While most seniors are preoccupied with securing jobs after graduation, for other students commencement will just mark the end of this chapter of their education and the beginning of another. Instead, these Vassar seniors are getting ready to go back to school and earn an advanced degree.
The Career Development Office (CDO) says that over the past decade roughly 20 percent of Vassar graduates continued their education in the year following graduation. Obtaining an advanced degree is a common path for Vassar students, and those who do not immediately go back to school will do so in their near future. Half of all graduates will have or be working toward an advanced degree within five years of graduation, according to the CDO’s estimate. A survey conducted a year ago on the Class of 2012 found that of among those continuing their education the next year, about a third were seeking a master’s degree.
The second two most popular degrees were a professional and a doctorate degree, each being pursued by roughly 20 percent of seniors.
According to Acting Director of the CDO Stacy Bingham, types of degrees recent alumnae/i will pursue range from graduate and professional degrees to teacher certification and other post-baccalaureate programs. Bingham cited a number of benefits that come with taking a gap year after graduation, some of which included working to save up money, gaining a clearer understanding of the right path for you and improving your graduate school applications. In spite of these suggestions, these members of the Class of 2013 are firm in their decisions.
For many, the careers they are interested in simply require a level of even higher education.
The best time to go back to school, they felt, would be soon after commencement rather than later and risk losing momentum.
“Now is the time that I am prepared for and excited about the prospect of doing research at a higher level and earning my PhD,” Jared Saunders ’13 who will be studying at Princeton’s Molecular Biology program this year, wrote in an emailed statement.
“If I put that off, I might never do it,” he said.
A few months ago, seniors like Saunders found themselves in the same place they were four years ago when they were grinding out applications for colleges.
However, students found that the tone of the applications and the writings they required were different when applying to graduate school which made them surprisingly simple for Saunders.
“Most of them asked for a short personal statement, or wanted you to comment on what you would bring to the program,” wrote Saunders, “Compared to college applications, they are a piece of cake.”
For Jessie Kastenbaum ’13 who applied to speech therapy master’s programs, an advanced degree means an opportunity to take the courses she couldn’t find at Vassar. Though she is not yet certain where she will be heading next year, attending graduate school was a given for Kastenbuam because of her career choice.
You can’t work in speech pathology without a degree,” wrote Kastenbaum in an emailed statement, “so I figured it was better to get started on the degree than to spend a year or two doing things I was less interested in.” While Kastenbaum always knew her education would include schooling after Vassar, other seniors came to their decision more recently.
A year ago, Cassidy Hollinger ’13 had no intention of going to graduate school. But that summer of 2012, Hollinger was chosen to be a Ford Scholar as a student research assistant to a professor’s project. A visit to an academic conference in Columbus, Ohio changed her mind.
“After attending the conference, I was inspired to keep researching and studying, and I kind of fell into the perfect grad school program for me,” she wrote in an emailed statement. She applied and was recently accepted into a M.A. program in Performance Studies at the Tisch School of Arts at NYU.
For Hollinger, continuing her education provides her with a clear direction post-graduation, a time when many twenty-something-year-olds may have to cope with moving back home or are struggling in the competitive job world.
“I don’t know what I would have done with a gap year or years and there was something comforting about the idea of a long five year Ph.D. program. At the very least [it]would mean I knew where I would be living,” she wrote.
Seniors reflected that, while they would be back to studying, their new school would not be the same as Vassar.
Most obviously, the campus and population will be larger and the workload more demanding and focused.
And for some students this will be a time to break away from the days of studying concepts and theories, and an introduction to applying them directly to their career.
Kastenbaum will be enrolled in a clinical program, which will mean real, first-hand work.
“I’m definitely anxious about the adjustment,” wrote Kastenbaum. “I’m worried about the workload and about working with my first clients.”
She concluded “But I’m also excited about getting to take classes I couldn’t take at Vassar in a field I’m really passionate about.”