Graduating from college with a bachelorâ€™s degree is a time of relief for thousands of students and parents each year, but there may not be a job waiting for them after the celebration is over.
â€œThank God itâ€™s over,â€ said Brittani Masterton, a graduating sociology major at Fresno State. â€œIâ€™ve been going to school since I was six, and working at least part time since I was 16. Iâ€™m ready for a career â€“ not a job.â€
But for graduating students like Masterton, the reality is that having a bachelorâ€™s degree may not be enough to make them competitive in todayâ€™s job market.
A 2006 report published by Occupational Outlook Quarterly reported that â€œThere are more job seekers with college degrees than there are openings of college-level jobs.â€
Furthermore, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, 27 percent of all adults have at least a bachelorâ€™s degree. The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates there are 250,000 more college graduates each year than there are college-level job openings.
This is evidence of a trend that has existed for more than 10 years, and a trend that is expected to continue.
â€œIn our parentsâ€™ generation, if you got your four-year degree, that was enough to get you kind of rolling on your career,â€ said Cynthia Van Doren, director of Career Services at San Joaquin College of Law. â€œNow itâ€™s a little more difficult. People are more educated and itâ€™s more competitive. You have to do different things to distinguish yourself. Itâ€™s almost a requirement if you want to move on to anything more than an entry-level position.â€
Students have options if they are willing to invest the time and money to get to the next level. Enrolling in a masterâ€™s program or professional school may open doors for students in this competitive job market.
â€œMy personal view is, in this day and age, it is almost necessary to go beyond your undergraduate degree,â€ said Van Doren, a recent graduate of San Joaquin College of Law. â€œWhatever advanced degree people are interested in, I think, in order to get to the next level, you almost have to have an advanced degree.â€
That advanced degree can not only get you a job, but also increase your income within your work field. The U.S. Department of Education reported that the average income for someone with a bachelorâ€™s degree is just over $59,000. Compare that to someone with a doctorate, who is estimated to make over $87,000 a year.
â€œThe more education you get certainly opens doors professionally and it increases your income potential,â€ said Diane Steel, director of Admissions at San Joaquin College of Law. â€œYour value and ability to contribute to the world increases your ability to help other people, and there is a tremendous amount of professional rewards in your ability to contribute in the shaping of our free society by being a real leader.â€
The admissions requirements for advanced degrees are as diverse for each discipline as there are options to choose from. But nearly all schools require an entrance exam such as the Graduate Record Exam (GRE) or the Law School Admissions Test (LSAT).
Tamyra Pierce, Ph. D., director of Graduate Studies for the mass communication and journalism department at Fresno State, said in an e-mail interview that she looks for masterâ€™s candidates who â€œachieve good grades, get involved with faculty â€¦ and do well on the GRE. These typically reflect how the student will do in graduate school. Iâ€™m also looking for students who have a desire to do research and apply what they learn to their research.â€
There are several different test prep agencies that will prepare a student for an entrance exam. Their fees range from free to thousands of dollars.
According to Steel, there are also steps students can take to prepare themselves for the courses they will take as they study for an advanced degree, such as law.
â€œPeople come from very diverse backgrounds when they come to law school,â€ Steel said. â€œAny courses you can take in reading and writing are going to be a key skill for you.â€
Van Doren agrees.
â€œYou can do things to prepare yourself, such as develop good study habits,â€ she said. â€œSpecifically, writing skills are very important.â€
Pierce said that once a student is in an advanced program, the biggest difference between graduate school and undergraduate school is that graduate classes are taken to a higher level.
â€œThe classes are generally small, and more of a seminar and deep discussion,â€ Pierce said of graduate level courses. â€œStudents are encouraged to think of subject matter in a broader scope and to apply critical thinking and theory to issues. Although there are some exams, the focus is on writing.â€
Steel said that students entering into graduate school soon discover the difference between their undergraduate study habits and whatâ€™s asked of them in graduate courses.
â€œOnce theyâ€™re in school, I understand from students, that itâ€™s nothing like what they expected in comparison to their undergraduate work,â€ she said. â€œThere is a lot of very in-depth study that is involved in order to succeed. You have to do a lot of work independently. You canâ€™t cram the night before an exam, you have to keep up on all the reading and you have to have a lot of self-initiative and drive.â€
Students like Masterton donâ€™t necessarily have to go straight into graduate or professional school, Van Doren said. They can go to work and â€œtest the watersâ€ to see what interests them.
â€œI can only speak from my experience, but I found that there were some advantages to having some work experience between your undergrad and your graduate degree,â€ Van Doren said.
â€œBut thatâ€™s an individual decision,â€ she said. â€œIf you already know where you want to go, thereâ€™s no reason why you shouldnâ€™t just head in that direction.â€