Going to Grad School in a Tough Economy

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Cara Hedgepeth > Junior > Journalism > University of Maryland


In a time when money is tight, students are finding that an investment in graduate school could pay off in the long run.



While the recession has been a factor in rising undergraduate tuition costs, it hasn’t had the same effect on graduate tuition, said Vice Provost and Dean of Graduate Students at Clemson University, Bruce Rafert. “Graduate school tuition has been essentially unchanged over the last few years,” he said.
In fact, if the economy has had any effect on graduate school programs, it’s been in a good way. Clemson University saw a 23 percent increase in applicants to its 140 graduate programs from four years ago, said Rafert. And this is consistent with trends in schools across the nation. Rafert added that, “many students graduating with their bachelor’s degrees are finding that the job market is very soft. Having a higher degree can make a person a more competitive candidate.”
Junior business major at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington, Carey McMullen, said she had never considered going to graduate school before this year. “I didn’t want to spend any more time in classes,” she said. But the state of the economy—and a little advice—changed her mind. “We had a lecturer come and talk to us in the business school. He said a lot of companies will now look to see if you have your master’s…you’re so much more competitive when you go to grad school.”
Rafert said graduate school can also be financially beneficial. Especially in areas where jobs are now in high demand, like engineering and the sciences, a graduate degree can mean a bigger paycheck down the road. McMullen learned that people who pursue a graduate degree can make around $20,000 more annually.
Jason Allnutt, a junior electrical engineering major at the University of Pittsburgh, said he definitely wants to go to graduate school. He said he feels he’ll have more job options if he continues on and gets a higher degree. “I might want to teach,” he said, “and I can’t do that unless I go to graduate school.”
McMullen and Allnutt still say money is an issue when deciding if and where they’ll continue their education. “I’m worried about how expensive it will be because I went to college out of state and already spent so much money on undergrad,” said McMullen. Allnutt, who’s from Maryland, said he’s more concerned about the cost of living. “If I go to Maryland or Johns Hopkins I would live at home,” he said. “If I go to Pitt I would have to find cheap housing. If I can’t find cheap housing [near a school] then I won’t go there.”
Rafert said there are ways to avoid the costs of graduate school altogether. Many universities offer graduate assistantships, said Rafert. A graduate assistant works about 20 hours a week in their department in exchange for a stipend, usually enough to cover housing, a small car and the grocery bill. While this is a great opportunity, graduate assistant programs are often incredibly competitive.
While other areas of education might be suffering as a result of a bad economy, Rafert said this upward trend is nothing new for graduate school programs. “Historically, times of economic downturn have paralleled with higher rates of applications,” he said.
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