Graduate school is a hot topic these days. Undergraduate degrees are already seen as crucial, and when people start comparing today’s bachelor’s degree to the high school diploma of yesterday, the question of whether or not to attend graduate school seems to linger over students before they’ve even thrown their undergraduate caps in the air.
However, the necessity for a master’s degree also depends on the line of work. The U.S. Census recently showed that, between 2002–2012, the strongest change in educational attainment occurred between master’s degrees and doctorate degrees. According to the Census summary of this study, “The population with a doctorate grew by about one million, or 45%, while those who held a master's climbed by five million, or 43%.”
Still, in the current job market, some shy away from pursuing a master’s or doctorate. And not so surprisingly—it costs a lot of money and time!
But what if you didn’t have a choice? It’s important to research the requirements for the profession you are aiming for, and you may be surprised. For some, earning a master’s degree is a prerequisite for your job, though it may depend on the state. For others, it’s just plain necessary, wherever you work. Of course, the medical professions immediately come to mind. Doctors, dentists, and even veterinarians. But you knew about them already. What about teachers? Or psychologists? Here we take a look at some of the professions requiring advanced degrees—and what you can do to prepare for them.
Many start teaching with their undergraduate degrees and then have to obtain their master’s within five years due to state standards. New York and Massachusetts are cited as states that require this of their educators (Ohio used to until recently).
Will this be a continuing trend for other states? Is it a challenge for many teachers, due to programs offered? What about the current average salaries for teachers up against the cost of tuition? A spokesperson for the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation says, “As professionals entrusted with the education of our youth, ongoing professional development will always be a requirement of teachers. In some cases, this takes the form of requiring or strongly encouraging teachers to obtain a master’s degree within a certain amount of time. Hopefully this is made more feasible for working teachers through professional development support, coupled with various delivery methods.” As for principals and superintendents, you bet your bottom dollar that graduate degrees will be required.
Counseling and psychology
Guidance counselor Emma R. Wilson studied Spanish as an undergraduate at Roanoke College and then went on to graduate school at University of New Hampshire. She focused on counseling and psychology, and school counseling for development, earning a master’s in education (M.Ed.). “I think, especially if you’re a psychology major undergrad, you can’t really do anything without a master’s degree,” Wilson says. She also notes that a master’s degree is essentially in working in the mental health fields: “Counseling, psychiatry, psychology, or school counseling. The amount of people we see who go on to get [entry-level jobs without a master’s degree] in psychology is unheard of,” she says. “Even with a master’s degree and licensing, it’s hard to find a job. Some people even get a doctorate now.”
Not only that, a practicum is required. “We practiced counseling in our practicum class,” says Wilson of the full-year internship “working in the trenches.” The practicum lasted August through April. “You really get to put everything together. It’s not just book knowledge anymore.”
It’s common knowledge that medicine requires advanced studies, due to the sensitivity of the work, and knowledge and training required. But how daunting is it really for med students? Andrew Marple, an M.D./Ph.D. candidate, is currently in the midst of completing his studies.
He knows all too well the challenges of the work and what prospective students may not be prepared for.
“In terms of medicine, a lot of people get into it for the wrong reasons . . . they don’t realize what goes into being a doctor,” he says. “You’re working all of the time. You have to move all around the country. Residencies, med school, specialties . . . it prohibits you from having a normal life that a lot of your friends have.”
Marple studied biomedical engineering at the University of Maryland for his undergraduate studies. He had started as a mechanical engineering major, but switched to biomedical when he became interested in medical school. Marple says the undergraduate prerequisites prepare med students for the next steps, but “it’s an insane amount of information that you have to learn in a short amount of time.
“Ordinarily, I’d be done, but I’m doing a Ph.D. program. Right now I’ve done six [years] and I have two left. You do two years of basic sciences in med school and the last two years are clinical rotation.” He will be doing clinical research and applying his Ph.D. studies there. “So as long as you’re doing it for the right reasons and you know what you’re getting into, it doesn’t become that big of a deal,” he says.
Speaking of medical careers, what about veterinarians? Not only does a veterinarian have to know their way around a body, they have to know their way around many different species’ bodies!
“To become a veterinarian, you must first attend college and take courses which will prepare you for veterinary school,” says Rebecca Russo, Director of Admissions at the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University. “Although you may choose to major in any subject, there is a specific set of course work required for entry into veterinary school. . . . The veterinary school curriculum takes four years to complete and leads to a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (D.V.M.) degree.
After graduation from veterinary school (not to mention passing the required board examinations), you are then considered eligible to practice as a veterinarian. “[We have] a diverse class of students with a wide range of personal, professional, and academic experiences. So the challenges encountered by our students are unique to each individual,” she says. “The course work is rigorous, and it takes a lot of dedication to become a veterinarian. But for our students, working with and helping animals is a lifelong passion, and our graduates would tell you that the hard work is ultimately worth the effort.”
Of course, this is just the tip of the iceberg for jobs that require graduate degrees. One could also delve into audiology, physical therapy, optometrists, professors, textbook writers, museum curators, economists—the list goes on!
In a sense, you have to be aware that you are in it for the long haul. But the amazing takeaway for these students? “They are able to pursue their dreams and contribute to the world in ways they never thought possible,” Russo says.