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Return to Eden

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September is rolling in and stores across the nation are selling stacks of backpacks and lunch boxes in preparation for a new school year. Children are counting the days till classes start with a little trepidation and a lot of excitement. And even those of us who are fully-grown begin to feel nostalgic about learning new and fascinating things.

For me, those feelings started in early summer when I attended my college reunion. I emerged from that experience with a new theory that reunions are merely part of a conspiracy to get recent graduates to continue their educations.

Roughly two years, three months, and one week ago, I graduated from the first of the Seven Sisters colleges, Mount Holyoke College, in South Hadley, Massachusetts. I emerged from the Richard Glenn Gettell Amphitheater full of promise, hope, and enthusiasm, only to find that the real world can be a cold, cruel place where the jobs are scarce and the pay is low.

With no previous internships or high-powered connections, my dreams of becoming a journalist were at least temporarily squashed. Instead, I started a job as an underpaid and under-appreciated teacher's aide; the youngest teacher's aide in the entire middle school.

Two years of casual job searching and 56 student loan payments later, I decided this year's summer vacation would be spent actively searching for a better job --one that would actually make use of the skills I'd acquired during my four years in college. But first, a trip to my alma mater for the long awaited two-year reunion.

The minute I set foot on the campus, my campus, I immediately felt relaxed. The air was fresher, the grass was greener, and I could breathe easier.. Stress? Sleep deprivation? Eight a.m. classes? When reunion rolls around you forget about the 20- page papers, all-nighters, and far too sexually active neighbors. All that's left is the beautiful landscaping, the smoothies in the campus center, and the raucous, late-night parties.

I was transported back to a time when I only had one bill a month: my credit card bill. When food was readily available and already prepared for me. When friends were just a few doors away and always ready for a distraction. And when I didn't have to pay to go to the gym or even to ride the bus. In other words, heaven.

 

Mt. Holyoke College campus

Mount Holyoke.jpgSo of course, with my less than happy existence back home and very few prospects in front of me, I began to think about returning to the hallowed halls of academia. I could get my masters in journalism, pursue a degree in pastry arts, or even do something crazy and like law school... well, maybe not law school, but you get the idea. Of course, I can't blame it all on my return to Mount Holyoke's idyllic campus. I have to admit the idea had occurred to me before the reunion. But the reunion heightened my appetite to return to the warm embrace of academia.

And I'm not the only one. Since the recession began, applications to law schools and graduate programs have been increasing. According to a January article in the Washington Post, the number of people taking the Law School Admissions Test rose 20 percent between 2008 and 2009. Also in 2009, the number of Graduate Record Examination test takers was up 13 percent from the year before.

So what makes continuing education so appealing during a recession? I think it's obvious. In a way, it lets you hide out until the whole recession thing blows over - a sort of close your eyes and stick your fingers in your ears maneuver. More importantly, however, it seems like an excellent way to widen your skill set and make yourself more appealing to employers, or even to learn an entirely new skill and potentially double the number of positions open to you.

But is it the right thing to do? According to statistics reported in the Wall Street Journal last month, grad school may not be the best option. The number of 20- to 34- year-olds with master's degrees in the job market has risen 12 percent in two years. And with more people applying to grad schools every minute, by the time you finish your master's, those numbers will be even higher.

However, it seems more education still means more money. In 2008, twenty-somethings with master's degrees made about $8,000 more than those with a measly bachelor's degree.

So what will I do? I'm really not sure. I know returning to school wouldn't mean returning to my carefree undergraduate days, but it would be a return to learning new and exciting things and broadening my prospects.

On the other hand, I need to pay the bills.

 

Julia Glowacki is pondering the future from her home in Columbia, Pa.

 

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