Continuing education programs allow Illini to stay for grad school

By Drake Baer

Illinois offers a number of continuing graduate school programs, allowing undergraduates to pursue a master’s degree.

These programs are available in accounting, business, journalism, political science and others.

Kasey Umland, a graduate student in the civic leadership program, is taking advantage of the University graduate programs.

“Part of the reason I stayed here is because I loved it here,” she said.

“I got to stay at the (school)I loved,” she added. “When I first came back, I didn’t have an apartment. I was sleeping on my friend’s couch.”

One of the biggest differences between undergraduate years and graduate school, Umland said, is having all your friends within three blocks to only having three friends on campus.

“You don’t have time to be social (in graduate school) like in undergrad,” Umland added.

The transition from undergraduate to graduate studies was gradual, but eventually quite marked.

As a graduate student, Umland enrolled in 400 level undergrad/grad split classes, which “didn’t feel like a different experience,” she added.

For Umland, becoming a teaching assistant and also conducting research with her team made her grad school experience more real.

Many graduate students have an assistantship, either as a teaching or a research assistant, to supplement their incomes.

Umland and Ann Bozak, a second year doctoral student in political science, agreed that another important matter is acquiring funding.

Not many people pay for graduate school, but it is sometimes difficult to acquire funding, Umland said.

The funding fortunes of masters students is especially uncertain, she added.

A graduate workload is more intense than undergraduate, she said.

“There is a lot more reading; I had no idea what the reading load would be,” Umland said.

When selecting your research, you should be prepared to read all of the academic literature available on a given topic, she added.

There is a lot less busy work and professors are apt to allow papers to suit an individual student’s research.

“The most important thing isn’t your classes, but your research,” she added.

Umland’s group researched voting and a campaign reform in Illinois.

Her focus included the effects of campaign finance reform and e-voting. They have also evaluated the effects of globalization on votes, and the comparison of online social networks like Facebook versus traditional social networks.

PhD research is very independent and self-directed, Bozak said.

“It is both challenging and exciting,” she added.

The difference between doctoral and masters programs should be considered for anybody looking at graduate school. Umland said her master’s program gave her more practical skills, as opposed to the more academic focus of a PhD program.

Holding a master’s has helped open doors; there are many positions that require a postgraduate degree, Umland said.

“I have skills that make me more martketable,” she said.

Graduate schools makes a person feel more confident, more like an adult and more able to articulate, she added.

“But overall, graduate school is about developing yourself as a scholar and an expert,” Umland said.