More students turning to master’s degrees

Is a master’s degree the new bachelor’s? Some Ryerson students think so.

Filled with curiosity — and anxiety — about their future, many students are looking at master’s programs with the hope that further education will come with an employability that a bachelor’s degree just can’t give them anymore.

Universities from across Ontario were present at the Ryerson graduate program fair on Jan. 21 to advertise the vast choices of master’s programs available and to introduce new ones.

“You can’t get a job with a bachelor’s degree now (because) everyone has one,” said Kari Zalik, the officer for national student affairs representing The Hebrew University of Jerusalem at the fair.

Zalik is not alone in thinking this. Some Ryerson students believe that four years of university is no longer enough to be successful in the job market, and the numbers are backing them up. Over the last 10 years, Ryerson has seen an increase of about 12,000 undergraduate students and over 1,300 graduate students. This growth has many occupations preferring applicants with a master’s degree in order to narrow the selection process.

Master’s Students
(Ryersonian Staff/Lillian Greenblatt)

“It feels impossible to stand out when everyone else has the exact same degree,” said Josh Calnan, a fourth-year computer engineering student. “The only thing that sets you apart is work experience, but how do you get work experience when no one will hire you?

“It’s an ironic cycle and getting a master’s seems to be a possibility to get ahead of others.”

The increasing demand for advanced credentials has led universities like Ryerson to offer a surplus of new graduate programs. In 2005, the Yeates School of Graduate Studies at Ryerson offered 19 programs. Now, it has 55 and counting.

Graduate programs at Ryerson
(Ryersonian Staff/Lillian Greenblatt)

According to a Ryerson press release from December, the university senate approved the development of five additional graduate programs for the fall 2016 semester. These programs include biomedical engineering, child and youth care, data science and analytics, engineering innovation and entrepreneurship, and mathematical modelling and methods.

But Jennifer Mactavish, dean of the Yeates School of Graduate Studies, said that the statistics of applications can sometimes be misleading.

“It’s the growth of programs that causes the higher amount of applications, rather than the other way around,” she said.

Salwa Saeed, the graduate admissions and recruitment officer for Yeates, said it is unclear if there will be an increase of applications for graduate school this year.

“At this point it’s a little too early to tell if we’re seeing an actual increase,” she said. “But we would sort of be inclined to anticipate an increase.”

Despite growth in the number of graduate students, additional schooling might not be the best option for everyone. In some industries, the deeper skill set and knowledge gained through a graduate degree is essential. In others, a bachelor’s may be enough to prove competence within the field.

Michael Gregoris is the marketing manager at ScribbleLive, a content marketing software company, and is responsible for sorting through applications and recruiting new employees. He said there are still options for students besides going to graduate school.

“There are other ways to stand out. You can get off the beaten path because sometimes it turns out the beaten path doesn’t take you anywhere,” he said. “Getting a master’s doesn’t typically set you apart any further. At the end of the day it all comes down to experience. Experience is the qualifier.”

Still, Mactavish also cautions students about staying in school for the wrong reasons.

“A graduate program is challenging,” she said. “If you’re in it for extrinsic reasons, such as money and status, then you shouldn’t pursue it.”

This article was published in the print edition of the Ryersonian on Jan. 27, 2016.

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