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Students vow to chase the American Dream despite new reality

Students seek ways to separate themselves from the pack

Published: Monday, Feb. 4 2013 2:50 p.m. MST

“Not all of the (physician's assistant) schools require a certain amount of hours to get in but it does come very highly preferred,” Brown said. Her calculation is to put in the extra time to get into a better program that could cost her up to $100,000 when her schooling is completed.

“I’ll have a wide number of job offers when I graduate and a great, flexible career with a high starting salary.”

Tianna Tu, a political science major at the University of Utah, is trying to build an impressive resume. Tu, who has completed seven internships and campus leadership positions while maintaining a nearly perfect GPA, said the sacrifices she is making now are a small price to pay for getting into the law school of her dreams.

“Experience is something you cannot replace. I am investing in my future now by being willing to sacrifice sleep and money for experience and opportunity,” Tu said.

Nathan Hamill, an International Studies and Political Science major at the University of Utah, is focused on setting himself apart, while still exploring what interests him. He works at a law firm; is pursuing minors in side interests, like History and Middle Eastern Studies; competes in Model Arab League, and is studying Arabic.

He also intends on studying abroad in the Middle East to perfect his Arabic before he graduates. “I want to gain a successful, marketable utility to differentiate myself from the field, but I also want to have a fun semester abroad,” Hamill said.

Hamill, who plans to pursue a graduate degree, said he is not worried about his future.  

“I’m going to do what I want to do. If it works out, it works out. If it doesn’t, it doesn’t.”

Liz Behrens, a psychology major at Westminster College, is worried about the debt she will have to incur to get a master's degree in social work. “I’m really nervous because it will take me a lot longer to pay it off than most people because I’ll make a lot less money, even with a master's degree,” Behrens said.

Still, Behrens plans on applying to top programs out-of-state, despite the cost. “I don’t think I’ll apply in-state at all because I want move somewhere new and the best programs are out of state,” Behrens said. “It’s going to be a rewarding career for me. I feel like I can make a big impact working with marginalized populations. I won’t make as much money, but I think I’ll be happier.”

Joseph Brinton, a political science major at the University of Utah, is looking into top graduate programs in education. Brinton says he’s not worried about acquiring the debt associated with graduate school.

“First of all, you have the rest of your life to pay it off,” Brinton said. “I really like helping people and I’m starting to care less and less about my future economic status and more about what I’m going to do to help the world.”

Debt vs. opportunity

Kris Tina Carlston, a pre-law and pre-MBA advisor at BYU, says her office is trying to walk students through the cost-benefit analysis of going to graduate school.

“We’re really trying to be proactive,” Carlston said. “We counsel our students to have good credit now. If you’re planning on going to graduate school, it’s helpful that you have an emergency fund and have as little undergraduate debt as possible.”

“I’ll have a frank conversation of debt versus opportunity with each student,” said Carlston. “It’s a continuum. The opportunity provided by some schools makes debt worth it, and others not.”

Carlston says she tries to encourage students to look at both the quantitative and qualitative aspects of their applications.

“There’s always going to be a quantitation aspect to the calculation. Do well in school. Do well on standardized tests. That translates to getting into better schools and getting scholarships.”

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