Friends, family, and coworkers, smiled and said, “Congratulations, Sarah! You did it!” My face turned red, my palms began to sweat, and I quietly mumbled the obligatory, “Thank you,” as the anxiety overwhelmed me. Like many other students at Rocky Mountain College’s graduation in December, I was congratulated for the completion of my academic career and obtainment of a bachelor’s degree. However, as the congratulations poured in, the anxiety mounted as I asked myself, “What’s next?” College graduates today are faced with weighing the pros and cons in the decision to begin their job search or continue to advance their education in a masters or doctoral program.
According to the article, “5 Facts about Today’s College Graduates” states, “About 17.5 million students are expected to enroll in undergraduate programs and 3.0 million will enroll in post-baccalaureate programs.” The decision to pursue an associate’s/bachelor’s degree, based on this statistic, appears to be more popular than continuing to advance one’s education in a masters or doctoral program. Students who found themselves questioning their
education level were encouraged to weigh the pros and cons of an advanced degree. The pros of an advanced degree included increased job opportunities, an increased likelihood of advancement within companies, an increased base salary, and the satisfaction of a more fulfilling life and rewarding career. However, the cons included the financial expense of a master’s or doctoral program, the increased time obligation of two to four additional years in school, and other life events, like marriage or having children.
A recent RMC graduate, Shay Sturdevant, weighed the pros and cons and decided to pursue a Master of Education program. Sturdevant’s decision was influenced by the career and monetary benefits of an advanced degree as she stated, “It would allow me to be a librarian and a history teacher and the master’s degree gives me a financial boost. Sturdevant’s decision was supported by the statement that “people with advanced degrees are even more likely than bachelor’s and associate’s degree holders to say their education was worth the investment–96 percent, compared with 89 percent and 76 percent, respectively,” according to the U.S. Department of Education.
The decision to pursue a master’s degree may also be influenced by positive work experiences. RMC student Kayleigh Griffith stated, “After a few years of teaching I want to pursue my master’s in music education, but I want some experience in the field before I do more education.” Griffith allowed herself to become more acclimated to the field before pursuing her advanced degree to ensure she made the right decision. Similar to Griffith, Sturdevant’s decision was strongly influenced by her experience as she made connections during her last semester as a student-teacher which served as “a great way to experience a real-life career while still having great advisors who were able to pass down wisdom.” Of the RMC students interviewed, both agreed that an advanced degree, although a huge decision with both pros and cons, was a future academic goal.
As the “Congratulations!” pile up and anxiety ensues, students are encouraged to weigh the pros and cons before making any large decisions. A bachelor’s degree may be the end or just the beginning of an individual’s college education. The increased job placement, advancement opportunities, increased salary, and rewarding careers influences individuals to continue into advanced degree programs. However, many college graduates have found success in careers requiring an undergraduate degree only. The final decision is a personal one based on an individual’s’ review of his/her career aspirations, financial status, and personal development goals.