Go to grad school for right reasons

Jesse Szweda, Opinion Writer

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Jesse Szweda

In my four years at UW Oshkosh, I have never met a student who didn’t look forward to graduation. The thought of walking across the stage in your black cap and gown and proudly accepting your diploma seems to be a dream for every student on this campus. After all, why wouldn’t it be? Even as we suffer through boring general education classes and endless hours of studying, we can comfort ourselves with that hopeful thought: “One day, when I graduate, this will all be worth it.”

But as much as we look forward to graduation, we know it isn’t the end of the road. Most of us will enter the workforce, but some of us will take the road less traveled and opt for graduate school. And though grad school is a great option for many students, I believe that some students go to grad school out of fear rather than genuine desire. Given the financial and personal costs that often come with grad school, this is a big problem for those students, and universities need to do everything they can to help these students make better decisions about their future.

When most students think about going to grad school, it’s usually because they see it as a stepping stone to their desired career. Many of the most coveted careers, such as being a professor at a public university, require a graduate degree.

UWO graduate student Emily Olson said she thinks that students tend to go to grad school for professional reasons more often than personal ones.

“I think people go to grad school because it’s a requirement for whatever job that they want,” Emily said. “That’s why I am going to graduate school, because in order to do what I want to do I need a master’s degree. And I think that applies to getting your doctorate as well. I feel like it’s mostly out of necessity, but I’ve talked to a few people and I think some people do it to learn more.”

With the clock ticking down to graduation and few job prospects in sight, some students seem to see grad school as the safe option; a place where they can continue their studies without the uncertainty that comes with leaving college behind.

Emily said she thinks that the familiarity of college life might drive some students to choose grad school over entering the workforce.

“If they didn’t know what they wanted to do after their bachelor’s degree, I can imagine that they might keep going just for the sake of having a safe space to keep going; something comfortable that they’ve known for a long time,” Emily said.

UWO sophomore Megan Olson said she agrees that fear plays a role in some students’ decisions to go to grad school, and that some of them go in hopes of figuring out what they want to do during their graduate studies.

“It’s kind of like stalling until something comes up,” Megan said. “I think people would do that.”

The fact that some students go to grad school out of fear might not be a cause for concern if grad school didn’t place any significant challenges on them, but grad school places challenges that any student considering grad school should know about.

UWO senior Morgan Hach thinks debt, heavy workloads, and lost time are some of the downsides of grad school.

“You have to pay more money and have more student debt and the workload is a lot more intense usually,” Hach said. “It’s nice because you don’t have to be a real adult for longer, but then also you’re still in school for longer.”

Students pursuing a graduate degree out of professional necessity are usually aware of these things and are prepared to endure them for the sake of their future career. However, students fleeing to grad school in an attempt to put their life on hold would do well in considering whether temporary freedom from the working world is really worth the cost.

Grad school is very demanding, and thousands of dollars in tuition and years of lost time are what await these students if they take this route. But perhaps even more sobering is the fact that these students will probably find themselves in a similar situation they found themselves in at the end of their undergraduate studies. Staring down yet another graduation date, they will anxiously wonder what they will do with their graduate degree, but this time older and deeper in debt.

Now, I realize the picture I’m painting here seems pretty grim, but my intention is not to scare people. I just want students who are considering grad school out of fear to know that grad school isn’t their only option. I also want universities to do a better job of conveying that message to their students.

When it comes to how universities can accomplish this, much of the answer lies in taking existing resources on campus and mobilizing them to address the issue of grad school in more direct ways.

Emily said she thinks career advisers can play an important role in helping students determine whether grad school is a good option for them.

“It’s on a personal level, one-to-one, working with students and really digging deep on what they want and being supportive,” Emily said. “School isn’t always the answer for everyone.”

She also said she thinks professors, especially those in the humanities and social sciences, can do more to help their students understand how to market themselves to employers.

“I think the support comes from those professors,” Emily said. “You’re supposed to have your major adviser that is in the field, that should be up to date with the most current stuff, that knows who’s hiring, what your skills are, and you’re supposed to go them and talk to them.”

If campus career centers and professors can do their part to point students in the right direction, it could prevent students from making poor decisions and improve the lives of young people all over the country. However, even with everything universities can do to help their students, it is ultimately the responsiblity of students to take control of their future.

I’m here to tell you that, despite your fears, you are capable of succeeding outside of school.