After Graduation (Chapter 12)
You have earned a masters degree. Congratulations! Now what? There are a number of things to deal with after earning your degree. Loan repayment, job prospects and the possibility of further education are just a few.
How employers view online masters degrees depends on several factors such as accreditation and personal preference. If your school is accredited by an agency approved of by the U.S. Department of Education and your degree is relevant to the work that you will do for an employer, then it should not matter whether or not you earned your masters degree online. Even so, some employers may still prefer degrees earned at traditional brick-and-mortar schools simply because they are more familiar with them. If an employer or potential employer is unsure about your degree, politely explain why it is important that your institution is accredited, the kind of work that you did for your degree and how you and your degree can contribute to the company or organization.
It is best to enter graduate school and pursue a masters degree only after you know what you want to do. If instead you choose a field of study and a program based on where you believe jobs will be in the future, you might miss out on some rather important details.
In 2008, the Bureau of Labor Statistics released a list of the fastest growing occupations and the level of education needed to practice these professions. At the top of the list for masters degrees are mental health counselors and mental health and substance abuse counselors. Although licensure and educational requirements vary by state, mental health counselors and substance abuse counselors must have masters degrees from accredited programs and institutions in order to practice. However, there are no accredited fully online masters degree programs for psychology or counseling, and only a few online masters degree programs in social work are accredited. If you were to enroll in and graduate from an unaccredited online masters degree program, it would be a rude surprise to discover that you could not practice with the degree you just earned. Do your research when it comes to pursuing an online masters degree, especially in the fields of psychology, social work and health.
Working in academia with an online masters degree can be tricky. If you are aiming for a teaching position at a brick-and-mortar institution, a masters degree from an institution where you had teaching assistant experience will carry more weight. These teaching assistantships almost always come from on-campus graduate programs. If you are planning on working in the administration side of academia, having earned your masters degree online may make little difference in your hiring potential.
Moving from an online masters degree program to an on-campus PhD program depends on your field of study, the accreditation of the school where you earned your masters degree and on the work you produced. Schools and employers are far more likely to be concerned with what you bring to the table than what school you happened to graduate from. Still, accreditation is an important part to being able to move forward in your studies.
Loans for your education are still loans and they have to be repaid. The nice thing about federal education loans is that you will often have more repayment options to choose from.
- Standard Repayment Plan: Under this plan, you would pay a fixed amount for a set number of years, usually ranging from 10 to 30, and will likely pay the least amount of interest over the life of the loan.
- Graduated Repayment Plan: This plan is designed so that your monthly payments are lower right out of school and increase every few years in the anticipation that your salary will increase over time. This option is great if your career is starting off slowly. Be warned that the loan’s interest will add up quickly and you will owe more over the life of your loan.
- Extended Repayment Plan: With this plan, your monthly payments are lowered by extending the life of your loan from 10 years to between 12 and 30 years. Again, the payments will be lower but the overall amount due will increase.
Another nice thing about education loans is that it is possible to defer these loans. Deferment means that you do not have to repay your loans while you are in school. Interest usually continues to accrue, but you are not penalized for choosing to remain in or go back to school.
Consolidation, or the combining of your student loans into 1 overall loan (and thus 1 overall payment) can be a great way to repay your education loans. Not every student and not every loan are eligible for consolidation. Also, there is a difference between consolidating both unsubsidized and subsidized federal education loans and private education loans. Once you consolidate your loans, they cannot be consolidated again, so be sure that you understand the terms and payment options before you agree.
- Consolidating Federal Education Loans: One of the advantages of consolidating federal education loans is that your new interest rate will be fixed, meaning that it remains the same for the life of the loan, and can often be much lower than your loans’ original interest rates, thus reducing your payments. Interest rates for consolidated federal education loans are capped at 8.25%. To consolidate federal education loans you might need to be finished with school or attending less than half time and owe more than $10,000 in total.
- Consolidating Private Education Loans: The bank or financial institution that issues your private education loans will have different stipulations for consolidation. If your private education loans are eligible for consolidation, pay attention to whether or not you will receive a fixed interest rate or a variable interest rate. If the interest rate is variable, it means that the rate changes depending on market standards and you could have a range of monthly payments. There is no cap on interest rates for consolidated private education loans.