As 2003 Cedarville graduate Mike Kibbe discovered, one is never too old to listen to Dad.
Immediately after graduating from Cedarville, Kibbe, a Bible major, enrolled in Dallas Theological Seminary to earn a 4-5 year Master of Theology degree. He dropped out two years into the program.
“My dad told me it was a dumb idea to go right into grad school, and I didn’t listen,” Kibbe says, laughing. “He was right.”
Kibbe says he went to graduate school because he wasn’t sure what else to do. But he, other master’s graduates and students, and graduate school administrators say while graduate school can indeed be worth it, students need to know why they want to go in the first place and need to understand the field they are hoping to study.
“You don’t go to graduate school just because you’ve heard it’s a good idea,” says Patrick Osmer, vice provost for graduate studies and dean of the graduate school at Ohio State University. “I think you should have a definite interest, definite plans, and you should do a fair amount of research on identifying exactly the right programs and figuring out if it makes sense.”
Get a Graduate Goal
Osmer says students should have a well-identified, focused goal for going to graduate school. Evan Thayer, a 2012 Cedarville alumnus in his second year at Indiana University’s School of Medicine, says he’s glad he assessed beforehand that being a doctor and caring for patients is what he wanted to do.
“When I got in and med school was really difficult, I had that reinforcement that, ‘Yeah, this is something that I really thought through. It’s something that I really prayed about,’” Thayer says.
The Field Matters
In considering whether graduate school is worth it, students need to consider the field they want to go into, administrators say.
Part of this is for students simply to know how to get where they want to end up. Want to be an English professor? R. William Ayres, associate dean of the graduate school at Wright State University, says the path is clear: a doctorate in English.
But students also need to be aware of job markets that don’t have the most promising prospects for recent graduate school grads. One of these? The humanities, says Andrew Gillen, a senior researcher with Education Sector at American Institutes for Research.
“There’s been quite a bit of documentation of the market for English Ph.D.’s in particular just because there’s a lot more of them,” Gillen says, “and they can write, so when they run into problems, they do a good job of letting the world know about it.”
According to Georgetown University’s “Hard Times: College Majors, Unemployment and Earnings” 2013 report, the 2010-2011 unemployment rate for someone with a graduate degree (not necessarily a doctorate) in English language and literature was 3.9 percent.
Ayres says another field not bursting with opportunities is law.
“We have way too many lawyers,” he says.
But for the most part, not all is gloom and doom, according to Gillen.
“Most graduate programs you’re actually going to be pretty safe going to in terms of your employment prospects coming out of it,” Gillen says.
And according to the Georgetown University report, graduate degree holders are indeed more likely to get a job than recent bachelor’s graduates, with the unemployment rates at 3.3 percent and 7.9 percent, respectively.
That said, some fields are either especially good for advanced degree holders or even require an advanced degree. Ayres says this is true of the STEM fields (science, technology, engineering and math). Those who work with planes in Wright-Patterson Air Force Base’s Life Cycle Management Center either have a graduate degree or are working toward one, he says.
A specific STEM field with good job prospects is petroleum engineering. Gillen says he thinks this is because of the rise of fracking, “but that’s probably not going to last forever.”
Research is another field that requires a graduate degree. If Gillen didn’t go to grad school, he could not be doing what he is now.
Kate Cella, a 2011 Cedarville alumna, always thought graduate school was in the picture for her. She majored in international studies and wasn’t sure she could do anything with the degree without a master’s, she says. Interested in Middle Eastern studies, Cella had hopes of being an analyst or policy expert.
“As if they hire 24-year-old experts anywhere,” Cella says, “but that was sort of the goal.”
Cella was also interested in journalism and ended up doing a joint Middle Eastern studies/journalism master’s degree at New York University, graduating in summer 2013.
The Engineering Example
One field in which you don’t need a master’s degree but it can increase your job prospects is engineering. Students who graduate with an engineering bachelor’s degree can get a good paying job, around $50,000-$60,000 a year, Ayres says.
Wright State has an engineering program that allows students to begin taking graduate classes their senior year and then earn their master’s by going a fifth year. And students who do that may come out of school to a job that pays around $85,000 a year.
“It’s a time and money trade-off,” Ayres says.
Other grad school options exist for engineering majors other than engineering though. Sarah Norris graduated from Cedarville in 2012 with a computer engineering major, and now, she’s working on her Master of Business Administration degree. Around six months into her first job, Norris says she realized she would need this degree to get where she wanted to go, engineering management.
She began working toward her MBA in January 2013.
“What that has helped me do is really bridge that gap between what engineers know and what business managers really want to invest in and what they’re looking for in order to make strategy and business decisions,” says Norris, who will graduate in May 2015 from an online program through Davenport University in Michigan.
Value of a Degree: The Program, Not the School
Another aspect of graduate school students should consider is how much respect a specific school’s program has in a given field, Ayres says. Just because a school is a big name school doesn’t mean a certain program at that school is better than a similar program at a less prestigious school.
For example, in the past few years, National Research Council ranked Wright State’s aerospace engineering program above both Ohio State’s and the University of Cincinnati’s, Ayres says.
“You wouldn’t think that. ‘Clearly, Ohio State must be better,’” he says. “Well, not in that field. In a lot of other fields, (they’d) kick our butts any day of the week.”
Affording Graduate School
Related to the field of a master’s degree, students should also consider the financial obligation of graduate school when considering whether it is worth it for them, according to Gillen.
“However much you’re going to need to borrow to go to school, is your expected income when you graduate from the program going to enable you to pay that back without sacrificing the rest of life’s priorities?” he asks.
According to the College Board, in 2012-2013 each full-time graduate student received an average of $25,730 in financial aid. Grants made up $7,800 of this, and federal loans made up $16,240. In addition, seven out of 10 students who received their bachelor’s degree in 2012 graduated with an average of $29,400 in student loan debt, according to The Institute for College Access and Success’ Project on Student Debt.
MBA student Norris says her graduate degree, which her employer Eaton Corporation is financing, will help her pay off her undergraduate student loans.
“As soon as I get done with my graduate degree, I’m looking at probably another promotion, which will allow me to pay off my loans even faster,” she says.
When Kibbe was at Dallas for two years, he mostly paid his own way, but he also worked multiple part-time jobs simultaneously.
“That was part of the problem,” he says of why graduate school right after college didn’t work out for him. “I wasn’t doing homework often enough.”
Cedarville graduate and Wright State medical student Kara Yutzy has a different perspective: graduate school isn’t about the cost. It’s about the investment.
“It enables you to provide for your family and bless others with the income that you make,” Yutzy says. “Yeah, it costs a lot up front, but they have loans for that, so you take out loans, and you just have to be responsible with your money.
Don’t squander on stupid stuff like coffee every day.”
More Than Just That Field
Though Ohio State’s Osmer says the field matters when students are determining if graduate school is worth it, he also says even a degree without a good job market, such as a doctorate in English, can prepare students for careers in other fields.
Ohio State is working on recognizing this fact and modifying any programs if necessary because of it.
“Then people can be prepared and I think should be prepared for a broader set of careers maybe than just the purely academic track in their own field,” Osmer says.
Cella, who worked as a Cedars editor when at Cedarville and is now living in Boston, is not using her journalism master’s as a journalist. Instead, she’s helping startup Bridge International Academies develop English curriculum for a new chain of private schools in low-income areas in Kenya.
Even so, she’s seen her master’s degree at work in her current work.
“I’m actually writing a writing curriculum for the kids there,” Cella says, “so it’s interesting that a lot of the lessons that I learned about how to write and all of the mechanics and that I’m kind of translating into the job that I have now, even though that wasn’t the original intent.”
Grad School: Not Undergrad
How students do in their undergraduate degree and what classes they take also affect whether graduate school would be worth it for them. Gillen at Education Sector says it’s not only about how well students do in undergrad but what classes they take.
“To succeed in economics in graduate school, you really need to have a solid math background,” says Gillen, who holds an economics master’s and doctorate from Florida State University. “So you could take an English student who got straight A’s in all their classes, but if they don’t have the right skill set coming into graduate school, it’s going to be very, very difficult for them.”
And “difficult” describes graduate school in general. Wright State’s Ayres says students often think graduate school is simply another two years of undergraduate but with only classes they’re interested in.
“In fact, graduate-level education is a qualitative step up,” he says. “If you’re not really interested in what you’re doing, you will never finish.”
At Indiana University’s School of Medicine, Evan Thayer has noticed this step up. His professors don’t spoon feed him. They give him the outline version of what he needs to know, and he has to go learn it himself.
“There’s a point where you start realizing that you have to direct your own learning,” he says.
Grad School: Revisited
Years after Mike Kibbe graduated from Cedarville, went to Dallas Theological Seminary against his dad’s advice and then dropped out after two years, grad school is not unfamiliar to him. He earned his master’s from Fuller Theological Seminary in California in 2010, and in May, he will graduate with a scholarship-funded doctorate from Wheaton College.
Grad school might not have been the best option for Kibbe right after Cedarville, but he says he loves what his graduate school experience has required him to do: study the Bible, read, write, research, speak.
“Grad school was the natural context for me simply because I like the learning environment,” he says, pausing. “It just suits me.”
Cedarville Grads Go to Grad School
“The first and best thing is to know what you want. But of course, nobody really does at this point in life. But if you’re one of the lucky few who does know, I think that helps tremendously in your decision to go or not.”
- Cedarville Graduation: 2011
- Graduate School: New York University
- Degree: Joint Master of Arts in Journalism and Near Eastern Studies
- Status in Program: Graduated in summer 2013
“Some of us, God just designed us to be around school. Maybe you know what I mean. We’re just like that. We’re just wired that way. But I can learn an awful lot without paying somebody $40,000 a year to teach me. And so if that’s simply the motivation, there are other ways of learning.”
- Cedarville Graduation: 2003
- Graduate School: Dallas Theological Seminary; Fuller Theological Seminary; Wheaton College
- Degree: Master of Arts in Biblical Studies/Theology (Fuller); Doctor of Philosophy in Biblical Theology (New Testament) (Wheaton)
- Status in Program: Graduating with doctorate in May 2014
“I decided to do an online MBA versus an in-classroom because I’m working full time. So that helps me be really flexible with doing coursework when I’m not working during the day.”
- Cedarville Graduation: 2012
- Graduate School: Davenport University (Michigan)
- Degree: Master in Business Administration
- Status in Program: Graduating in May 2015
“Med school has pushed me so much. It’s been really difficult, but it’s caused me to grow so much as an individual.”
- Cedarville Graduation: 2012
- Graduate School: Indiana University School of Medicine
- Degree: Doctor of Medicine
- Status in Program: After this year, two more years to earn his M.D. then probably a 3-year residency
“It’s not easy, and sometimes I regret doing it because it is so incredibly difficult. But in my sane moments, when I’m not all stressed out, then I remember the way God has been leading me to med school, and I take comfort in that.”
- Cedarville Graduation: 2013
- Graduate School: Wright State University School of Medicine
- Degree: Doctor of Medicine; Master in Public Health
- Status in Program: In first year
Questions to Ask Yourself Before Going to Grad School
- Why do I want to go?
- What do I want to go to graduate school in? What are the career paths open for people with that particular degree?
- Is it necessary? To do what I want to do, do I really have to go to graduate school?
- Is it urgent? Do I need to go right now?
- Did my undergraduate classes prepare me for this particular program?
- Is my expected income when I graduate from the program going to allow me to pay back loans without sacrificing the rest of life’s priorities?
Sources: Andrew Gillen, Patrick Osmer, R. William Ayres, Mike Kibbe
Nate Spanos contributed reporting to this story
Zack Anderson is a senior journalism and technical & professional communication major