In an increasingly competitive workplace, master’s degrees are slowly replacing the previous industry standards of bachelor’s degrees, so students are looking into graduate schools more and more.

Jason Lancaster graduated from Cal Poly in 2010 with a bachelor’s degree in anthropology and geography. After a year of travel, he enrolled this year in the graduate program at the University of California, Los Angeles in order to earn his master’s degree.

“I wanted to go further in my studies to keep me at a level playing field with my competition in the job market,” Lancaster said.

But Lancaster wasn’t able to stay at Cal Poly for his degree because the university doesn’t offer a master’s degree in anthropology.

“That makes sense,” Lancaster said. “I don’t think there would be enough students anyway. I had a great experience at Cal Poly, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything. I still wear my Cal Poly sweatshirt all the time.”

In fact, most of the university’s graduate-level studies are aimed at two of its strengths — engineering and agriculture.

The graduate coordinator for the College of Agriculture, Food and Environmental Sciences Mark Shelton helps students with their application for graduate studies both at Cal Poly and elsewhere.

“We have a great program,” Shelton said. “We get a lot more applications than students.”

Shelton said within his college, approximately half of the graduate students did their undergraduate work at Cal Poly. The others come from universities across the nation and the world, including students from Peru and China.

Shelton said the graduate program at Cal Poly is different from most schools.

“The biggest difference is the practical orientation of the work,” Shelton said. “Whereas at other schools, a student working to get their master’s is just training to get their Ph.D.”

In the agriculture field, applicants to Cal Poly’s program have their work cut out for them — Shelton said the university accepts only approximately 20 percent of students to the animal science and agribusiness programs and just 10 percent for its food science and nutrition program. Shelton said the university will offer a Master’s of Professional Studies of Dairy Foods next year after a $5 million donation from dairy industry giant Leprino Foods.

All students applying for the graduate program, regardless of where they did their undergraduate studies, must take the Graduate Records Examination and solicit letters of recommendation.

Shelton said the deal-breaker for a student’s acceptance can often rely on whether or not the student has a support of a professor or committee chair for the required thesis.

Cal Poly offers a special alternative to engineering students who want to earn their master’s degree. As part of the “4+1 Program,” engineering students can earn both their bachelor’s and master’s degrees simultaneously after an extra year of studies.

Carter Kaminski didn’t have that option. After earning his undergraduate degree in biochemistry at Biola University, Kaminski applied to the graduate bioengineering program at Cal Poly.

“I had some old friends here,” Kaminski said. “Cal Poly is known for being one of the best engineering schools.”

After being accepted, Kaminski started classes this quarter as a graduate student. After nine weeks, he said his experience has been positive.

“The professors I’ve had have been great,” Kaminski said. “The students are definitely of a higher caliber than at Biola.”

After graduating from Biola, Kaminski said he decided to get his master’s degree rather than seek out an internship.

“I think it will help strengthen my medical school application,” he said. “If had I tried to jump straight into the workforce, my application wouldn’t have been nearly as strong.”

Even though Kaminski doesn’t regret his decision, he takes issue with at least one aspect of the graduate program.

“I don’t think (Cal Poly) takes care of its graduate students as far as registration goes,” Kaminski said. “I’m on the waitlist while they’re letting seniors in. It’s frustrating.”

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