By JAMIE HEATON
Life for BYU graduates seeking advanced degrees at other institutions remains somewhat of a mystery to those still studying in “happy valley.”
However, according to the BYU Institutional Studies Department, at least 25% of BYU graduates who come in to pick up a cap and gown go on to find out what graduate school is really like.
“Since not all BYU graduates participate in commencement, the numbers are probably higher than 25%,” said Bruce Higley, director of Institutional Studies. “Reports from April 1996 show that 38% of BYU male undergraduates continue seeking advanced degrees compared to 15% of BYU females.”
For undergraduate students looking toward graduation from BYU, it seems like receiving that diploma should open up a door of long-awaited relief. According to counselors and BYU faculty, a time of would-be rejoicing and celebration can be a time of panic. This is especially true for students expecting to go to graduate school if they have not planned ahead both mentally and scholastically.
Sue Wilkens, counselor for Open Major Advisement, said that while the transition from undergraduate work at BYU to graduate work at another school can be challenging academically, there isn’t enough time spent preparing students, especially single students, for the social changes.
“When selecting a graduate school, students will want to make sure they will have a support system,” Wilkens said. “The support network is almost more important than the graduate program.”
Richelle Andersen, a BYU alumna who completed graduate work at Bowling Green State in Ohio, said, “Studying at BYU, I felt secure. It was harder to find spiritual support in Ohio, but I learned to approach friendships from a different position. The friendships I made there were wonderful, I just worked harder for them.”
Melinda Ashton, a first-year medical student at Northwestern University and BYU alumna agreed that she has felt very lonely at times. This she attributes to the intensity of her study schedule and the number of married couples around her.
Male graduates tended not to suffer from loneliness, or at least didn’t express it, as much as BYU females. Stephen Adams who is studying osteopathic medicine at Midwestern University in Glendale, Ariz. said he really hasn’t noticed a change socially.
Adams said, “Graduate work is just a more focused curriculum in what I want to be studying.” He said that out of 103 students in his class, nine are Latter-day Saints.
Many former BYU students appreciate the diversity their graduate schools offer and the chance to talk about religious beliefs. Ashton said her classmates have been very interested in BYU and willing to talk openly about religion.
“Religious discussions must be in the right context,” said Sherry Sheffield, former BYU student who studies marriage and family therapy at Northern Illinois University. “Sometimes it is hard to make comments in a classroom setting because I’m not used to separating my religious values from the academic topic.”
Recently she wrote a paper on whether mothers should work, “I read the First Presidency Proclamation to the Family and then I read statistics on the harm of confining mothers to the home; it is hard to always reconcile the differences,” Sheffield said.
Dating concerns many single BYU graduates because so much time is spent with classmates studying, they find it difficult to “hang out with church friends.”
Steve Dixon, a BYU graduate seeking a masters degree in both business administration and electrical engineering at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champagne said, “At BYU I could ask girls out even if I didn’t know them that well, and they didn’t think anything of it. Here, girls seem to question my motives if we are not close friends first.”
Dixon said the biggest difference he’s found studying in Illinois is that everyone talks about alcohol and no one talks about marriage until they are at least 30. “In one class of about 80 students, the teacher asked how many were married, three hands went up and two of those people were Latter-day Saints.”
Though challenges do exist for former BYU students in the “gentile academic world,” graduates are very enthusiastic about their studies and lives; they highly recommend continuing education beyond a bachelor’s degree.
Wilkens suggests that students looking into graduate programs should get to know other students in the desired field at the university of choice. She suggests going to the school to conduct interviews, not only with professors, but also to find out about church activities, institute programs, housing and so on.