By Cheryl Toomey, University Relations Graduate Assistant

Whether they are on the verge of finishing a baccalaureate degree or have been out of school for decades, students looking to broaden their horizons should consider a graduate degree at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.

“I think there are real advantages to going on to graduate school,” said Dr. Randy Walker, Interim Dean of The UTC Graduate School. “It gives people a chance to change their lives. Students can go back and expand their horizons or go in a whole new direction.”

UTC offers fifteen graduate certificates, twenty master’s degrees, one education specialist, and four doctoral degree programs. The programs are housed in our four colleges: Arts and Sciences, Business, Engineering and Computer Science, and Health, Education, and Professional Studies.

“Students find so much energy in our graduate program, in our faculty, and in their classmates,” said Dr. Joyce Smith, Director of Graduate Studies in English. “Intellectual development is encouraged in the classroom and in a variety of ways outside the classroom, from making students aware of presentation and publication opportunities, of employment opportunities both while they are students and later, and of the numerous public events here on campus.”

“I can already tell, after just one semester of graduate school, that I’m exponentially ahead of where I would have been had I gone straight to work,” said Jonathan Brocco, who is currently pursuing his master’s degree in Education. “I would have been okay adjusting to teaching, but doing this, being challenged the way I am, when I get there I’ll be more prepared and it will be an easier, more fluid transition.”

Students can progress their careers and increase their earning potential with an advanced degree from UTC. A master’s degree makes a 21.9% difference in median earnings over a bachelor’s degree. New job postings require or prefer master’s degrees 23% of the time. Unemployment is lower for those individuals with master’s degrees and job satisfaction tends to be higher.

“People with graduate degrees tend to have greater job satisfaction because they are doing the things they are interested in. They are more likely to be promoted to positions of responsibility and given more encouragement to be creative and take calculated risks. That improves the company or institution they work for, but at the same time makes them feel more worthwhile and more valued as employees,” said Walker.

For many students, graduate degrees are required to further their careers.

“Students come back often because they reach a point in their careers where they can’t go any further without having a master’s degree,” says Elizabeth Bell Director of Graduate Programs in the College of Business.

Some students may choose to pursue these degrees in advance.

“For me, graduate school was a forgone conclusion because of my career plans. I plan on working at a VA as a clinical psychologist focusing on PTSD and suicide prevention,” said Jessica McKinney, who graduated with her master’s degree in Research Psychology in 2013. “I chose UTC because it gave me the resources I needed to enter a Ph.D. program and the connections that will benefit me once I get out.”

“Education is getting to be an increasingly competitive field, so I definitely wanted to get my master’s under my belt early on. I’m networking, I’m learning more, and I’m gaining work experience in the field I want to be in,” said Brocco. “I think, being in that first interview, even though you have no on the job experience, having that master’s degree shows them that you’re really serious, that you’re passionate about this field.”

Some return to graduate school in order to improve their skills and training in their jobs. Students may also choose to return to graduate school to pair new skills with those learned in their undergraduate education, increasing their appeal for potential employers.

“Students who didn’t major in business as undergrads often come back to get MBAs to make themselves more marketable. It’s something they can pair with whatever their undergraduate degree was,” says Bell.

Others may return to graduate school to pursue whole new careers.

“People can work for an extended period of time in one career and then decide to change direction. People might think, ‘Oh, I wish I had gotten a degree in this years ago!’ Well, sometimes folks can,” said Walker.

Of course, many students may decide to pursue graduate school directly after completing their bachelor’s degree. Students may even begin working towards their master’s degree before they complete their bachelor’s. Seniors in good standing at UTC who are within thirty hours of completing their degree may take up to 9 hours of graduate level course work at no additional cost.

“If they plan it right, a student might be able to finish their master’s degree in as little as a year this way,” says Walker.

UTC graduate offerings are targeted to the lives of working adults in the Chattanooga area, with flexible schedules, evening classes, and online coursework. Through a series of partnerships in the community, UTC graduate students have opportunities to tailor their educational experiences to meet specific career objectives.

“We try to provide different opportunities to meet the different needs of students. I think we’re realizing that while there is still a market for offering classes in person, there is increasing need for online programs. So, for students that may live in a city where they don’t have access to a master’s program, or who may work third shift or travel a lot, those students with reasons they can’t physically come to class, the online MBA gives them that opportunity,” said Bell.

Graduate assistantships offer one way for students to pay for their graduate education while also gaining valuable work experience.

“I volunteered with PAWS for all of my undergraduate degree, and when I started considering graduate school, Sandy Cole, the Director, said that they could arrange for me to have a graduate assistantship with them. I thought that sounded like a pretty good idea,” said Brocco.

“But graduate school isn’t entirely about career preparation,” says Smith. “Students should see their graduate degrees not as a job preparation degrees, but as degrees to enrich both their lives and their job opportunities. Chattanooga is a vibrant, growing city, and UTC fosters that growth by preparing its graduate students to contribute to the community throughout their lifetimes.”

“For all students in any discipline, a graduate degree gives them a step ahead of the general population,” says Smith. “Students in English benefit greatly from a graduate degree: they find themselves in a position where their skills in critical thinking, analyzing, researching, writing, and communication are the very skills that all businesses value.”

“You will learn a lot, have an opportunity to do research and study new ideas and expand upon existing ones, and ultimately it will improve your chances of being successful when you go out into the world,” said Walker.

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