By MARY BURGER – STAFF WRITER
As seniors get closer to May, discussions on the “next step” become more and more frequent. In the past, most students went straight into the workforce, but now conversations make it appear to worried seniors that a bachelor’s degree is simply not enough. There is a growing concern among undergraduates that graduate school, or some kind of advanced study, is the new normal next step for career development.
“Often, students seriously consider graduate school because it is a ‘known.’ Saying that you’re going to graduate school is an acceptable answer to give to friends and family when they ask ‘so what are your plans after graduation? ‘I don’t know yet’ is a much scarier answer than ‘I’m going to graduate school,’” Director of the Center for Career and Professional Development (CCPD) Joy Asher said.
While a graduate degree may not be necessary, many students take a different viewpoint. “I don’t think a Bachelor’s [degree] cuts in anymore,” senior T.J. Vance said.
Vance recently received his acceptance at Kent State University and is waiting to hear back from several other schools. He plans on obtaining a Master’s degree in higher education. While Vance has several years of work experience, he believes that an advanced degree is necessary for his career goals.
“I still don’t know exactly what I want to do,” Vance said. “At Centre, I found that I love the college atmosphere and I love helping kids. Having a Master’s degree looks better on paper. It helps with job prospects.”
Ashlyn Weber wants to go to graduate school to focus her studies on East Asia. “I hope to work in the government. The pay and promotion system is based on experience, so I need work or post-graduation experience,” Weber said. “Getting a Master’s degree gives me the linguistic and professional skills training I need for the career I want.”
Looking at information provided by the CCPD, roughly 26 percent of students attend professional or graduate school to advance their degree immediately following graduation. The need for a graduate degree ultimately depends on career goals. While there are many entry-level jobs that only require a Bachelor’s degree, certain careers require an advanced degree, such as medicine and law.
“Even in those fields, however, it is possible to get experience immediately following graduation, before committing to graduate work in that field,” Asher said. “For some career fields—research or psychology, for example—you will eventually need an advanced degree to advance in those fields. For other fields, you simply need progressive experience.”
Many students decide to take a gap year, a year or more between graduation and continual study, to better choose the career they want to pursue.
“Taking a gap year, especially for students who are definitely planning to attend graduate school the following year, can be a great idea. The time in between college and graduate school may be a student’s only chance to have certain experiences—living abroad, for example, which can expose students to new cultures and new ideas,” Asher said.
Students choose to take a gap year for reasons including to save money for an advanced degree or to obtain hands-on experience with a career they want to ultimately obtain. These experiences can sometimes change or solidify a student’s ideas on his or her future.
“I am taking time to decide how to focus any further education I receive toward a field I’m passionate about. I’m very interested in human rights but haven’t decided yet how the talents I possess or the passions I hold can contribute to that field,” senior Katie Thomison said. “I think a year off gives me time to discern but also (assuming I can find a job related to that field) experience in the professional world to test my preconceived ideas of how policy or advocacy work entails.”
“For students who are not certain about their chosen career field, their best option is to gain experience in that field, solidify their interests, and then determine if graduate school is the next best step,” Asher said. “I strongly encourage anyone considering graduate school to research their chosen career field(s) and the education necessary to succeed in that field, talk with people in that field, and seek guidance from both their faculty and their counselor [at the CCPD].”
Whether or not graduate school is in a student’s immediate future, career planning can always begin.
“There are a lot of ways to maximize your chances of gaining relevant, meaningful employment after graduation, including having had previous internship experience, learning how to network, and having polished, professional application materials,” Asher said. “I urge every senior looking for a job to come to the Center for Career & Professional Development and let us help you with your job search.”