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July 20, 2020
This paid piece is sponsored by Augustana University.
As seniors at colleges and universities across the country prepared to graduate in spring, they planned on spending their final months as students searching for jobs and enjoying traditional college activities.
However, with canceled in-person classes and a now uncertain job market, many are pivoting to graduate programs to further their education.
Augustana University’s seven graduate programs are providing options for undergraduate students who have had their plans changed by the COVID-19 pandemic. One such student is Max Steffens, a pitcher on the Augustana baseball team and recent graduate with a major in sport management.
Originally from DeWitt, Iowa, Steffens transferred to Augustana last year after two years at Iowa Central Community College. His first season at Augustana was very successful as he was named the NCBWA Central Region Pitcher of the Year and was a Division II Second-Team All-American.
Steffens was excited to build on that success in his senior season, but the injury bug had other ideas for him.
The day before the team was to fly to the Dominican Republic for its spring trip, Steffens tore the ulnar collateral ligament in his throwing elbow — a relatively common but severe injury for a pitcher that often requires surgery.
However, he only partially tore the ligament, so he opted for rehab instead of surgery and enrolled in Augie’s graduate program in sports administration and leadership to have one more year of athletic eligibility.
While Steffens’ academic and athletic plans weren’t greatly affected by COVID-19, he said multiple teammates have opted to come back next year via a graduate program because of this year’s canceled season.
“I was already planning on coming back before COVID-19 came out, but the whole COVID-19 situation just kind of set everything in stone for more guys coming back, and I wanted to come back, and I felt there was a lot of unfinished business,” Steffens said.
Mary Toso is Steffen’s career and academic planning specialist — in addition to serving as the director of internships and career development at Augustana’s Student Success Center. She saw many students try a job search and then shift focus to graduate school. The Student Success Center, with a shift online, has helped students secure or modify internships for online work and determine next steps.
The Student Success Center seems to be seeing increased interest in graduate programs compared to other years but won’t know for sure until the next cycle of applications is complete, Toso said.
“We have a lot of students who pursue graduate school on a regular basis,” she said. “And my feeling is others are pursuing jobs, but if something isn’t coming up that they’re excited about, they may decide to turn toward grad school now. And for some of our students, the grad school option also becomes a good choice because of athletic eligibility.”
Augustana’s director of graduate and transfer enrollment Adam Heinitz said the university’s largest graduate program is the online Master of Education program. His office has been focused on continuing to grow that program in the short term while also promoting the university’s new Master of Business Administration program launching this fall.
“(It can) perhaps buy a little more time in a potentially tough job market and help differentiate yourself from other applicants in the years ahead,” Heinitz said. “That outreach actually sparked quite a bit of interest from current students who hadn’t originally been considering our MBA program.”
While this certainly has been a challenging period for Augustana students who couldn’t return to campus for their final months of college, Toso said she believes the institution prepared them well to adapt to whatever COVID-19 has thrown their way.
“It has been a season of grief for them because of things that they missed out on, and so (we’ve) really been working hard to kind of push them past that and realize that the skills and the things that they learned at Augustana, those don’t expire,” she said.
“They’re still valued. They’re still needed, and there will be a place for them, and they just need to have tenacity and keep looking and be diligent about it.”
And for Steffens, Augustana’s graduate programs are offering him an opportunity to pursue his collegiate athletic swan song before hopefully receiving interest from major league teams after next season.
“I’m just excited to get my master’s and get back on campus with the guys,” Steffens said. “I think we have a real shot at winning a national championship (next) year, so I’m excited to try to accomplish that.”
For this pitcher, graduate school includes another season. For other students, these programs are offering a valuable option in an uncertain job market.