For some students, taking on extra debt for graduate school is worth it

Posted December 9, 2015

Editor’s note: Total student debt in the United States now tops $1.2 trillion, a financial burden that has wide implications for the economy and society. In a series of stories, student journalists of the Falcon News Service examined what student debt means at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls.

With student debt nationally continuing to increase, it is no wonder that students are trying to graduate as soon as possible. But for some students, having just an undergraduate degree is not enough. Professions such as audiologists, veterinarians, doctors and lawyers have to continue their education beyond a bachelor’s degree.

That means taking on even more student debt is likely.

Some students want to go to graduate school to further their education and become more qualified for jobs. Allen Alzouhayli is a senior and he plans on furthering his education after he graduates from UW-River Falls.

“I am a business administration major with an emphasis in management and I am applying for law school,” Alzouhayli said.

Alzouhayli said he wants to go to law school because he wants to be able to help small businesses in the future.

Ted Harrington graduated in 2013 from Carleton College in Minnesota with a degree in political science. Unsure of what he wanted to do after graduating, Harrington decided to travel to Australia to work and save up some money. After returning from Australia, Harrington applied to the University of St. Thomas School of Law. He was accepted and attended St. Thomas for a year. Student debt was not a problem for Harrington, as he was awarded a lot of academic scholarships.

He said that after his first year at St. Thomas, he transferred to the University of Minnesota Law School because he thinks that graduating from the U of M will provide more opportunities. Harrington currently has three more semesters of law school before graduation.

Sometimes, graduates go into the workforce and then go back to school to receive their graduate degree, and that is what UWRF Enrollment Technology Specialist Mandy Collura is contemplating these days.

“On a personal note, I am in a place where I am trying to decide if graduate school and the debt that probably would come with it is worth it, so the struggle is definitely real,” Collura said. “I would like to know with confidence that the graduate program I choose will be help put me in a higher paying job so that I can pay the debt back in a reasonable amount of time.”

Collura also said the cost of graduate school is an investment that she is willing to make because it would be for her benefit in the future.

It is a tough decision that college graduates have to make because the student debt that they accumulated in the four or five years that they were an undergraduate can be high, depending on the college or university that was attended.

Senior Amanda Gemar, an elementary education major and early childhood education minor, is not planning to attend graduate school right after she graduates from UW-River Falls, but also is not putting it out of the future.

“I am not interested in attending graduate school right away, but I am interested in attending graduate school once I have been in the teaching field for five to 10 years,” Gemar said. “After I finish my undergraduate degree, I will have no student debt to pay back, so that aspect will not dissuade me from attending graduate school.”

For some students, capturing dreams and reaching goals requires further education after receiving an undergraduate degree. Animal science major Josh Lamarche is planning on attending a veterinary school after graduating from UW-River Falls and the student debt is an afterthought in his mind.

“I don’t think that money should hold anyone back from going to graduate school. If you are looking to get into a niche that you really enjoy and can see yourself doing that the rest of your life then you should do it,” Lamarche said. “The debt, in my mind, is an afterthought since I have sought to be a vet my entire life.”

He said he also believes that furthering his education puts him in a great spot when he gets into the workforce, and that the finances will take care of themselves.

“Finances are always going to be an issue with any student going on to further education after their undergraduate education, but I feel that going to graduate school, or veterinary school in my case, is going to better my chances of obtaining the job I really want,” Lamarche said.

Whether they have to attend graduate or law school because their future job requires it, or because they are passionate about getting the job of their dreams, some students at UW-River Falls are willing to take on the student debt that this will entail.