At a family reunion a distant relative, who sees the senior just once a year, sweetly asks, And Jason, what are YOU planning to do next year?
If Jason can prevent himself from choking on his chicken wing, hell likely sputter something about thinking about my options and hope the relative vanishes before he has to elaborate. But that doesnt mean he hasnt been thinking about it. Seniors spend lots of time agonizing over their options.
And one of those options is more school. While parents are generally familiar with the concept of professional schoollaw school and medical school, for examplewhy your son or daughter might choose to go to graduate school can be more perplexing.
Thats not surprising, since nationally only nine percent of students go on to graduate school, according to Sandra Barkan, assistant dean of the Universitys Graduate College.
And in Iowa, its only seven percent, she adds.
But there are lots of good reasons to do so.
They may go in order to pursue a particular career, says Jerry Paschal, the Universitys director of Career Services. A graduate degree can help a worker obtain a position in which they supervise others or have more of an impact in their chosen career. And people with graduate degrees are likely to earn a greater income than those with bachelors degrees.
While undergraduate education encourages studying a broad range of subjects with a foundation in one area, a grad students work is more focused.
Graduate education gives people an opportunity to study in depth something about which theyre passionate, Barkan says. There are important skills learned in the process of in-depth educationwriting, research, and thinking skillsthat greatly enhance what was learned in the undergraduate years.
For some careers, a masters degree is the minimum degree required, or a graduate degree may be necessary for licensure.
In several areas related to new technologiesin the health sciences, business, and informatics, for examplea professional degree is essential, Barkan says.
But not every student who goes to graduate school will go right away.
The average age of graduate students continues to rise, Barkan says. We have many graduate students who are married and have children. Graduate education is not just for youngsters. We have some students who are very goal-oriented and know exactly what they want to study. But we have many who want to get out of school, catch their breath, and get some work experience first. And they often find that one thing leads to another.
One such student is Joe Coffey, a doctoral student in the School of Journalism and Mass Communication. Coffey graduated from Baylor University in 1993 with a degree in telecommunications. He taught at a Missouri high school for two years, helping students produce news shows for their schools television channel, then decided he wanted to become a television newscaster himself. After nine months of training at the Broadcast Center in St. Louis, he went on to work at stations in Missouri, Texas, and Georgia. In 1999 he took a job as the weekend anchor in Cedar Rapids, at KCRG-TV 9. He chose the Cedar Rapids job, in part, because of its proximity to The University of Iowa.
I always loved teaching, and the TV news business is very hard on marriagesthe hours are terrible and the divorce rate is very high, says Coffey, who married his wife, Lisha, in 1997. I knew I wanted to return to graduate school, in order to become a journalism professor.
Coffey completed his masters degree and is working toward a Ph.D. He is a teaching assistant (T.A.) for Judy Polumbaum, associate professor of journalism, and works about 20 hours a week, while attending classes.
I love itits not like work, Coffey says. Im getting to use my previous employment skills and thinking ahead to how I will instruct my own students and T.A.s. Everything I do, every assignment, has real-life applications.
More and more undergraduate students want to know a bit about real life before they make the leap back into academia, it seems. While some choose to pursue an internship or job that has a direct link to their intended graduate pursuits, others try something less obviously related.
According to Jane Schildroth, director of career education and programming in the Career Center, more students are thinking about experiences like Teach for America, AmeriCorps, and the Peace Corps as a preparation for graduate school.
Students today have a commitment to service, she says.
And even students who are certain they want to pursue a graduate degree may opt to first spend some time in the work world.
I love school, and Im eager to get a masters degree, maybe even a Ph.D., says Katherine Peterson, a senior from Des Moines, Iowa. Petersons majors include English and journalism, along with a minor in Spanish, and she currently is taking the education courses necessary for certification to teach English to high school students. She says that a graduate degree will help make her a better teacher, along with helping to boost her income.
But Ive decided that its a good idea to teach, to gain classroom experience for a year or two first. I think it will give me just the right mix of education practice and theory.
Sorting out decisions about whether to go and where to go to graduate school can seem overwhelming. University of Iowa professors can provide valuable information to students about quality programs in their area of interest.
Students should look for mentors in their classrooms and workplaces, Paschal says. Those people can help students think about places they might apply.
The University of Iowa offers many opportunities for students to obtain research experience with faculty members, Barkan says. Students should take advantage of the opportunities. Those faculty members can later write letters of recommendation for students.
College guides can be useful in the search for a graduate program. Barkan notes that its important to visit potential graduate programs, and to discuss their prerequisites for admission to the program, as well as course offerings and requirements once admitted. Students also may want to check out schools where professors are conducting research of interest and publishing that research.
The Career Center provides a wealth of resources on the process of preparing for, applying to, and financing graduate school. They offer forums on grad school preparation as well as mock interviews and assistance with admissions essays.
When should a student start thinking about graduate school? The Career Center recommends that the process begin during an undergraduates junior year.
If they wait too long, they can find themselves behind the eight ball, Paschal says.
In some respects, freshman year isnt too early to be thinking about grad school, she says. On the other hand, many students arent ready to think about it until much latera class or a professor might get them excited about a topic later in their undergraduate career. Its never too late to think about grad school. Even some parents of undergraduates might want to think about graduate school for themselves.
By Linzee Kull McCray