jobs, you’re probably going to need a graduate degree,” Soslow said

Political science professor James Lebovic said while many of his students majoring in political science will be able to find jobs without a master’s degree, they will not necessarily find them in the political science field.

“Someone who acquires a Ph.D. would be a specialist and could teach at another university,” Lebovic said.

But a person with a bachelor’s degree, he said, is “unlikely to be hired for (their) political science knowledge.”

Gumbs said there are still many employment opportunities available for those students not planning on attending graduate school.

“There are employers who come to campus to interview only undergraduate students. In a business environment, you need to hire people at a number of different levels,” Gumbs said, “So undergraduate degrees are certainly sought.”

Honey said although the job market is fierce, GW students are well-equipped to enter the working world.

“The market is highly competitive,” she said. “But it’s important that GW students understand that they’re also highly competitive.”

“We continue to see employers list jobs with us. We’ve been able to maintain our career fairs,” Gumbs said. “The numbers aren’t dismal.”

Gumbs said for students who think they want to continue their education but are unsure of what they want to study a year or two in, the work force may clarify their options.

“A few years of work experience will help focus them on what they want to do in a graduate program,” Gumbs said. “There are so many graduate programs that this will help them to know what’s best.”

Fiander agreed.

“It’s a good idea to find out what you want to do before you go to the expense and effort and find out it’s not what you want,” she said.

Senior Zoe Freeman said she plans on taking time to explore the working world before going to graduate school.

“My plan is to take a couple years to work and look at what’s out there because I’m not going to grad school just to go to grad school,” she said. “No amount of teaching is going to be the same as experiencing it.”

But Lebovic said the danger of going to work right after college often makes it more difficult to return to school.

“The longer the time that passes, the harder it is to go back, ” Lebovic said. “Life intervenes, people get married and have families to support. The easiest way to pursue a degree program is when you’re young and when that’s part of your lifestyle.”

Though many graduate programs will involve studying, there are plenty of programs that involve hands-on experience. During the next two years, Hammer will be both studying teaching methods and theory and applying them in a full semester of supervised teaching.

“The good thing about it is that I get experience in the process,” he said. “It wasn’t just going to school for another two years.”

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