Post-baccalaureate certificates appeal to grads

By DerekKucynda

Upon graduation, a student is expected to be skilled in a particular profession, such as advertising or graphic design. However, if the major they chose in college was the wrong choice, the graduate is now stuck with a degree they cannot, or do not want to use.

Many colleges have a solution for such dilemmas.  Columbia offers a Post-Baccalaureate Certificate of Major, also known as completion of major or PBCOM. This year alone, enrollment in the PBCOM program rose 28.9 percent from last year, with 49 incoming students, as opposed to the 38 students that enrolled last year.

Brian Marth, director of the Advising Center, said a PBCOM, formerly known as a second bachelor’s degree, is for the student who has already completed their bachelor’s degree and is looking to come back to school to focus on a new area of expertise or enhance skills learned in college.  A Post-Baccalaureate does not require students to take liberal arts classes or general electives.

“At Columbia, the Post Baccalaureate essentially means you’ve finished your bachelor’s degree and you’re starting a new career or a new field,” Marth said. “What you’re doing is coming back to only complete the requirements of that designated major.”

Sometimes, pursuing graduate school is a better idea, Marth said. For the most part, it depends on what the student’s career and individual goals are, and if a department offers a PBCOM within their major.

“Some students will just get into post-baccalaureate classes, the undergraduate classes, [and see] if it’s a career changer before they might fully commit to a two-year masters program,” Marth said.

One of the students in Columbia’s PBCOM program is Rachel Morris, a senior advertising art direction major. After getting her degree in mass communications with an emphasis on graphic design at Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio, Morris wanted to pursue graphic design more wholeheartedly, but she said she wasn’t ready to go to graduate school.

“The reason why I didn’t really want to apply to grad school was because I needed a portfolio and I didn’t have anything to show,” Morris said. “[Columbia’s] admissions counselor was telling me how PBCOM would fill that loophole. It’s basically given me all those tools, so if I wanted to apply for grad school or actually apply for a job in art direction or visual communication, I feel more prepared for it.”

By having a set goal in mind and keeping in contact with her college adviser, Morris said she was able to figure out that a PBCOM was right for her because it would expand her skills as a graphic designer. The PBCOM program, which takes two to three years to complete, was the right choice for Morris. She said graduate school simply focuses on the conceptual aspects of higher education, rather than the technical skills achieved while pursuing an undergraduate degree.

“Depending on the case, there may be a grad school program out there that you want to apply for, but the need for it was for people who are interested in a broader variety of things,” Morris said. “That’s where the PBCOM fills the void for me because I’m interested in photography, graphic design [and] writing. This way, I [have] extensive experience in doing all those things, so that if I want to pursue grad school, I feel a lot more confident because I have work that I’ve done.”

When asked why she chose to focus on advertising art direction, Morris said that she wanted to be more well-rounded and work in fields she had an interest in.

“I knew that I wanted to do more than just design, so the reason I chose ad art over graphic design was because it gave me a lot more freedom in what I could focus on,” Morris said. “Right now, I’m learning more about photo communications, writing copy and looking at advertising in a very broad picture.”

However, Bill Friedman, assistant dean of Student Development and adjunct faculty in the Photography Department, said when deciding between PBCOM or pursuing a graduate program for a career in photography, the skills learned are drastically different.

“My first question [to students] is what do you want with the skills you’re going to learn in the program because if you want to be a commercial photographer, doing the Post [Baccalaureate] is fine,” Friedman said. “If you want to do your own work and study photography and eventually possibly teach college level, you would do a Masters Degree.”