BACK TO SCHOOL…AGAIN!
By: Katie Stone
Well, it’s that time of year. Soon, the campus of Southern Miss will be welcoming the usual fall semester wave of new and returning students. Many of you will be starting another year, leading ultimately to the reason you are here: graduation!
Today, although it may seem preemptive, I would like to talk about your plans after graduation and why you should consider furthering your education while getting practical experience. It’s called…grad school.
I know what you are thinking, “I haven’t even graduated yet and she’s trying to get me back in school already!” Well, actually, that’s not a bad idea. Here is some food for thought. According to the New York Times, nearly 2 in 25 people age 25 and older hold a master’s degree. This is roughly the same amount of people who held a bachelor’s degree in 1960. How many people do you think will be applying to the first job you apply to after graduation? Probably around 25-30 and so at least two of them will hold a graduate degree. These candidates will most likely be selected for the job. Many entry-level jobs today even require a master’s, whereas these same jobs twenty years ago did not. What I’m saying is that the graduate degree is the new undergraduate degree, like it or not.
In addition, those who go on to complete a master’s degree will earn around 30% more per year than those who stop with a bachelor’s degree (U.S. Census, 2000). Who here does not want to make more money? That’s what I thought. However, graduate school is an expensive investment and I know what you’re thinking now. (That’s another thing, graduate school prepares you to always have a counter-argument to all potential arguments thereby allowing you to read minds, like I’m doing here.) You are thinking, “Katie, I get it. Grad school would be great. More money and potentially more job prospects sounds nice but how the heck can I afford graduate school?” There are options.
Graduate assistantships are a little-known secret among many college campuses. A graduate assistantship is usually a research or teaching position that a university will hire you for, while covering most or all of your tuition and sometimes also paying a stipend to cover certain costs. Universities do not like to advertise these highly sought-after positions because they are reserved for those real go-getters who are willing to go the extra mile, research the positions available, and apply. Now, here is the best part.
You can apply for various graduate assistantships all over college campuses. Let’s say that you are graduating with a degree in English and you really think that getting a master’s will make you a more desirable in the job market. You need to start researching various graduate schools now and call their respective departments (everything from the
English department to the Admissions office can offer them) and inquire about available graduate assistantships. These are often competitive positions so you need to apply soon and be prepared to make your case for why you are the best candidate, just like it is a professional job. Factors like undergraduate performance, GPA, GRE scores, and any past experience are all essential to landing an assistantship. Finally, a grad assistantship can offer you real-world experience that will accentuate the additional education of a graduate degree, thereby making you an ever more qualified candidate for jobs.
Now, this is not to say that there aren’t a few caveats to grad school. As a graduate student myself, as well as a graduate assistant in the Office of Student Activities, there are long days in the office and even longer nights studying the seemingly endless amount of reading required. However, if you are willing to put in the extra work and the extra time (usually only two years), the payoff is HUGE. The feeling of accomplishment every semester that I experience is extremely rewarding. In addition, as the grad assistant for The Southerner yearbook, every day is different, challenging, and actually fun. I work with extremely talented and artistic students who construct the Southern Miss yearbook. I am getting two-years of experience editing media spreads, advising students on various decisions, developing marketing plans, and planning training workshops, just to name a few of my current to-do list duties. This kind of experience would not be possible without my graduate assistantship and I am forever grateful for the opportunity. So…think about it and start applying NOW for grad schools and programs. The University of Southern Mississippi is a good place to start. Go visit the Graduate School and ask them about the qualifications for various programs. Get online and find a grad school program that best suits you and pick up the phone. Ask everyone you talk to about grad assistantship openings and you may find yourself on the way to a very rewarding, very satisfying next step in your education and professional career.