Pursuit of advanced degrees on the rise post-crisis

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Pursuit of advanced degrees on the rise post-crisis

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With an uncertain and competitive job market, many anxious individuals are furthering their education to boost their job security.

Heo Mu-hwan, 28, is one young talent who decided to go “back to school,” investing many hours after a long day at work.

Heo, a midsized construction company employee for the past three years, has attended graduate school lectures for the last two years after working from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.

By the time he gets out of class, it’s after 11 p.m. Next January, Heo will graduate from Dankook University Graduate School of Business.

“Having graduated with an education degree, I’ve attended graduate school and have been studying endlessly with the thought that I need to survive and build up competitiveness in the construction industry,” Heo said.

Young professionals set themselves apart from the competition and strengthen their resumes with high Toeic scores and GPAs in order to become employed. But just getting hired isn’t enough.

They have to improve their skills to keep their jobs.

Especially with the financial crisis in 2008, which put everybody’s job security on the line, these young professionals believe it is a worthy investment to advance their careers and competitiveness in their fields. Thus, they head back to graduate school to pursue advanced degrees.

A 29-year-old employee of STX Corporation, Park Sang-seob, matriculated at Korea Maritime University to earn a master’s degree in shipping finance.

He is the youngest in his program out of 20 students. Most students are in their 30s and 40s and are bankers or employees of big corporations.

“Those who play the role of backbone of the workforce, employees in their 30s and 40s, are now spending time in graduate school,” Park said. “I am impressed when I see them spend nine hours in class, even on Saturdays.”

Kim Jeong-in, professor of business management at Chung-Ang University, said, “These days, you cannot seek distinction simply through a degree, hence employees seek out graduate schools to gain knowledge that cannot be gained from the workplace.

“Each graduate school, in order to meet the demands of such students, is offering classes on Saturdays and opening specialty graduate programs.”

Other employees seek out night classes. An employee at a foreign firm, Kim Na-yeon, 33, is studying counseling psychology in night classes after work.

Kim said, “If I think of myself in this job 10 years later, I myself feel burned out and lose energy and fervor,” Kim said. “In order to realize a better vision 10 years from now, after much contemplation, I chose to pursue counseling psychology.”

As more students with jobs fill graduate school programs, the atmosphere of lecture halls also shifts.

Lee Jae-bong, 32, who has worked at a large corporation for the past six years, is now studying industrial engineering at Seoul National University.

“Unlike studying without any direction like in my 20s, when I hear lectures now, I think ‘I can apply this to the company.’?”

By Lee Ji-sang [sarahkim@joongang.co.kr]

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