A recession is typically a good time for graduate schools. Their application pool goes up because people see them as safe shelter from the storm. The scariest part of a down economy is the idea of having no income. Of course, graduate school does not solve for that. But graduate school does solve the second most scary thing about a bad economy: lack of a learning curve.
The more desperate you are for a job, the more likely you are to take a job that doesn't teach you what you want to learn. And then you get to that job and you think, “Grad school could solve this problem.” But in fact, grad school creates larger, and more insurmountable problems. And some the problems you're trying to solve with grad school might not be problems at all.
1. Grad school pointlessly delays adulthood.
The best thing you can do for yourself is take time to figure out who you are and where you fit in the world. No one teaches you that in school. You need to do it yourself. Grad school is a way to delay this process, rather than move you forward, according to Thomas Benton of the Chronicle of Higher Education. So instead of dodging tough questions by going back to school, try being lost. It's normal, and honest, and you will end up with more self-knowledge and less debt than your grad-school counterparts, and in many cases, you will be similarly qualified for your next big job.
2. PhD programs are pyramid schemes
It's very hard to get a job teaching at a university. And if you are not going to teach, why are you getting a degree? You don't need a piece of paper to show that you are learning. Go read books after work. Because look: In the arts, you would have a better chance of surviving the Titanic than getting a tenure-track position; and once you adjust for IQ, education, and working hours, post-PhD science jobs are among the most low-paying jobs you could get.
3. Business school is not going to help 90% of the people who go.
Here's the problem with business school. Most people want to work for themselves, but you can't learn entrepreneurship in school — you have to learn by doing. And a business degree that is not from a top school is not going to get you very much at all, according to recruiting firm Challenger & Gray. Finally, Harvard Business School has acknowleged that if you are planning to downshift for kids around the time you are 30, your ability to leverage an MBA is drastically compromised.
4. Law school is a factory for depressives.
It used to be that if you had a law degree it was a ticket to a high salary and a safe career. Today many people go to law school and cannot find a job. This is, in a large part, because law school selects for people who are good with details and pass tests and law firms select for people who are good at marketing themselves and can drum up business. Law firms are in a transition phase, and they have many unfair labor practices leftover from older generations, for example, hourly billing and making young lawyers pay dues for what is, today, a largely uncertain future. Which might explain why the American Bar Association reports that the majority of lawyers would recommend that people not to go into law.
5. The medical school model assumes that health care spending is not a mess.
Medical school is extremely expensive, and our health care system does not pay enough to doctors for them to sanely accept the risk of taking $200,000 in debt to serve as doctors. Specialists like opthalmologists have great hours, and plastic surgeons have great salaries, but most doctors will be stuck in a system that is largely broken, and could easily break them financially — like OBGYNs who cannot afford to deliver babies in New York because they can't afford the malpractice insurance with their salary.
6. Going to grad school is like going into the military.
Applications to the military increase in a bad economy in a disturbingly similar way that applications to graduate school do. For the most part, both alternatives are bad. They limit your future in ways you can't even imagine, and they are not likely to open the kind of doors you really want. Military is the terrible escape hatch for poor kids, and grad school is the terrible escape hatch for rich kids.
7. Most jobs are better than they seem: You can learn from any job.
When I worked on a French chicken farm, I thought I'd learn French, but I didn't, because I was so foreign to the French farm family that they couldn't talk to me. However I did learn a lot of other things, like how to bargain to get the best job in the chicken coop, and how to get out of killing the bunnies. You don't need to be learning the perfect thing in your job. You just need to be learning. Don't tell yourself you need a job that gives your life meaning. Jobs don't do that; doesn't that make you feel better? Suddenly being in the workplace doesn't seem so bad.
8. Graduate school forces you to overinvest: It's too high risk.
In a world where people did not change careers, grad school made sense. Today, grad school is antiquated. You invest three to six extra years in school in order to get your dream career. But the problem is that not only are the old dream careers deteriorating, but even if you have a dream career, it won't last. You'll want to change because you can. Because that's normal for today's workplace. People who are in their twenties today will change careers about four times in their life. Which means that grad school is a steep investment for such a short period of time. The grad school model needs to change to adapt to the new workplace. Until then. Stay away.