Graduate degrees in the sciences profitable; financing becoming more difficult to find

More than 20 million students were enrolled in graduate schools in the United States in 2010.  A person with a bachelor’s degree averaged $43,000 annual income while the holder of a master’s degree averaged $53,000 according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

These figures, combined with the difficulties many young people now have securing a job in the downturned economy, are motivation to pursue higher education.

The average graduate school costs $30,000 per year, according to the national center for education statistics.  Much of the financial aid for Ph.D. students, about 66 percent, has historically come from academic institutions.  Master’s degree students received about 20 percent of their financial aid from their institutions.

Financial aid programs are now being cut, along with tuition benefits for employees of companies, such as Boeing, a manufacturer of commercial jetliners.

To gain financial assistance, some students who are qualified for prestigious universities are opting to attend less well-known programs to get free tuition.  Also, many Ph.D. students are conducting research to get grants and assistantships.

Applying early in the application cycle can offer a financial advantage as many graduate schools look for qualified applicants early on.

On-campus jobs also can provide a buffer for tuition expenses, although many schools with intense programs prohibit students from working.  Some apprenticeships can greatly off-set the cost of tuition.

Choosing a graduate school can be a difficult task, given the competition  for a small number of open seats.  Being successful in graduate school usually involves being aware of how to apply, what standardized test to take and how to finance one’s education.

For most, the first step is choosing the right school to attend.

In biological sciences, the top four schools in the United States are Stanford University, Harvard University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology and University of California, Berkeley, according to US News & World Report.

Computer science, a rapidly growing field, can be a gateway into careers in research and technology.  The top- ranked institutions in computer science are Carnegie Mellon University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Stanford University and University of California, Berkeley, according to US News & World Report.

If interested in chemistry, the top schools are California Institute of Technology, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, University of California-Berkeley and Harvard University according to US News & World Report.

Jobs commonly open to students with  graduate degrees in chemistry can be found at research institutions, pharmaceutical companies and laboratories.

Most graduate institutions rate applicants by their GPA and GRE scores.  The GRE, which stands for graduate record exam, is taken by more than 600,000 people each year.  It is an adaptive computer-based test. This means that the more questions a person answers correctly, the more difficult the questions become.

There are three sections on the GRE: analytical writing, verbal reasoning and quantitative reasoning.  The scoring range of each section is from 200 to 800.  The first 10 questions are the most important to answer correctly in order to achieve a high score, said national GRE content director for Princeton Review, Neill Seltzer.  Preparation assistance is available from several companies in multiple formats to fit students’ busy schedules.

“If you keep getting the early questions right, eventually you’ll put yourself in such a high scoring bracket that no matter how well you do on the remainder of the test, your score can only go so low,” said Seltzer in an interview with US News.

“If you get those first 10 questions right, you’ll be happy with your score no matter what happens on the rest of the test,” Seltzer added. “If you don’t get those first 10 questions right, it doesn’t matter what happens on the rest of the test—you’re already in a hole that you won’t get out of.”

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