As the COVID-19 pandemic roiled the U.S. economy for much of this year, MTSU’s College of Graduate Studies experienced an almost 28% increase in enrollment this fall as recent graduates, working professionals, displaced workers and others saw the value of enhancing their skills, knowledge and marketability by pursuing an advanced degree.
University administrators, faculty and students recently shared their insights about the graduate school experience, made more enticing for prospective students this year by a temporary waiver of admissions tests for certain programs.
Dawn McCormack, associate dean of the College of Graduate Studies, highlighted how in the last year they have homed in on a student-centered approach, cementing their role of matching and connecting students with the right program and faculty while also providing students with support.
“Everyone is here to help you succeed,” she said. “The graduate school is really looking to help people prepare for their future…. We’re connecting potential students who are looking to move up in their professional careers or even get started…. We see ourselves really in that role of linking them to these opportunities.”
“We do a lot more of the counseling and advising,” said Sarah Hendrix, strategic communications manager. “We help students with researching their options.”
The college will continue to grow next semester.
“We are up 150% in spring 2021 applications and up 200% in admitted students compared to the same day last year,” Hendrix said.
Graduate school basics
If interested in knowing more about a program, prospective students can meet with a graduate faculty member.
“The program (directors) are willing to have that conversation with students before they’re admitted to the program,” Hendrix explained.
MTSU offers a wide variety of programs and degree types, which they are continuing to expand upon. The website is an excellent first stop resource to learn about all the options, which are not limited to traditional, two-year graduate degrees.
“We want people to be able to come here for a course … a certificate or to come here for an entire program,” McCormack said.
When can someone apply? “Today,” Hendrix said, for most programs for the spring, summer or fall 2021 semester.
It is best to complete the application process earlier rather than later: McCormack recommended applying for the next spring semester right away. Some programs — such as nursing, psychology and public health — have stricter deadlines than others. Verify due dates online or contact the graduate studies office via phone or email for help.
The university offers graduate classes that are more affordable than others in the region, and there are payment plan and other options available through the MT One Stop on campus.
“Our price point is much lower, so it makes it viable for a lot of families,” McCormack said.
There are also several funding opportunities for graduate students. Students can work as graduate assistants for tuition coverage, be awarded scholarships, contract to become an ROTC cadet or inquire about tuition reimbursement from their employer.
Graduate students on campus come from a multitude of backgrounds: they are not limited to 20-somethings straight out of undergrad.
“We have just about everyone imaginable,” McCormack said. “Having people from a lot of different generations with a lot of different experiences, it only makes everyone in the course grow that much more…. We have programs that suit everybody, and we like that mixture.”
Some students take one class at a time, some are retirees looking to learn and others return to the classroom decades after their most recent graduation. The college works to support their needs.
“We have the resources here to help people through that,” McCormack said. “Our service never shut down during the COVID crisis…. We’ll be here except when the university is closed. Even during that time, we will answer emails and help applicants through the process.”
“I advise students that feel intimidated with grad school to start slowly,” said Dan Morrell, a professor of business administration and management courses. “If students are not quite sure that they can handle the workload, I suggest that they start with just one class. If that class works out well, they can add an additional class the next semester…. Usually, after the first semester, they feel relatively at ease with the graduate program.”
To educators considering furthering their own educations, Ashlee Hover, director of the online curriculum and instruction master’s degree program, advises them to “jump in and try it out.”
“Teachers should be lifelong learners,” she said. “Continuing and advancing your education will not only benefit you but will also help your students, school, school district, and community in the long run. It’s a win, win!”
Morrell added that MTSU’s graduate faculty “have a wealth of industry-related experience and connections with companies in the area.”
“They bring real-world experiences to the classroom and frequently invite professionals from the community to be a part of student learning,” he said. “We also offer assistance with finding internships that not only result in class credit but also may lead to career opportunities for the students that take part in them.”
For McCormack, helping develop the region’s workforce by graduating skilled professionals is a key mission of the university’s graduate program.
“We want the people in our region to be the people who are qualified for new positions coming to our region due to growth,” McCormack said. “We want to be the resource for people in Middle Tennessee to come (to) and to help them accomplish their goals, whatever that may look like.”
Von Richcreek graduated with a Master of Professional Studies this past summer. He balanced working full time and family responsibilities with getting his degree.
“I appreciated the flexibility that the online courses provided,” Richcreek said. “Quitting my job to go back to school was not an option, and I’m glad that MTSU offered this opportunity.
“The professors were very skilled and knowledgeable, and my adviser was a huge help in determining exactly what courses to take and when. She was also extremely helpful in handling all of the little things that arose over the course of my degree program.”
Sarita Balbuena, a sociology graduate student, said “the College of Graduate Studies has been a phenomenal resource through my graduate journey.”
“If I have any questions or concerns, they are always a quick e-mail away,” she added. “The College of Graduate Studies helps its students succeed through their courteous and knowledgeable expertise!”
International affairs student Michael Walters took a year off after undergrad before returning to campus after realizing he still needed to lay a better foundation for his future professional career.
“I honestly just missed being in school. I felt like I wasn’t fully ready for the real world yet,” he said. “There was a real focus (in graduate classes) on preparing us for life outside of school, and there were opportunities to make connections.”
Adam McCravy worked for five years before returning to school for his master’s degree in professional counseling.
MTSU has a “really good accreditation” for the program, he said. He had befriended a couple of working counselors over the years, and he asked them where he should continue his studies. “They both jumped to MTSU’s program.”
Walters and McCravy both said their graduate programs require a lot of reading, but Adam feels more buy-in now than he did in undergrad.
“I didn’t do the readings in undergrad,” he said. “In grad school (however), I’m here. I’m paying for this or working for this, so I’m actually doing everything you assign.”
Visit the website to learn more about graduate school at MTSU, including taking a virtual tour of the campus and using an interactive map. Also, follow the College of Graduate Studies on LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.
— Stephanie Barrette (Stephanie.Barrette@mtsu.edu)