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To go or not to go: Making the leap to graduate school

Megan Dillon
Connector Staff

Less than half of the population in the United States has obtained a bachelor’s degree, yet the demand for jobs almost makes a college education a necessity. The number of students attending universities has jumped dramatically within the last few decades, and a lot of students have debated taking their education to the next level which is graduate school. There are, however, some are strings attached to that important piece of paper.

The real question is, “What do I do?” It is crucial for students to weigh their options when deciding whether or not to attend graduate school. It is an important life decision that may or may not be the correct decision for students. Something to consider is the type of career path a student wants to pursue.

Adam Ruben spent seven years getting his doctorate in biology at the esteemed John Hopkins. As a molecular biologist and the associate director of Vaccine Stabilization & Logistics at Sanaria Inc, Ruben helps to manufacture, license and distribute a whole-organism malaria vaccine. Ruben is also a comedian and author of the book, “Surviving Your Stupid, Stupid, Decision to go to Grad School.” The book contains personal anecdotes of his adventures at John Hopkins as a student and a teacher’s assistant. Ruben believes, “that grad school was worth it…the title of my book is deliberately flippant and exaggerated.”

Ruben says that his experiences during graduate school were useful for the career that he sought after. However he also says, “many aspects of grad school can be improved, such as stipends, collective bargaining power or lack thereof.” Ruben is not a fan of how any university is organized, and a lot of them are opportunities for capital venture that uses little effort and often hesitant to accommodate students.

The educational aspect of any graduate program is astounding when it comes to students mastering their crafts and honing in on special specific skills. However, in the eyes of Ruben, many universities lack with everything else, such as food, housing and financial aid. He says that there must be a change in the system, and it is exactly the reason why students hesitate at the thought of graduate schooling and some not even consider it at all.

Dr. Andrew Drenas, an adjunct history professor who has a bachelor’s degree from UMass Lowell and a doctorate from Oxford University, says he enjoyed his schooling career, but he laments about the tremendous cost of his education.

“I’m honestly drowning in student loans. I graduated in 2003 from UMass Lowell and I’m still trying to pay off my loans,” said Drenas.

The cost of grad school alone can make or break whether someone would attend graduate school let alone receive an undergraduate education. Loans can pile up and the interest can increase over time, making it cost as much as two whole houses and a few cars.  Those just receiving a bachelor’s degree may want to take their time and pay off their prior student loans before taking on all new ones.

Drenas believes in education and its impact on one can have an impact on all.

“You have to be committed if you were to get a graduate degree, it’s not something you get willy-nilly… Although it may be expensive, if you have an opportunity to get one, I wholeheartedly recommend it,” said Drenas.

Alison Peterson, a 27-year-old computer engineering student at UMass Lowell, loves her graduate program and professors.

“I didn’t have to get a master’s degree in my field. With an engineering undergraduate degree, I could have gone anywhere and did anything,” said Peterson.

She felt that obtaining a graduate degree was the right thing to do. Peterson was compelled to differentiate herself from other recent graduates in her field. Her investment in a master’s program can open up new doors and opportunities that she would have never been able to obtain otherwise with just an associates or bachelor’s degree.

“You got to spend money to make money,” said Peterson.

There are a lot of options students need to weigh when deciding on their next steps to take after tossing their caps. Many do not regret attending graduate school, and even though it is costly and takes a lot of work, it is nothing that should not go unnoticed. It has its strings attached, but grad school can really set students apart from the other 400 candidates lined up for the same job they want.