Grad school or graduate

Carleton student Ramzi Nashif is joining tens of thousands of students across Canada in pursuing a graduate degree because specializing in a profession  gives him a great chance of higher income than just  starting work having a bachelor’s degree.

Nashif began by earning his undergraduate degree at University of Ottawa in hopes of getting a job at the Department of Foreign Affairs. After graduation, he began searching for work but was discouraged when he couldn’t land a job even though he graduated with an 88 per cent average..

Federal deficits have  led the department to  impose a three-year hiring freeze. “The only way to get a job at the department was to take a back-door approach,” says Nashif. “I knew that to stand out and get a job, I needed to get more education.”

The competition for knowledge-based work positions in Canada is getting fiercer as the number of students enrolled in universities increases each year.

According to a Statistics Canada National Graduates Survey, just over 1,066,000 students were enrolled in the 2007/2008 academic year, up 0.6 per cent from the previous academic year. Out of this, 812,700 students were in undergraduate programs.

To beat out competition, more students are pursuing graduate programs that are increasing in number and specialization across Canada. In 2007, enrollments in masters programs rose 5.4 percent to 101,000 from the previous year. At the doctorate level, enrolment rose 5.4 per cent to 40,400 from the previous year.

Nashif is now joining some of these students working on his Master’s  degree at the Norman Paterson School of International Affairs. About 50 per cent of students in this program will pursue government positions  and graduate degrees will take them farther up the pay and prestige ladder.

“Starting is from $50,000 – $60,000 and there’s a good chance of moving up the pay grade,” says Nashif. “That’s the benefit of a master’s degree. You make more money and get better jobs with benefits. You also get the job over someone else with an undergrad.”

Better employment opportunities

Statistically speaking, he is right. In 2007, two years after they had graduated, a higher number of graduates with a master’s degrees were working full time than those with a bachelor’s degree.

The Statistics Canada study also found that the largest earnings gap of 33 per cent exists between the bachelor’s and master’s levels, suggesting that investing in further postgraduate work is financially beneficial.  In their first positions, bachelor graduates made approximately $45,000, where master’s and doctorate graduates made approximately $65,000.

On the other hand, the earnings gap between master’s and doctorate students shows that the financial gain is marginal at only 8 per cent. Also, the number of graduates with a doctorate degree that were working full time two years after they had graduated was lower than graduates with a master’s degree.

Another obstacle for students is the high cost of a graduate degree. In 2007, two years after graduation, loans exceeded $20,000 on average for graduates at the master’s and doctorate levels.

Pierre Lemasson, owner and director of the Rockhurst Careers Group, advises students to wait until they have found their passion before spending money on a graduate degree. He says working in an industry for two years is a good way to discover where your interests lie.

“The earlier you explore an industry the better for you in terms of making a smart choice where to spend huge amounts of money on an education,” says Lemasson. “Many people have a student debt and they can’t use their degrees, and they don’t even like what they studied.”

Masters grads make more

Lemasson also says focusing solely on money could be a mistake for a graduate student.

“By the time you finish your studies the demand for your skills may not be there anymore. To define your future based on the external demand would blind you from the most important point of who you are and what you have to offer the world. “

Although he went straight from an undergrad to a master’s, there is still good news for Nashif. The highest proportion of students who were able to clear their debt two years after graduation were masters students, at 32 per cent.

In a year and a half, Nashif will finish his master’s degree. He plans to travel before deciding whether or not to pursue a doctorate.

“I’m going to take some time off after I finish to travel and learn a language before deciding what to do next.” I’m not in a rush to get a government job. I just want to find what I love to do.”