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  • Staff photo by BOB HAMMERSTROM


    Andrew Cote, center, works with Cassi Bachand, left, of Washington, and Justin Gitelman of Stow, Mass., during the SYMS summer music camp at the University of New Hampshire in Durham Tuesday, July 24, 2012. Cote, a UNH graduate, is heading to George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia, this fall to further his education.
  • Staff photo by BOB HAMMERSTROM


    Andrew Cote can play a number of instruments. The University of New Hampshire grad was also a parking meter attendant during his college years.
  • Staff photo by BOB HAMMERSTROM


    University of New Hampshire graduate Andrew Cote talks about the next step in his education, heading to George Mason University this fall.
  • Staff photo by BOB HAMMERSTROM


    Andrew Cote has mastered many different instruments. The University of New Hampshire graduate taught this summer at a SYMS music camp, and is headed to George Mason University this fall to further his education.
  • Staff photo by BOB HAMMERSTROM


    With a goal of teaching music in college, Andrew Cote, a graduate from the University of New Hampshire in Durham, is headed to George Mason University this fall.
  • Staff photo by BOB HAMMERSTROM


    Andrew Cote, center, works with Cassi Bachand, left, of Washington, and Justin Gitelman of Stow, Mass., during the SYMS summer music camp at the University of New Hampshire in Durham Tuesday, July 24, 2012. Cote, a UNH graduate, is heading to George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia, this fall to further his education.
  • Staff photo by BOB HAMMERSTROM


    With a goal of teaching music in college, Andrew Cote, a graduate from the University of New Hampshire in Durham, is headed to George Mason University this fall.
  • Staff photo by BOB HAMMERSTROM


    Andrew Cote can play a number of instruments. The University of New Hampshire grad was also a parking meter attendant during his college years.
  • Staff photo by BOB HAMMERSTROM


    University of New Hampshire graduate Andrew Cote talks about the next step in his education, heading to George Mason University this fall.
  • Staff photo by BOB HAMMERSTROM


    Andrew Cote, center, works with Cassi Bachand, left, of Washington, and Justin Gitelman of Stow, Mass., during the SYMS summer music camp at the University of New Hampshire in Durham Tuesday, July 24, 2012. Cote, a UNH graduate, is heading to George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia, this fall to further his education.
  • Staff photo by BOB HAMMERSTROM


    With a goal of teaching music in college, Andrew Cote, a graduate from the University of New Hampshire in Durham is headded to George Mason University this fall.
  • Staff photo by BOB HAMMERSTROM


    Andrew Cote has mastered many different instraments. The University of New Hampshire graduate taught this summer at a SYMS music camp, and is headed to George Mason University this fall to further his education.
Wednesday, August 15, 2012

UNH grad, of Nashua, picked grad school over immediate career options

When Andrew Cote turned the blue-and-white tassel from right to left on his black mortarboard two years ago, signifying his graduation from the University of New Hampshire, he already knew his days in school were not quite finished.

Cote, of Nashua, went to UNH to be a music teacher. He studied music theory and composed his own works – strengthening his ambition to teach and help other passionate musicians.

But the “Great Recession” that doubled the nation’s unemployment rate changed those plans. Cote decided he would rather be a music professor, and joined the booming group of college students who saw graduate school as a great option to improve their skills and wait out a weak job market.

“There are very few teaching jobs offered in the state,” Cote said, “and if I wanted to be a professor, I had to go to graduate school anyway.”

Cote, now 24, graduated this spring with a master’s degree in music composition from Central Michigan University, and in three years, he’ll have a doctorate, as well. He starts a doctoral fellowship in music composition this fall at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va.

Colleges across the country have reported higher levels of graduate school applications in the past few years, and more Americans took the Graduate Record Examination in 2009 than any year before – 670,000 students, a rise of 13 percent from 2008 – according to the Education Testing Service. The Law School Admissions Test also reported an one-year increase of 20 percent in registrations in 2009.

However, many of those graduate students have incurred a mountain of student debt in the process. Cote said several students he met at the business school at Central Michigan said they owed more than $100,000 in student loans.

“A lot of people are going into graduate school mainly because they can’t find a job anywhere,” Cote said. “There’s a lot of people taking out a ton of loans, and they get more and more into debt. I had a few, but music is pretty unique in that there are fewer degrees offered and more funding available.”

Cote took out about $20,000 in loans during his undergraduate years at UNH – which has already risen to about $28,000 with interest, he said – but he has been fortunate to avoid any additional burden to attend graduate school.

To afford his master’s and doctoral degree programs, he applied to schools with full teaching assistantships and put location preference aside. He was accepted as one of two students in his program at Central Michigan – out of hundreds of applicants – and he will be the only doctoral student in music composition at George Mason this fall.

At George Mason, Cote will receive a stipend of $20,000 for his year of work as a graduate teaching assistant. The school also pays for his tuition and health care in full. He received a similar deal at Central Michigan for his master’s degree.

“I had to follow where the money is,” he said.

With the stipend and lack of tuition costs, Cote plans to be in the rare position of having paid off all student loans at the age of 27 – and he’ll have a doctoral degree to boot.

His success is the product of intense focus on his long-term goals and the hard work it took to achieve them.

Cote was involved in music programs at Nashua High School South and at the University of New Hampshire. In his spare time, he learned to play different instruments and composed his own musical performances, which have been performed by groups across the country. He will continue to build his teaching experience this month with a two-week trip to Africa, where he will work with orphans and street children in Uganda through Heart Cry International.

“People should go into university programs with a degree in mind, or a career in mind,” he said. “So many people are taking out federal money to figure out what they want to do for a career. It shouldn’t be a waiting period, it should be an in-between as you’re planning for the next step.”

He applauded the many career-focused programs and majors at UNH because it prevents too many students from coasting toward a degree.

“I love the fact that you can study animal science here if you want to, and focus on working with horses,” he said. “More specific programs allow people to have a track and focus on what they’re doing. A degree in communications gives you a lot of jobs to apply for, but it doesn’t give students enough of a direction.”

He still spends summers in Durham, teaching at the college’s Summer Youth Music School for middle and high school students. This year, he lived in a dorm room for three weeks and taught courses in music theory, drums and percussion. The program is not only good for his career, but it gives him a chance to work with kids and alongside some of his former professors.

“I love it here,” Cote said of UNH. “The educators, the faculty ... they were top notch.”

Still, Cote said UNH, and four-year colleges in general, aren’t for everyone. He wishes UNH would be more selective – the school’s acceptance rate in 2011 was 74.2 percent – and that guidance counselors and parents wouldn’t put so much pressure on high school seniors to go to college.

“So many feel like they have to go to college, but there’s nothing wrong with taking a year off or finding a job that doesn’t necessarily need a four-year college degree,” he said. “It’s discouraging that jobs that don’t require a four-year degree are looked down upon. They shouldn’t be. If someone didn’t ship the pianos and move them, we wouldn’t have them to play.”

Cameron Kittle can be reached at 594-6523 or ckittle@nashuatelegraph.com. Also, follow Kittle on Twitter (@Telegraph_CamK).