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The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

The Statesman

The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

The Statesman


    Higher Education Raises Both Brain Power and Salary Bar

    Abbreviated titles of professions are often symbols of a privileged and respected life for those who can give the general public professional advice. While most people know that M.D. stands for Doctor of Medicine and Ph.D. is a Doctor of Philosophy, it’s not as clear to most how to obtain these titles. And, generally, students do not understand that these two prominent titles do not encompass all the professional routes students can follow if they want to continue their formal education.’ This’ article will expose students to some key information and ideas about graduate education of different fields.

    What is Graduate Education?
    Graduate program can be separated into three major categories: professional programs, master’s programs, or PhD programs. Professional programs, including those of business administration, law, education and medical schools, are geared to provide rigorous training toward a specific profession or practice. These programs have a wide variety of time commitment depending on the area of specialization.

    Time Commitment

    Most MD and Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (D.O.) program requires 4 years of training before the beginning of residency. A Juris Doctor (J.D.), or a degree in law, is generally a three-year program. While most Masters programs are 1 to 2 years in length, PhD programs can range from 4 to 7 years. Depending on the school and the particular department, Master’s degree might or might not be a prerequisite for the application of a PhD program. Recently, more universities are offering more convenient and time-saving programs for students who want to pursue two different degrees at the same time. M.S./M.B.A. programs are offered by many universities who have established business schools. Prestigious programs such as Medical Scientist Training Program (MSTP) are supported by government funding to train students to be expert in basic science in clinical research through a M.D./Ph.D. program.

    Usually, the time commitment of post baccalaureate education can impose a great financial burden to students who are not prepared for graduate education early on or if they have planned on contributing to their family’s income. This is because the income of graduate students is generally lower than those who have full-time employment outside of the academic realm.

    Earning Power and Benefits

    However, Dr. John Gergen, Associate Dean of the SBU Graduate School presents the bigger picture of the benefits of graduate education: ‘If you look at statistics, students who had earned a post baccalaureate degree will have earning power that is significantly higher.’ Indeed, when a student browses through a job search engine, he or she can generally see that some jobs would require a higher degree in order to apply and the compensation is usually observed to be higher. It can be said that a Master’s or higher degree is a person’s ‘license to negotiate’ his or her salary.

    Another dilemma that students have to face is how to pay for graduate education. Luckily, this should be the least of their worries if they are planning to apply to a doctoral program. Most doctoral program in the United States would actually pay students to go to school in the forms of stipends and fellowships. These fellowships enable students to focus on studying instead of taking up part-time jobs for their basic needs such as housing and health insurance.


    Besides monetary benefits and respect earned from the bonafide title, the most important aspect of a graduate education is that it is not just a training to do repetitive work. In a research-oriented program, students can learn critical thinking skills and do ‘original research that makes a contribution of knowledge.’ According to Gergen, graduate school is a place for people who like thinking and discovering the unknown.

    Academia might not get paid as much as other places but a successful researcher can become a principal investigator who has his/her own laboratory. In Gergen’s experience, he likes to get to be his own boss, ‘I get to think what I like to think about, and nobody tells me what I should do.’

    Between Master’s and Ph.D.

    In applying for graduate study, students often wonder what degree should one apply and where should one apply. The answer is very dependent of the individual’s need, personality and choices. Communication with your program advisor is usually very important in exploring different options of a specific field. Students can also find general guidance on careers and schools at the Career Center. ‘


    While some graduate education has no particular course prerequisites, others are infamous for their strict requirements. Early planning is generally required for those who wants to be admitted to medical schools, pharmacy schools, and dental schools, as strategic course planning can determine the failure or success of completion of the application requirement.

    Another basic step that is often overlooked by students is the development of interpersonal relationship with faculty. Two to three recommendation letters are usually required by graduate programs in the United States. It is very unlikely that a faculty member or an internship supervisor can develop a worthwhile academic relationship with a student overnight or in one week’s time. It can be said that a great recommendation letter would only culminate through time and hard work.

    An extension of networking within the student’s current institution would be to develop relationships with faculty of prospective institution. This is especially helpful in a research setting. ‘E-mailing [professors] ahead of time is important because no matter what field you are in, you want to build a relationship with someone you are going to work with and you need to show [others] that you are independent, and being able to take your own initiative if you set your mind into doing something,’ said Adiba Ali, a graduate student of the Biomedical Engineering program.

    Besides taking the required courses and developing interpersonal relationship, students must also check the ‘prospective student’ section of the school’s website in order to checkoff all the required tests. The most general test is the Graduate Record Exam (GRE), a series of tests required by most graduate program. Similar to SAT, it consists of a general test and subject tests. Other tests include Medical College Admission Test (MCAT), Dental Admission Testing (DAT), Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT), Law School Admission Test (LSAT).


    Generally, a student would apply to 5-6 different institutions for a science and engineering graduate program. Other programs, such as medical programs, would require a much higher number of applications. To make sure that all application packages are completed with transcripts and recommendation letters, students are recommended to draw out a schedule for each step of their application. A neat plan can avoid unnecessary mistakes and confusions.

    For more specific guidance, students can also talk to other successful graduate students for advice.’ Small details can be easily told by those who had just finished their application a year ago. First year graduate student Ali advised, ‘Relate your laboratory experience in your personal statement, and show [the admission committee] that research is really something that is very exciting.’

    Once You Are There

    Graduate study may be very different from your undergraduate study or it may be very similar, but it will have a major impact on your life for sure. As Gergen explained, ‘By the time that you finish a PhD program in graduate school, you will be around 27-28 years old. Consid
    ering the current life expectancy, you will have 30-40 years of work ahead of you. [The decision of applying to higher education] is a question of where you like to work and not just punching the clock.’

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