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Assayer of Student Opinion.

The Prospector

Assayer of Student Opinion.

The Prospector

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The pursuit of graduate school is for the motivated

Many students already know where they will pursue graduate school, as acceptance letters rolled in during the semester.

But for those still contemplating whether they should go to graduate school, the age-old question is sure to be asked after the graduation celebrations have ceased – is it worth it?

As of April 2, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that the unemployment rate for someone with a master’s degree was 2.8 percent, whereas someone with some college and no degree was 6 percent and those with an associate’s degree was 4.5 percent.

However, the type of degree a graduate student pursues depends on whether they will find employment after completing the program based on the demand for the field.

Over the next 10 years, BLS predicted that physical therapy assistants, audiologists, nurse practitioners, civil engineers and event planners would be the occupations in high demand, among others.

But for some occupations, the median earnings are only slightly different between having a bachelor’s degree and a graduate degree, according to the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce.

For example, someone who has a bachelor’s degree in biology or life science can expect to make $50,000 per year. Should that individual pursue a graduate degree, their median earnings almost double, reaching $85,000 per year.

The opposite is true for humanities or liberal arts majors, where their median earnings for a bachelor’s degree is $47,000 annually, as opposed to $65,000 per year for a graduate degree.

“It’s obvious in many professions, an increasingly advanced degree is required. More and more employers are looking for a master’s degree to find employment,” said Dr. Charles Ambler, dean of UTEP’s graduate school.

Ambler said that there is a substantial gap that occurs between a bachelor’s and master’s degree.

“There’s an economic logic to it, a professional logic to it, because it puts you in a position to be considered for a much wider range of job,” he said. “There’s a clear relationship between the training and the kind of education you receive.”

UTEP’s graduate school program currently has 20 doctoral programs and more than 80 master’s and certificate programs.

If a student pursues a research degree, the program will usually pay the student to complete it, such as with biology, psychology or chemistry majors. The student is given a stipend, which helps pay for school and other expenses, along with being given a paid research assistant position.

For professional degrees, sometimes employers will pay for the student’s tuition. Scholarships are also available, depending on the degree and the student, along with the option to borrow money.

“As long as you stretch out the borrowing, and don’t borrow too much, it just makes sense to do,” Ambler said.  “If you are a master’s student, and don’t have that support available, it is easy to borrow money.”

Adelmar Ramirez, who will receive his master in fine arts degree in creative writing this spring, said that graduate school was different from undergraduate school and provides a lot of background and knowledge for doing more of what he wanted to do.

“The last year of graduate school was kind of on my own–reading books and applying them to my thesis. It wasn’t someone teaching me stuff. It was getting information on my own,” Ramirez said.

Ramirez was in the MFA program for three years, and the program provided him with a job for each year – whether being a teaching assistant, an editor for a journal at UTEP or teaching classes.

These jobs helped him pay for school, where he only had to pay $2,000 per semester. He was also awarded scholarships and grants to help pay for tuition.

Because of these experiences, he can now apply at the El Paso Community College to start teaching classes

“When you go to graduate school, you can apply for financial aid,” Ramirez said. “The great thing with graduate school is that you enter it with a steady job. So I used that money to pay for school and had extra left over. I really didn’t have anything else to pay afterward. It is kind of expensive, but it is still worth it.”

Ramirez wants to pursue a doctoral degree, but will wait another year before starting school again.

“I think I’ve had enough school for a while since I’ve been going to school back to back. I’m not in a hurry and I will wait the year to see my options,” he said.

However, deciding to attend graduate school for the possible $20,000 extra in median earnings may not be advisable.

Out of the $1 trillion in outstanding student loan debt for the U.S., 40 percent of that was from students pursuing a graduate or professional degree, according to the New American Foundation.

“You shouldn’t do a graduate degree if the only reason you’re doing it is to get more money,” Ambler said. “It requires engagement and commitment to be successful. You have to be passionate, especially to get at the Ph.D. level.”

Ambler said that going to graduate school is more about personal satisfaction.

“Graduate school is not just more years of college. It’s about further researching what you love, to change people’s lives and bodies of knowledge,” he said.

Lorain Ambrocio may be reached at [email protected].

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The pursuit of graduate school is for the motivated