Mona Arif, an international studies major at the American University of Sharjah (AUS) who is graduating this year, is facing a tough decision. As her college years come to an end, Arif must decide: should she continue with her education and pursue a master's degree, or should she get a job and join the workforce?
Like many other students, she is uncertain.
"I've gone through periods of being convinced that I should do a master's straight away. At other times… I decide to take a year off and get some [work] experience," she said.
But while some like Arif are still busy weighing the pros and cons of each choice, for others, the decision comes more easily.
Ravza Altuntas Cakir graduated from AUS last term with a bachelor's degree in international studies. Now she lives in Sharjah with her husband, studying Arabic while preparing to leave for the United Kingdom to attend graduate school.
Although she considered working in Dubai before continuing her studies, she found that there were few jobs available, especially in the aftermath of the 2008 economic crisis.
That is not the only reason behind her decision. In today's increasingly competitive job market, Cakir feels that an undergraduate degree simply will not give her the kind of opportunities she's looking for.
"A master's degree is a must for our generation," she asserts. She quotes her uncle, a business adviser in Turkey, as saying that employers today are asking not only for a graduate degree but for proficiency in foreign languages as well.
But does a master's degree really pay off? Some, such as Huzaifa Haidar, do not think so. Haidar recently graduated from the University of Wollongong in Dubai with a bachelor's in commerce and is currently looking for a job.
He said he has no intention of pursuing a master's degree. Instead, he wants to apply for a British accounting certification programme, which he says will give him an edge a master's degree will not when applying for a job later.
A master's degree is simply not "worth the money or time", Haidar says. "So many [cousins] are doing MBAs and master's and are still jobless."
He may be on to something. According to Liz Weston, a personal finance columnist, in a New York Times "Room for Debate" article, published in 2009, Weston wrote that a master's degree's costs tend to outweigh its benefits, especially in the liberal arts and social sciences. In other words, it costs most people more money to get the degree than is made up for through the salaries of careers in those fields. Weston noted that while there are many factors to consider besides the cost, the financial investment involved is certainly enough to make a person pause.
Money is not the only sacrifice graduate students may have to make. Dr Stephen Keck, Head of the Department of International Studies at AUS, said that going to graduate school can involve more sacrifices than some students realise.
It requires a significant amount of time during which students may have to put off other plans, such as getting married or starting a family. If students are planning to travel abroad, they will be separated from family and friends during their years of study.
Once they finally hold their graduate diploma, students may find that their sacrifices will not immediately pay off. Keck points out that as graduate degrees become more and more common, they are not "a magic wand that will open doors with great riches behind them". In fact, a master's cannot even guarantee a job, he says.
It may make more sense for students, both personally and financially, to get a job on graduation, even if it is not exactly what they're looking for.
"The safe thing is always to get the job," Keck says. Students who have work experience will do better in graduate school because they have had the chance to develop professional skills, he said.
Taking a few years off from education to get some work experience not only gives students the chance to earn their tuition fees, he said, it also allows them to relax and really think about what it is they want to do in their careers.
David Van Over, dean of the School of Business at the American University in Dubai, agrees, pointing out that some MBA programmes, including the one at AUD, require two years work experience. He also says that such experience makes it easier for students to understand concepts taught in master's programmes.
However, Van Over points out that in many jobs, "bachelor's degrees are the equivalent of a high school diploma 20 or 30 years ago".
A graduate degree helps job applicants stand out, he said. Keck agrees, saying that not only do graduate degrees help students look more credible in front of potential employers, they also help students throughout their careers. A master's degree is something "[that] will continue to pay off as the skills you learned in graduate school are useful to the organisation that hires you," he says.
Van Over says that the decision to pursue a graduate degree "depends on what your job aspirations are".
This is especially true for Rana Abdul Fatah, who will be attending her senior year at York University in Canada in the fall. Rana said she wants to pursue a master's in communications so she can avoid an entry-level job on graduation.
Rana has done an internship and volunteer work in public relations, and says she is given administrative jobs she does not enjoy. The degree she plans to purse is one with practical applications, with the added advantage of being a one-year programme, and will give her a "competitive edge in the corporate world", she said. But Keck also points out that the decision to go to graduate school is a personal one, and many factors are involved in the decision.
For Mona, who is preparing an application to a Middle Eastern studies graduate programme, motivation to pursue graduate studies comes from wanting to be part of the changes currently occurring in Egypt. Cakir looks forward to using her master's degree, also in Middle Eastern studies, in working with the Organisation of Islamic Conference in their Istanbul office. For them, the decision is made.
Of course, they could always change their mind.
From / Gulf News