The Daily Illini

Seniors return to University for round two

By Zack Fishman, Staff Writer

The University will say goodbye to its seniors this May, but some are coming back next fall.

Each year, about 10 percent of the graduating class returns to the Champaign-Urbana area to attend graduate school, comprising one-third of all grad-bound seniors. These long-term Illini make up 1 in 6 graduate students currently attending the University.

But why stay at the same university after four or more long years? Surveys of departing seniors suggest they choose their graduate school primarily based on cost, academic reputation and quality of faculty. According to Elizabeth Sparks, an assistant dean at the Graduate College, many students find these very benefits at the University.

“I would suspect that returning students are familiar with the campus and had a good experience as an undergraduate, possibly having the opportunity to work with graduate faculty during their undergraduate program.” Sparks said.

But because students also have to take family into account — whether considering proximity to hometown or caring for a family of their own — “some students make decisions based on not only the quality of the program, but also based on life and family variables,” she said.

For Meagan Karuhn, senior in ACES, her desire to return encapsulates all of the above.

Graduating with a degree in animal sciences, Karuhn decided to stay on campus and attend veterinary school because of an exceptional experience throughout her undergraduate years.

“I love animal sciences. There are just so many opportunities that are available,” Karuhn said, noting the variety of animal practice and research options her department provides.

Karuhn’s excitement for her field of study has manifested beyond her strong grades. She won regionals as part of the Animal Science Academic Quadrathlon team, is a member of the agricultural professional fraternity Alpha Zeta and introduces prospective high school students to her passion as an Animal Sciences Ambassador.

Add a C-U community with “so many different events and things to get involved with” and a location so close to home, and it seems that attending “Vet Med” at the University was an easy choice to make for Karuhn.

That’s not to say grad school itself will be easy for her. The four-year program, ranked top 20 in the nation according to U.S. News and World Report, is known for its challenging workload and bright students.

“I’ve been used to being near the top of my class, but all the tops of the classes from all over the country will be in my class now,” Karuhn said.

Her day-to-day life will also see drastic changes as she transitions into vet school. No longer will her classes be spread sporadically across the main campus like the typical undergrad schedule.

Karuhn will instead spend most of her time in a single classroom on the Vet Med campus. The strict class hours may also prevent her from continuing her job at a goat dairy and creamery farm.

Between the new scenery and regimented schedule, Karuhn said it will “definitely be a change.”

Despite the challenges and uncertainties ahead, she remains excited for the new experiences and opportunities at a top vet school just a bus ride away.

“I’ll get more one-on-one experiences, and the vet school program at U of I is different than other schools in that they start clinical rotations the first year,” Karuhn said. “I think it’s definitely worth it to continue my education.”

After vet school, Karuhn plans to pursue small-animal practice with hopes of opening her own clinic.

As Karuhn and her fellow graduating seniors prepare for life after undergrad, some current grad students with a bachelor’s from the University are finishing up their first year back.

Take Kaolin Sewell, first-year graduate student in Media and former Illini Media Company employee, who is completing her master’s degree in journalism. She graduated last spring with a degree in music technology, but she wasn’t quite ready to move on from college.

“When senior year hit, I realized I didn’t have a focus with music technology, and I felt I was unprepared,” Sewell said.

Experience with some journalism classes and a personal blog during her final year in undergrad encouraged her to pursue her budding interest in writing more seriously.

“I realized journalism was a really good mix of things I liked and that it would give me even more options in the future,” Sewell said.

After receiving advice from her friends and advisers, she decided to try grad school.

For Sewell, applying to the University was a no-brainer. Her experiences in both music technology and the Marching Illini allowed her to become part of a close Illini community. After some final encouraging input from professors, Sewell committed to a fifth year on campus.

In her experience since, she has found that graduate school resembles her undergraduate years, but with some key differences. Most notable are the four-hour-long grad classes, but in return, they provide a more enriching educational experience.

“There’s less busywork and reading chapters, and instead more conversations and asking for your thoughts, which is cool because it helps you understand better,” Sewell said.

Sewell will complete her master’s thesis in August, and she hopes to work for nonprofit or independent newsrooms covering international news. And her thoughts on her extended stay at the University?

“It’s probably the best thing ever,” Sewell said.

About the Photographer
Toni Pantone, Assistant Design Editor

I’m a sophomore from Alton, Illinois. I’m majoring in advertising and minoring in art + design. Fun fact: I’m really good at memorizing birthdays.

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