Voices of the defenders of grad school. And me crushing them.

It’s pretty well established that non-science degrees are not necessary for a job. In fact, the degrees cost you too much money, require too long of a commitment, and do not teach you the real-life skills they promise.

Yet, I do tons of radio call-in shows where I say that graduate degrees in the humanities are so useless that they actually set you back in your career in many cases. And then 400 callers dial-in and start screaming at me about how great a graduate degree is.

Here are the six most common arguments they make. And why they are wrong.

1. My parents are paying.
Get them to buy you a company instead. Because what are you going to do when you graduate? You’re right back at square one, looking for a job and not knowing what to do. But if you spent the next three years running a company, even if it failed, you would be more employable than you are now, and you’d have a good sense of where your skill set fits in the workplace. (This is especially true for people thinking about business school.)

2. It’s free.
But you’re spending your time. You will show (on your resume) that you went to grad school. Someone will say, “Why did you go to grad school?” Will you explain that it was free? After all, it’s free to go home every night after work and read on a single topic as well. So in fact, what you are doing is taking an unpaid internship in a company that guarantees that the skills you built in the internship will be useless. (Here’s how to get a great internship.)

3. It’s a time to grow and get to know myself better.
If you’re looking for a life changing, spiritually moving experience, how about therapy? It’s a more honest way of self-examination—no papers and tests. And it’s cheaper. Insurance covers therapy because it’s a proven way to effectively change your personal disposition. There’s a reason insurance doesn’t cover grad school.

4. The degree makes me stand out in my field.
Yes, if you want to stand out as someone who couldn’t get a job. Given the choice between getting paid to learn the ropes on the job and paying for someone to teach you, you look like an underachiever to pick the latter. If nothing else, you get much better coaching in life if you are good enough and smart enough to get mentorship without paying for it.

There are very very few jobs that require a non-science degree in order to get the job. (And really, forget about law school if that’s what you’re thinking.) So if you don’t need the degree in order to get the job, the only possible reason a smart employer would think you got the degree instead of getting a job was because you were too scared to have to apply or you applied and got nothing. Either way, you’re a bad bet going forward.

5. I’m planning on teaching.
Forget it. There are no teaching jobs. In an interview last week, the head of University of Washington’s career center even admitted to a prospective student that getting a degree in humanities in order to get a teaching job—even in a community college—is a long-shot at best. And, the University of Washington career coach confirmed that there is enormous unemployment among people who are qualified to teach college courses but cannot get jobs doing it. This is not just a Washington thing. It’s a welcome-to-reality thing.

6. A degree makes job hunting easier.
It makes it harder. Forget the fact that you don’t need a graduate degree in the humanities to get any job in the business world. The biggest problem is that the degree makes you look unemployable. You look like you didn’t know what to do about having to enter the adult world, so you decided to prolong childhood by continuing to earn grades rather than money even though you were not actually helping yourself to earn money.

Also, you also look like you don’t really aspire to any of the jobs you are applying for. People assume you get a graduate degree because you want to work in that field. People don’t want to hire you in corporate America when it’s clear you didn’t invest all those years in grad school in order to do something like that.

7. I love being in graduate school! Everything in life is not about careers!
Sure, when you’re a kid, everything is not about careers. But when you grow up, everything is about earning enough money for food and shelter. So you need to figure out how to do that in order to make the transition from childhood to adulthood. This is why millionaires have stopped leaving their money to their kids—it undermines their transition to adulthood. But instead of making the transition, you are still in school, pretending things are fine. The problem is that what you do in school is not what you will do in a career. So if you love school, you’ll probably hate the career it’s preparing you for, since your career is not going to school.

When I met the farmer, one of the first things he told me was that he went to school for genetic biology. But in graduate school his research was in ultrasound technology for pigs. But he missed being with the pigs, which is what he wanted to do for his job. So he left school.

And every time I see the pigs on our farm I think about how he took a risk by dumping a graduate program in order to tend to pigs. I love that.

 

 

Posted in College & grad school Tagged with:
366 comments on “Voices of the defenders of grad school. And me crushing them.
  1. Jeff says:

    Reason #7 is valid, and your rejection of it does not impress me in its faux tough-mindedness.

    The world is a scary place, but not so scary as to mean anyone who goes to grad school for the experience is a fool. Very few people will starve for making that “mistake,” and who gives a damn if their career is marginally worse off.

    Indeed, there is more to life than just careers. It’s a privilege that we happen to live in a part of the world and a moment in history when we can indulge this sort of thinking.

    • Bill says:

      I agree!
      And Penelope, when will we see a photo?

      • Lynette says:

        Bill,

        Right there with you. I just graduated from law school and I keep thinking of all of the things I could have done with $100,000 instead. I wish I had started my own company or jumped right into a field where there was potential for me to move up. Instead, I spent the last 10 years earning an MBA and JD for the privilege of working my butt off just to make less money than people I graduated high school with. Bummer.

        Thanks for the brutal honesty, Penelope. You speak the truth.

        • Fabster says:

          Part of the problem is that a dual MBA/JD is usually completed in three years by full time students (at least this was the case at NYU). If you spent an additional 7 years to get your degrees, clearly people working full time in their chosen careers have seriously moved ahead of you. And by the way, to this day I don’t understand the dual MBA/JD package. I have found some value in getting my MBA, but mostly because I worked in positions where a top MBA is today considered a prerequisite

    • DaveP. says:

      Enjoy working for people like me for the rest of your life, Jeff. When you have a job, that is.
      I know I’ll enjoy making career decisions about YOU.

      • Jeff says:

        Dave,

        I have a fine career in finance, and the people I work for are of a better sort than make comments like yours.

        Regards,
        Jeff

      • Fabster says:

        DaveP – there is one thing most American corporations are even less interested in than master degrees in humanities and that is hiring arrogant judgemental bullies who need to put down other people to feel better about themselves (understandably, considering your total lack of social skills, balance, and objectivity).

        • Joy in Washington says:

          I’ve often seen business folks who didn’t go to college, or who pursued a degree that has no real employable purpose with the same view of the world as you dear Penelope. I think it is odd and humorous that you comment how you will make employment judgments about others work. I’m wondering how you think the farm life with a computer provides you that vantage? You are indeed a pointless, uneducated bully, not worthy of a following other than folks scolding you for your unprofessional inappropriateness. Demeaning others accomplishments who don’t agree with you isn’t and a professional advantage. What did we ever do to you? I have two Masters of Science degrees that provided me knowledge and skills I would never have gotten “on the job” Penelope.

        • DEB says:

          Ok calm down there Ringo- no one says u have to agree w the writer- and I am a vegan animal activist who is disturbed by the pig pic bc I know ” the farmer” must raise them for slaughter- but I guess they’ve better lives ( till they are killed that is ) there than on factory farms ..

    • Steve says:

      I agree that there is more to life than careers. Personally, I’ve been fortunate to excel – €“ and quickly – €“ with just a Bachelor’s. This is partially because I’m in a field, high tech, with a lot of demand.

      However, many of my colleagues earned their Master’s degrees in various aspects of high-tech: HCI, UX, computer engineering, and so on, and are doing just as well as I am. None of us are entry level by a long shot. We are all mid-career, and many of us, self included, are managers. Most of my colleagues spent some time in the real world before returning to school, and none encountered any penalties or setbacks for doing so. However, their choice to pursue an additional degree paid off for them. They’re eligible for certain jobs that I’m simply not, and my employer (also a small-business owner) prefers to hire people with Master’s degrees for many functions in his company. He believes they’re simply more specialized and more qualified. If that makes some people angry, they can fight against/speak out against the education bubble, or they can run their own companies they way they want to and only hire people with HS diplomas. It’s their choice.

      I have also seen many openings at larger companies where a Master’s degree makes the difference between earning 5 figures and earning 6 figures – €“ or, in many cases, even getting the job at all.

      My sibling chose to pursue a dreaded science Master’s degree right out of undergrad. His schooling was fully funded, and he was also awarded an externship that paid for all of his other costs – €“ so anyone, even if they weren’t born into riches, can do this, providing they apply for programs with funding. The science he is studying has a heavy computer technology component that is in high demand, and which makes him highly employable. He is being sought after by government agencies for stable, well-paying jobs with outstanding benefits and pension. He won’t be someone’s lab monkey or pay his dues at just above the minimum wage like he would have if he’d stopped at undergrad. With just a BS, no one wanted to hire him, not even for an internship.

      At this point in my life, a Master’s degree is not for me. But it very well could be later, and if it is the right choice, I will pursue it. Blanket statements are fun to make, and great for generating traffic and debate, but they help no one.

      I’m also on a career forum with several self-righteous small business owners (primarily hoping to “strike it rich” through their “herbal remedy” Web sites and content mills), and they all display they same indignant attitude toward school. They believe anything other than self-employment is a waste of time, but they forget that most people don’t have what it takes – €“ or don’t want to become – €“ an entrepreneur. (Personally, I think their businesses and track records are nothing to brag about, but if they feel they’re special, bully for them.)

      It seems to me that people who aren’t confident about their life choices, or who feel their way is the only right way to do things believe their own hype and believe in their one-size-fits all advice.

      I don’t operate that way personally. Each person should go his own way, and choose the path that’s best for him. 

      • Steve C says:

        I like your comments, not much here that anyone could argue with. I think we all know that the target audience for this post is not those who been successful in their careers, who are happy where they are. It was for people who are unhappy with their choices.
        When that happens, people usually look for something to blame the failure on.

        • Steve says:

          It would be nice to think that this article is only aimed at
          people who are dissatisfied with their career paths, but based on Penelope’s
          previous behavior, I think it is aimed at everyone. She was invited to rail against grad school on a radio program this past spring. Her opponent calmly and rationally laid out his points in favor of grad school, and she got out of control, raising her voice and implying that anyone who went to grad school was an idiot.

          This was the most telling part of the interview for me: A mid-career engineer called in, and calmly pointed out that she got her master’s fully funded, was debt-free, and was enjoying success on the job. Penelope wasn’t having it. She insisted that the woman still made a mistake in going to grad school, and that she wasted her time. In Penelope’s mind – €“ even if your grad school experience was 100% funded, you doubled your earning power by virtue of completing the program, and you were genuinely happy with the experience – €“ because you don’t conform to her black-and-white view of the world, you’re wrong. End of discussion. Perhaps someday she will feel less frustrated when she realizes that many people aren’t interested in living life by the The Penelope Trunk Manual(tm), and not everything in life works out a certain way just because she says so.

          One might also wonder what went wrong with her grad school program that gave her such a huge axe to grind against it all these years, to the point that she’ll even make an ass out of herself attacking successful grad-school alums so she can cling to her tenuous opinion.

          • Lori Ryan says:

            I found this article to be totally ridiculous and short-sighted. I find it difficult to understand how someone can take advice from one person who has their opinions from their own limited experiences, when each person and their situation is different. I went to graduate school in the sciences – it was free, I was paid enough to live and eat organic food, and I learned many valuable and marketable skills. I had the option to get my name on research papers, to learn field techniques, and speak at conferences etc. This article is just silly.

          • Steve says:

            Someone did a terrible job of migrating this blog because my comments from last year showed up three times. Oh well, it’s not my blog. My blog (and site) look great.

            I learned that Penelope has borderline personality disorder, so starting fights is necessary for her to feel safe and okay with herself. That’s very sad. Maybe someday she can get the help she needs and stop attacking people with Asperger’s, who haven’t done anything to her, and who will find it difficult to get and keep jobs thanks to her spreading misperceptions that Asperger’s causes you to pick fights, throw objects at people, scream and yell, and post photos of your naked ass with a hint of genitalia on the internet.

            The symptoms of Asperger’s are the opposite of how Penelope presents in every way: flat affect, difficulty reading social cues, and a reserved, seemingly introverted presentation. Someone who has a high, wildly veering, and often negative affect, manipulates social cues to their advantage, and has a boisterous, “larger than life” attack-dog personality is BPD. I know Aspies and BPDs and Penelope mirrors the latter group exactly. And lots of medical doctors agree – their analyses are all over the internet.

            Time to give it up, sweetie. People are on to you. Get help or don’t, but leave the Aspies alone. I manage them, and they are sweet and easy to get along with once you recognize their specific needs. But managing a borderline? Couldn’t pay me to do it.

    • Steve says:

      I agree that there is more to life than careers. Personally, I’ve been fortunate to excel – €“ and quickly – €“ with just a Bachelor’s. This is partially because I’m in a field, high tech, with a lot of demand.

      However, many of my colleagues earned their Master’s degrees in various aspects of high-tech: HCI, UX, computer engineering, and so on, and are doing just as well as I am. None of us are entry level by a long shot. We are all mid-career, and many of us, self included, are managers. Most of my colleagues spent some time in the real world before returning to school, and none encountered any penalties or setbacks for doing so. However, their choice to pursue an additional degree paid off for them. They’re eligible for certain jobs that I’m simply not, and my employer (also a small-business owner) prefers to hire people with Master’s degrees for many functions in his company. He believes they’re simply more specialized and more qualified. If that makes some people angry, they can fight against/speak out against the education bubble, or they can run their own companies they way they want to and only hire people with HS diplomas. It’s their choice.

      I have also seen many openings at larger companies where a Master’s degree makes the difference between earning 5 figures and earning 6 figures – €“ or, in many cases, even getting the job at all.

      My sibling chose to pursue a dreaded science Master’s degree right out of undergrad. His schooling was fully funded, and he was also awarded an externship that paid for all of his other costs – €“ so anyone, even if they weren’t born into riches, can do this, providing they apply for programs with funding. The science he is studying has a heavy computer technology component that is in high demand, and which makes him highly employable. He is being sought after by government agencies for stable, well-paying jobs with outstanding benefits and pension. He won’t be someone’s lab monkey or pay his dues at just above the minimum wage like he would have if he’d stopped at undergrad. With just a BS, no one wanted to hire him, not even for an internship.

      At this point in my life, a Master’s degree is not for me. But it very well could be later, and if it is the right choice, I will pursue it. Blanket statements are fun to make, and great for generating traffic and debate, but they help no one.

      I’m also on a career forum with several self-righteous small business owners (primarily hoping to “strike it rich” through their “herbal remedy” Web sites and content mills), and they all display they same indignant attitude toward school. They believe anything other than self-employment is a waste of time, but they forget that most people don’t have what it takes – €“ or don’t want to become – €“ an entrepreneur. (Personally, I think their businesses and track records are nothing to brag about, but if they feel they’re special, bully for them.)

      It seems to me that people who aren’t confident about their life choices, or who feel their way is the only right way to do things believe their own hype and believe in their one-size-fits all advice.

      I don’t operate that way personally. Each person should go his own way, and choose the path that’s best for him. 

      • roger says:

        “I’m also on a career forum with several self-righteous small business owners (primarily hoping to “strike it rich” through their “herbal remedy” Web sites and content mills), and they all display they same indignant attitude toward school. They believe anything other than self-employment is a waste of time, but they forget that most people don’t have what it takes – €“ or don’t want to become – €“ an entrepreneur. (Personally, I think their businesses and track records are nothing to brag about, but if they feel they’re special, bully for them.)”

        I happen to think that many small business operators have a right to have some pride in themselves. It is a whole different ballgame to put up even a moderately successful small business, in which you have to worry about a hell of a lot more than any employee, who is basically just employed to perform a certain function in that business – not matter how qualified they may be.

    • Steve says:

      I agree that there is more to life than careers. Personally, I’ve been fortunate to excel – €“ and quickly – €“ with just a Bachelor’s. This is partially because I’m in a field, high tech, with a lot of demand.

      However, many of my colleagues earned their Master’s degrees in various aspects of high-tech: HCI, UX, computer engineering, and so on, and are doing just as well as I am. None of us are entry level by a long shot. We are all mid-career, and many of us, self included, are managers. Most of my colleagues spent some time in the real world before returning to school, and none encountered any penalties or setbacks for doing so. However, their choice to pursue an additional degree paid off for them. They’re eligible for certain jobs that I’m simply not, and my employer (also a small-business owner) prefers to hire people with Master’s degrees for many functions in his company. He believes they’re simply more specialized and more qualified. If that makes some people angry, they can fight against/speak out against the education bubble, or they can run their own companies they way they want to and only hire people with HS diplomas. It’s their choice.

      I have also seen many openings at larger companies where a Master’s degree makes the difference between earning 5 figures and earning 6 figures – €“ or, in many cases, even getting the job at all.

      My sibling chose to pursue a dreaded science Master’s degree right out of undergrad. His schooling was fully funded, and he was also awarded an externship that paid for all of his other costs – €“ so anyone, even if they weren’t born into riches, can do this, providing they apply for programs with funding. The science he is studying has a heavy computer technology component that is in high demand, and which makes him highly employable. He is being sought after by government agencies for stable, well-paying jobs with outstanding benefits and pension. He won’t be someone’s lab monkey or pay his dues at just above the minimum wage like he would have if he’d stopped at undergrad. With just a BS, no one wanted to hire him, not even for an internship.

      At this point in my life, a Master’s degree is not for me. But it very well could be later, and if it is the right choice, I will pursue it. Blanket statements are fun to make, and great for generating traffic and debate, but they help no one.

      I’m also on a career forum with several self-righteous small business owners (primarily hoping to “strike it rich” through their “herbal remedy” Web sites and content mills), and they all display they same indignant attitude toward school. They believe anything other than self-employment is a waste of time, but they forget that most people don’t have what it takes – €“ or don’t want to become – €“ an entrepreneur. (Personally, I think their businesses and track records are nothing to brag about, but if they feel they’re special, bully for them.)

      It seems to me that people who aren’t confident about their life choices, or who feel their way is the only right way to do things believe their own hype and believe in their one-size-fits all advice.

      I don’t operate that way personally. Each person should go his own way, and choose the path that’s best for him. 

    • Andre says:

      At the expense of what (or who)?

  2. Dave Stokley says:

    It’s hard to hear when you’ve just spent six digits on a useless degree, but you’re spot on here. I just graduated from a good law school and I’m lucky enough to have found a job (most of my classmates, and even some from last year’s class (!) are still looking), but it’s a job that I could easily be doing without the degree. What makes it even worse for me is that I went to law school for exactly the wrong reason…I didn’t know what else to do at the time. Now, 3 years and $100k+ later, I have a degree I don’t want and can’t afford.

    Here’s an idea for a follow-up article that I think would serve your readers even better: What to do once you’ve made the mistake of going to grad school.

  3. Heathen says:

    I am an elementary school teacher. Where I teach, in Massachusetts, teachers in public schools are required to have master’s degrees. I love my job and would not be able to do it without a master’s degree. And, while classroom jobs are scarce for new graduates, there are ALWAYS jobs available — substitute jobs, assistant jobs, etc.

    My boyfriend graduated from law school. He works for a law clinic in the field of negotiation and conflict resolution. He never wanted to be a lawyer, but needs a law degree to work where he does, and like me he loves his job.

    I agree that grad school is prohibitively expensive in this country, but in some fields there is no getting around it.

    • Penelope Trunk says:

      Heathen, this is a great example of grad school being for rich people. It strikes me as incredibly difficult for a couple to pay off loans for a master’s program and loans from law school on the combined salary of a substitute teacher and a negotiator at a clinic.

      Penelope

      • Heathen says:

        Well, I can’t speak for others but we’re able to do it on our salaries without any outside help. I’ve nearly finished paying off my $40,000 grad school loan out of my $50,000 teaching salary. (I am not a substitute teacher; I was just saying there are jobs available for recent or future grads.) My boyfriend’s loans are being paid by the university he works for.

        Are you saying only rich people can be teachers??

      • Aimee says:

        I just helped hire 2 people in our department this summer and every resume that listed a masters degree was immediately sent to our no pile. Both were entry level jobs. We only required people to have bachelors because we are a higher education association so employees need to feel comfortable talking with professors and higher. Also, we’re events department, so we needed people capable of executing complicated, long term projects, like graduating from college. All a masters degree tells me is that a)you aren’t hungry enough for a real paycheck and won’t be motivated to do the work I have, b)you’re going to be unsatisfied with the work this job has to offer and the lack of potential promotion within our organization in a year or two, or c)that you have a ridiculous amount of student loan debt and your are going to feel financially pinched until you find a better paying job in a year or two. We put a lot of time into hiring people, I do not want to do it again in a year or two.

        • Paul says:

          Boy, I hope people who are hiring in my field aren’t thinking this way. Thanks at least for telling it like it is.

      • Hillary says:

        @Heathen, It may seem a lot right now but just be aware that if you ever want to start a family it’s going to be tough. My mom has been a public school teacher for 30 years and we were just talking about how many teachers she knows who marry teachers and then can’t take time off which feels okay when you are in a not-having-kids-place, but going back to work at 12 weeks and putting your new baby into full time daycare is rough. Most couple teachers we know who start a family end up having to have someone change careers.

      • Heathen says:

        Sorry to get bogged down in particulars, but my boyfriend is *not* a teacher. He is a lawyer who works for a clinic at a very reputable law school, lectures there as part of his job, and earns a very decent salary.

        In any case, I do generally agree that grad school can be a waste of time and money, especially for people who do it because they can’t think of anything better to do. But, I still think there are some professions — social work, teaching, and law, for instance — that require an advanced degree. And maybe even 90% of people who end up at law school shouldn’t be there, but there are people (a few, anyway) who have well thought-out reasons for being there and who get what they want out of it.

        A good friend’s husband left his job a few years ago to get his MFA in poetry, and I thought he was crazy. After he graduated he got a great job teaching at NYU and recently published his first book of poetry. I’m sure it’s not the norm but it does happen!

      • MJ says:

        @Aimee

        “All a masters degree tells me is that a)you aren’t hungry enough for a real paycheck and won’t be motivated to do the work I have, b)you’re going to be unsatisfied with the work this job has to offer and the lack of potential promotion within our organization in a year or two, or c)that you have a ridiculous amount of student loan debt and your are going to feel financially pinched until you find a better paying job in a year or two. ”

        Wow, that is the single most bigoted, arrogant, hateful thing I’ve read today. You must be a delightful person to work with.

      • Dave says:

        I would not be so fast to shoot down the teacher example. At least in the city of Boston, teachers make great money. My kid’s first grade teacher makes more than I do. In fact, a dozen of the teachers at this elementary school make between $75-$90K with the principal bringing home $120K. In this example, the masters degree is a necessary ingredient to put together a good career.

        Of course that is nothing compared to the money firefighters and police can make, especially if they can add any credentials to their names and be expert witnesses/consultants.

        Then there is the medical field…if you want to be a nurse, you need a certain degree which is directly proportional to your earning potential. Entire online colleges exist to fulfill this goal with mostly e-learning courses so an LPN can follow a path to BSN, NP, etc. It is funny when you get older you realize how it’s all just a means to an end.

        But I think the real point is that if you did not have that plan in mind, then there is a high risk that the master’s degree is useless. Graduate degrees don’t open any doors but the lack of them can block you in certain specific situations. I think when people start realistically charting a path, the value becomes clear or not pretty quickly. The problem is people who think just getting a degree will be like a magic ticket to success.

      • Chris says:

        @MJ – I’m a hiring manager at a major technology company and have hired 25 people over the last 2 years, and I think along the same lines as Aimee does. I don’t see it as arrogant or hateful to put the right people in the right jobs that are going to enjoy and be satisfied with the work they are given. Hiring the right people takes a lot of time and effort, and it’s not worth spending time hiring people that are going to be unsatisfied, anxious, ineffective, and ready to jump at the first opportunity once they find something else.

      • Steve C says:

        @Chris. You are absolutely on the right track in my opinion. One of the worst things that can happen in any organization is when the wrong people end up somehow in the wrong jobs. It’s bad for them, and it’s bad for the company. If they happen to be in management or decision making positions, it’s usually a disaster, in more ways than we think. The primary objective of HR should be focused on avoiding that mistake. I can’t imagine anyone disagreeing with what you say.
        So perhaps you feel that you and Aimee are delivering the same message. I’m sure she does. But it’s like the difference between getting the message from Mr.Rogers as opposed to, say, Leona “taxes are for little people” Helmsley. So kudos to you for trying to do the right thing, but as for Aimee, there’s something else going on there. Nobody makes a comment like that without having personal issues with people with graduate degrees, and frankly, I don’t believe she is in the right job.

      • willem says:

        @ MJ @ Aimee

        MJ, you left out “ignorant”. The only thing Aimee and her organization actually “knows” is they don’t know anything about the resumes they have not studied, nor do they know what the future holds in terms of health and life change for anyone they hire.

        Will the Aimees of the world will ever understand that no one has hired THEM for purpose of exploiting their employee authority to corrupt their workplace by bending it to what they personally do and do not want to put up with?

        What is it about these non-profit cultures? Are they all self-obsessed, preening bigots?

    • Steve C says:

      At least the folks with graduate degrees escaped having to work with a person like Aimee above. Does anyone else see the nonsensical contradictions in this comment? The quintessential low brow gatekeeper! I wonder if She put happy face stickers on the keeper resumes?

      • karelys davis says:

        I don’t know what’s so awful about that comment. I think it’s spot on. Would you take an entry level job with a masters degree and not look for another job as soon as possible? just a simple poll with most of my friends who went to college thinking it was their ticket to get rich or at least a comfortable life style (or sucess) will support that.

    • Steve C says:

      @ Karelys. Aside from the final half of the comment expressing what can only be described as contempt for anyone who has achieved a Graduate level degree, let me parse out my issues with Aimee’s post:
      “Also, we’re events department, so we needed people capable of executing complicated, long term projects, like graduating from college.” Hello? Ever hear of a thesis, Aimee? As far as education is concerned, the thesis is the definitive work on long term projects. It happens to be the grim reaper of graduate school(usually involving using/learning statistics). Also:
      “We only required people to have bachelors because we are a higher education association so employees need to feel comfortable talking with professors and higher.” Huh? So someone with a masters is less likely to feel comfortable talking with “professors and higher”, than someone with a bachelors degree? Kindly explain the logic in this statement to me. Here’s what I think Aimee must have meant to say: “We need someone who feels comfortable in a subservient role, talking to professors and higher”. At least that is the only interpretation that would have any logical and rational basis, and even that interpretation is a stretch. Really says a lot about the high school graduates in that area. The Goldilocks system of employee screening: not too dumb, not too smart. Just mediocre.
      And how can someone looking for a job with a company be accused of not being hungry enough for a real paycheck, when they have probably already swallowed a lot of pride applying for an entry level job anyway? And if the only experience they had was college(which Aimee will probably never know because she didn’t look past the educational portion of the resume), they should not be condemned for looking for any job they can get, entry-level or otherwise. There was a time when doing just that was something to be applauded.
      I’m willing to concede that Aimee’s last two points are regular HR fears, but fail to see why they are not also going to apply to graduates with only bachelor’s degrees. Either way, they are pretty wild assumptions based on who knows what evidence.
      As it sits with me right now, her comment makes her the poster child for what is wrong with the human resources field. I’m curious how someone gets so jaded.

      • cg26 says:

        She didn’t mean that “people with a masters degree will be less competent talking to professors” she meant that “the only reason we even require a bachelors degree – as opposed to just taking high school graduates – is so they are familiar with that system”. Basically saying it’s a low level job, reinforcing her other points. And honestly what she’s saying seems pretty reasonable to me.

      • Steve C says:

        cj, I never used the words “less competent”, I used the words “less likely”. And no, you don’t know what she meant, anymore than I do. I just know how I interpreted her comment, and I pointed out what I think are some glaring pre-dispositions and fairly obvious contradictions. I stand by my original comment. I think this person has issues.
        It would have been enough to simply say that applicants with masters are clearly over-qualified and would be a poor fit based on her past hiring experiences and the job description. Everybody gets that. Once she started with the “all a masters degree tells me is….”, I zoned her out as quickly as she could have shredded a resume.
        Perhaps she just felt like this was good time to vent, since after all it was a blog post about Penelope trashing people with masters degrees. Go figure.

      • Douglas Fletcher says:

        I don’t know, Steve C., for all your bluster on this I’m starting to wonder if you have issues with people named ‘Aimee’. Something you’d like to tell us?

        • Steve C says:

          Douglass. I don’t care if her name is Mother Theresa or Lady GaGa. What I tried to tell everyone is that I have a problem with people in those types of screening positions in Human Resources, when they clearly have pre-dispositions against even considering some people because of something, in this case a masters degree, on their resume.
          I know hiring is challenging, but every person who walks through that door is different. And you will never know how different if you never even look at them.
          Suppose one of them took Penelope’s advice to leave any mention of a Masters degree off his or her resume. What then? What does THAT tell Aimee?
          Aside from that, what Aimee’s comments told me is that she has biases that are clearly interfering with her ability to do a professional job of putting the right people in the right jobs. And I found her comments to be contradictory, and, frankly, offensive as well.
          So yes, I have predispositions too, especially regarding Human Resources people because I believe they all have many predispositions, most of which never see the light of day. So in that respect, I suppose Aimee deserves some credit for being honest about hers. I still think they cast doubt on whether she should be the gatekeeper for her company however.

          BTW, there are plenty of behavioral assessments available to businesses that are not illegal in most states, because they are not discriminatory. They do cost money up front however, which needs to be weighed against the cost of hiring the wrong people, and then having to go through the “seat-of-the-pants” method over and over again. The last time I looked, the average of cost of replacing a bad hire, retraining a new employee etc. was around $30k. Noting to sniff at.

    • John says:

      >>> I love my job and would not be able to do it without a master’s degree.

      You couldn’t teach third graders about frogs without seven years of formal secondary education? Jesus.

      We are a society of people hung up on their credentials instead of their accomplishments.

      Ya know *why* they require a Masters Degree to teach basic arithmetic? Because it’s a job that could be done by any 22 year old with a high school diploma and a little bit of patience, and this is how the union keeps the taxpayers forking over $90,000 a year to people like you.

      It’s called creating a regulatory barrier to entry so you can limit the competition for your job. Without it, the taxpayers would pay $32,000 a year to some young girl who could do the job every bit as good as you for one third the cost.

      But that’s the nature of government: make sure that everything costs as much as humanly possible; taxpayers exist to make sure you retire comfortably at 50 years old while they toil well into their seventies.

      • Londel says:

        >>> “We are a society of people hung up on their credentials instead of their accomplishments.”

        Yep. At MIT, the student-run Educational Services Program arranges for a number of events (some taking place over a summer, others taking place over a weekend) where high schoolers and middle schoolers can learn from MIT students. The MIT students who teach are young, and usually do not have their degrees yet, but they are passionate about their fields and hobbies.

        The subjects vary, but classes have included single and multivariable calculus, trigonometry, microeconomics, physics, poetry, fiction writing, evolutionary biology, microbiology, robotics, computer programming, and history. (As well as more specialized classes such as the history of space travel, science fiction and fantasy literature, and how to make chocolate truffles.) The program is large and growing, and based on students’ and parents’ feedback, extremely successful.

        You do NOT need a degree to be a good teacher. You simply have to be knowledgeable and able to get the ideas across. The requirements that teachers have a Masters degree are only there to justify higher salaries and reduce the number of applicants, and do not have anything to do with ability to teach in the real world.

      • Alephgirl says:

        I agree that the requirements to be certified as a teacher create a regulatory barrier. At the same time, that creates an instrumental reason to get a teaching degree if you want to go into that field. And the regulatory barrier does create better conditions for those in the field and it does allow university departments of education to prosper. The only adverse effect I can see would be to make it hard for low income applicants, so it definitely needs to be accompanied by a robust scholarship scheme.
        So, I for one, am enjoying my (online) education degree studies and looking forward to joining the privileged group of certified teachers. I am looking forward to the possibility of being paid 200 AUD a day to do emergency relief teaching if I cannot find a permanent post immediately. And I am convinced–based on my classroom volunteering–that teaching kids is going to be much, much more fun, despite its challenges, than engaging in dreary project management.

        I believe that teachers require a certain personality that no series of courses deliver. Without a doubt, the toughest aspect–which the previous poster does not consider–is that it requires patience and authority to manage and motivate 22+ kids for 6 hours in a row every day. In fact you may not realize that teachers sometimes barely get the chance to go to bathroom by themselves, they are required to be switched “on” in front of the class all the time. To be sure, I am sure that biggest growth in teachers comes on the job. However, I have no problem with a regulated market and look forward to joining it after I get my education degree. I also think some standards are necessary because although a bright, well educated 24 year old may be able to do the job, we have many, many 24 year olds who are not adequately educated; who are not able to do basic mathematics, lack basic scientific literacy, and don’t know how to teach kids to read. So lay off the teaching profession–it’s a wonderful profession.

        I would also add that education degrees are far more practical than humanities degrees. Anyone with liberal arts interests at college should consider if they are the right personality for teaching and consider combining the BA with an Education major (BA Dip Ed). Then, provided they don’t aspire to high-flying earnings, they are set up for a rewarding career.

    • Marty says:

      I’m not impressed that the school district where you work is so into credentialism that they create an artificially high barrier (a Master’s degree to teach primary grades). Maybe it’s a great place to work and all, and they can be so finicky, but do they actually pay enough to make that extra degree worthwhile, and do they really use whatever extra education it embodies in teaching 9 year olds? Color me VERY skeptical…. I believe what you write, I just believe it’s an outlier that will go away as economic reality sets in over the next few years.

  4. Wendy says:

    Generally, I agree with this advice and give it occasionally. I have a Ph.D. in history, and work in the business world (pension fund investment strategy).

    One thing I will say to offer some balance is that once you overcome many of these obstacles and get a professional job and start to build meaningful post-academic career then the Ph.D. and grad school-honed skills and experiences can be helpful. They can allow you to accelerate up the ladder, and be noticed for taking interesting, original perspectives on things.

    So, all is not lost if you’ve gone to grad school. But if you haven’t, Penelope’s advice is spot on.

    • Erica Peters says:

      Agreed, but then again in support of PT’s position is the fact that grad school is damaging to people’s ability to write clearly. Since graduating, I’ve had to unlearn the bad writing habits I learned getting a history Ph.D.

      • Steve C says:

        I have to say, that really surprises me. I can understand someone with a graduate degree in math or engineering having some literary shortcomings, that is to be expected given the immersion in math/physics required. But in history, or english? Just having to read all that material should have done something to increase your literary skills and abilities. It’s a puzzler to me.

      • JohnM says:

        Steve C is surprised? I’m not.

        Most academic papers are written passive voice.

        Effective business communications are written active voice.

        This is the #1 bad writing habit I’ve seen from people freshly out of grad school.

      • Steve C says:

        Interesting point by JohnM. My thought was that you really have to feel comfortable with writing if you are going to attend graduate school, unless it is in a science/engineering field. At least you have something to work with if an employee has a graduate degree. It probably has a lot more to do with where someone went to graduate school, and who their advisors were, than whether they attended or not. If someone is determined and well read, they should be able to develop the technical writing skills of someone with a graduate degree. Doing it so that anyone else actually wants to read it, as Penelope does, well, that’s another story altogether.

  5. Brad says:

    Undergrad humanities degrees are an equally obscene waste of time and money. Grad school merely compounds the original mistake.

  6. Lindsay | The Daily Awe says:

    I always say that people who are in grad school are just afraid of growing up. I stand by that. Damn near every graduate student I’ve ever met has this snooty, “holier than thou” attitude about working. But really I can see right through it – fear of growing up and living in the “real” world.

    • Mike C says:

      VERY BIASED!!!

      Most people I know who are going to graduate school are working fulltime and going to school part time.

  7. Joe Fusco says:

    Love the title.

    I just dropped off my oldest at university as a freshman, and have a growing conviction that arguments like this one are right on. There is a bubble in higher education, and it is about to burst.

  8. Yuse Lajiminmuhip says:

    Thanks for this. I’m having a hard time trying to justify grad school (I am in one of the few fields where science degrees are mandatory), but your list helps cement my conviction that grad school is a waste of money.

  9. Harriet May says:

    I think I got my Masters sensibly. Of course, my motivation for doing it at all was exactly what you’re talking about– not being ready to go out into the real world. But I was in England and hadn’t yet decided if I loved my boyfriend at the time enough to stay (the answer was no) and I was buying myself some time. And in England undergrad degrees are only 3 years because there is none of this general education crap that American colleges force kids to do so they can charge them for an extra year. So I got my BA and my MA in a total of 4 years, for a lot cheaper than it would have cost here (all UK universities charge the same tuition regardless of the quality– perceived or real). Then I messed about for six months before my dad gave me a job, a really good job where I’m getting a lot of experience. So if you want to go to grad school, make sure there’s a family business to fall back on.

    Oh, and by the way, if anyone’s considering going to England to get a degree: it’s not cheap anymore. I didn’t pay the international fees because I’m a UK citizen, and even those fees have gone up threefold since I was in school (a mere three years ago).

  10. Sam says:

    I think it’s great that you finally spell out some of the previously hidden preconditions for your all-sweeping ‘gradschool is useless’-statement. I completely buy into your argument that it makes you less employable and you lost valuable years that you could have spent doing other things, if your goal is to become employable or rich.

    I will also admit that you’re pretty much a bozo if you get a PhD in the natural sciences as well, but that does at least open the door for some industry jobs that are not available without it. By opening the door I don’t mean that you are guaranteed to get these kinds of jobs: I mean that you won’t get filtered out before the interview because you lack the degree.

  11. Shann says:

    I went to grad school straight out of undergrad to attend a top master in public policy program. I obtained a full tuition scholarship and was lucky enough to land a great consulting job afterward. However, I really think the stars just aligned for me because several of my classmates did not find jobs immediately and are still not paid as well. For me, I felt I needed to go to become exposed to new possible careers, network, and obtain an overall confidence boost. All of that was worth two years of time to me, but I doubt I would have ever paid the $100+ it would have cost to attend unassisted.

  12. Agnese says:

    I read this as saying that if the choice is between studying and doing, the latter will get you further. And teach you more.
    As always, there are exceptions, where even starting your own business won’t help you get around the tradition of “everyone who has had this kind of position for the past 100 years had been to grad school”. But how fun would life be without exceptions?

  13. Alex Dogliotti says:

    Uh! Been saying that for years. Since I got my PhD in Sociology. Grad school gives you lots, but as far as career goes, forget it. Pointless at best. But there is a distinction to be made. People will always reach for the sky, that’s part of human nature. Look at what we did just for the pleasure of doing it. We went to the moon and took a 20 minute walk on it! Was that a money maker? No. Did that change how we see ourselves? Yes. So, if going to grad school is your way to go to the moon and change yourself, do it. You’ll be happy. If, on the other hand, you go to grad school for your career, forget it.
    You know what they say in the gym? If you want to have bigger biceps, you gotta work those biceps. Same here, if you want to have a big career, you better start working on your career. And grad school is not a career.

    • postdoc says:

      Great points, Alex. Grad school can be an end in itself. I wanted to do amazing, science in infectious disease, and I did some amazing science in infectious disease. My work contributed to our understanding of two big pathogens. A science PhD *is* about doing–it’s not about studying. Most people don’t know this.

      The kind of science I was doing was basic, too. No way was it going to be done by a company. The research I’m involved in now actually threatens in a small way some vaccine manufacturers, but the work needs to get done.

      Sometimes, the “life” part is more important than the “career” part.

  14. Lourdes says:

    This post is hilarious! The best ones are # 3 (navel gaze w/hours of 1:1 therapy vs school); and # 7 (don’t go to grad school if you want to work w/pigs-rofl!)

    Love the title, too. Love the “me crushing them”. Awesome; just awesome.

  15. Natalie says:

    I like and agree with this post – and I’m even a current graduate student. In the liberal arts, no less!

    I’m one of those “I just love school” types, but I recognize how leaving the workforce and job market for 2-4 years can negatively impact my career, especially at this point (I’m 26). So I’m doing both. I have a job in the field I love and pursue my Master’s in my “spare time.” I think of it as a pricey hobby and I’m okay with that.

  16. Amanda says:

    I apologize that I didn’t have a chance to read through all the comments after your post, however I was wondering what your thoughts are about getting a masters degree as part of a life goal or your bucket list (i.e. think of bungee jumping, or travelling, etc…)? While I’m not interested in grad school (even though it’s been pushed down my throat) I’m just wondering (on behalf of my husband). Thanks so much!

  17. ama says:

    Loved this–I have a professor pushing me to get a masters and this is just the reminder I needed that it would be an enormous waste of money. I’d had it in my head that I needed a masters to change careers, but actually, I probably don’t.

    • Alephgirl says:

      I tried changing careers without a relevant degree ( I have a PhD in the humanities) and got only crappy entry level office work. So now I am taking a teaching qualification (education) degree as I do want to teach in the future. And education really is a field where you need the degree to get certified–no problem for me because I love studying and have enough money from the crappy office jobs. But I will admit that taking the degree is partly a cover to create and explain what I do with my time now that I quit the crappy office job and when I am not parenting my 6 year old daughter. I agree with another one of Penelope’s posts that it would be really counter-cultural to not be either studying or working while your kids are at school. For me the degree (which I am taking online except for the pracs) is bringing some lovely breathing space and a chance to not commute (after 5 years of yucky commuting). The degree is allowing me to redesign my life while providing a cover of respectability. How do you like that, Penelope?

      • Alephgirl says:

        And the degree is giving me new things to think about. I get to take a course in Australian history, which since I migrated to Australia is really helping me to get to know the country I’ve resided in for the past 9 years. It’s so enriching to travel to a pub and recognise the history behind it, or to imagine Sydney’s coast being full of Aboriginal people and only a sprinkling of British redcoats and convicts. I don’t see the place I live in the same way anymore–that’s why non-utilitarian education is for.

  18. Yuan says:

    What about a semi-science, semi-humanities graduate degree, something in economics, policy, or business?

  19. Brooke Farmer says:

    I’ve always said that if I ever won the lotto I would go to school forever. I would get degrees in everything. When I say that people ask me why I don’t just go to grad school now. There is an unspoken rule in our country that you are never supposed to say that more education is bad.

    But it is. And you’re saying it. You and James Altucher. And that’s about it.

    • Steve C says:

      So the scary thing about all this is, in a world where we are in danger of being controlled by zealots who believe all life must revolve around a literal reading of the constitution and/or the Bible(or Koran in other countries), and those same zealots draw their power from ignorant masses, here we are having a discussion about decreasing higher education?

      • Kevin says:

        Right, because “education” can only come from an accredited institution of higher learning. Knowledge gained outside the academy is by definition either not education or of a decidedly lower form than the "higher" version produced exclusively in our colleges and universities.

      • Steve C says:

        @Kevin. I hear what you are saying, but to be honest, I’m not sure if I agree with it or not. Experience teaches things you just don’t learn in school, and it takes a long time to acquire it, no getting around it. But it is the rare individual who is self-taught to the level that an accredited institution can provide, especially a graduate level institution. Both involve the sharing and passing along of knowledge and universal truths, but experience is a more individual journey. Education has to be done with teachers. And it has to be vetted to be accredited. Both need to be valued and nurtured by society. Well, at least a functional society.

      • Steven Fogarty says:

        To Steve C. I, too, prefer a more relaxed, flexible interpretation of the U.S. Constitution. My personal feeling about the First Amendment is that you, Steve C., should not be free to post on this or any blog. A literal, originalist reading (i.e. we are all equally free to express ourselves) is stodgy and oppressive.

        • Steve C says:

          Steven. I guess I’ve been hoisted by my own petard. I could probably clarify the point I was trying to make, but I think you probably already know what it is.

    • Mel says:

      yup. what brooke farmer said.

    • Andrew says:

      No, Brooke. Trunk is saying that incremental formal graduate education is a low- to negative-return investment in most non-science (and I will add non-engineering and non top-10 business school) fields.

      And she’s absolutely correct, even when factoring in the non-pecuniary value of associated with the utility that certain people reap from staying in school and being a student.

      Value? Non.

      • Steve C says:

        Could you define “incremental formal graduate education” for me? I have never heard that description before.

    • Steve C says:

      Brooke. I think part of the reason for the “unspoken” rule about more education is a more explicit “spoken” rule: “Stupid is as stupid does”.
      There is a reason why we have public education in the first place. Our forefathers(and mothers) were no-nonsense, practical people. They clearly saw the benefit of a good education. Still, that doesn’t completely explain the infatuation with post-graduate education. I think somewhere along the way we have somehow attached some extra social status to having a post grad degree. That’s not completely the fault of the individuals who perceive it that way. It is a real phenomenon. On the other hand, some of that comes from how much we are actually teaching/learning up to the 12th grade in HS. I saw a post or article a while back that exhibited a final exam for an 8th or 9th grad class back in the early 1800’s. It was eye-opening. I’m guessing most of us posting comments here would not pass it. I know I would fail it if I had to take it right now.

  20. Nancy says:

    The bubble of grad studies is just a sign of the times. People can’t get good jobs when they graduate, so they stay in school. There’s no big master plan at work here. It’s just people trying to accommodate to the new reality and not knowing all the options they have.

    Of course, it would help the economy if they’d just take the crap jobs that are available. But people hate failure, and that’s what it feels like to take a job that a high school kid could do.

    It’s human nature, Penelope. They’re not wrong, they’re just human.

    • Steve C says:

      Nice point. When I first went back to college, it was during a another recession. The program I was in, engineering technology, was almost all “non-traditional” students who had returned to college to finish degrees or get new ones because the economy was in the tank and they had been laid off and couldn’t get new jobs.
      Another thing is, it’s often easier to stay in school once you start, if you work it right, than it is to leave and then try to get back into it later on down the road.
      Timing has a lot to do with how successful any venture is in life as well.
      No one would go to school, or go back to school, if life was just peachy and all wants were being satisfied.

    • Patricia says:

      So it’s better to spend 2-3 years and $100,000+ (plus interest if you borrowed it) and *then* take the job a high school kid could do? Not sure how this helps with a sense of failure.

      I think P writes posts like this specifically *because* she gets that young adult humans are given to not knowing the options they have.

      Unfortunately, it is also human nature to resist clear-spoken logic and good advice.

      • Steve C says:

        Patricia. I don’t see where you are getting that from Nancy’s comment. Where does she say it is better to go to graduate school, or that it “helps” with failure? The way I read her post, she is simply saying that it is what it is: a typically human reaction to a situation that some perceive as being beyond their control, i.e., a terrible economy or job market.

  21. rb says:

    I actually would like to go to graduate school, but not at all for my career. I miss the excitement and inspiration I got from learning about different theories in physics and mathematics. However, right now I have enough to do working full time with school-aged children. Grad school is my semi-retirement plan. I wonder if I could take the courses on an audit basis and pay less? After all, I don’t care about the degree.

  22. Beth says:

    So, for those of us who agree with your points but realized them too late, how do you go about *fixing* your career after getting a master’s in the humanities?

    • Helen says:

      I`m thinking that you just leave it off your resume. I guess if you get asked about why there is a hole there, there are probably a variety of things you can say like I travelled (expand any vacation you would have taken at the time lol), the good old re-framing bit.

      • Steve C says:

        I think that’s a bad idea. When I hear that, I always think of the reaction some single mom struggling to get a GED would have if they heard that suggestion. They would kill to have that degree. If you are going to “re-frame”, make something up about why you are glad that you got a masters degree. If you are lying, the lie is probably going to be sniffed out. Better to work on putting a positive spin on your hard-earned degree than to put all your eggs in a negative basket. One way or another, you’ve got to tell the story. Just be thankful you don’t have to tell a story about a felony conviction, or a big hole created while you were locked up.
        How about not wasting your time applying for jobs where a masters degree is clearly an over-qualification?

      • Penelope Trunk says:

        Helen’s advice is good. I completely agree. And I’ve seen it work many, many times.
        Penelope

        • Mike C says:

          What Penelope agreed to is just evil. She is agreeing you should take your degree off your resume and just lie to your interviewer if you have a Masters..

  23. Psyche says:

    Hating on graduate school is easy and you are clearly right.

    However, I think there’s a better topic for your talents: Suppose you have gone to graduate school in the humanities, discovered (in your late twenties) you have a useless degree, and need to get your career back on track. What advice would you offer?

    • Penelope Trunk says:

      Well, I did that. I played professional beach volleyball, and then I was stuck. I didn’t know what to do next. So I went to graduate school for English. And, look, here I am. Most of the advice I give on this blog is what I ended up doing once I realized that an English degree would not get me anywhere.

      Penelope

      • B.J. says:

        I’m sorry…did you just say that your experience in graduate school for English had nothing to do with your eventually becoming a professional…writer? I realize that an English degree does not equal writing success, but these are related fields. Seems like graduate school did actually help you find your path, eventually.

        • Bob says:

          Did an English major too, and it was essentially worthless for any kind of writing I get paid to do.

          In fact, I find English degrees actually make it harder to write in practical settings. They should just rename all Eng/Lit majors “Pretentious Writing” and leave it as an optional elective.

      • Andrew says:

        BJ:

        I have two engineering degrees and an top-5 MBA and have not taken an English class since high school (I placed out of freshman rhetoric.) I write better than any English major (post-grad or otherwise) I’ve met in the 20 years since I got my engr MS. English degrees are risible.

        You’re confusing cause and effect. PT went to English grad school because she was a compelling writer. I’ll bet that grad school didn’t make her a better writer compared with the improvement she would have seen had she simply spent the two years writing and seeking critiques for free.

        Everything we need to become effective writers we learn easily in high school (if we pay attention and write a great deal) and by reading a handful of style guides.

        The dearth of logical and deductive thinking in these comments is (1) appalling; (2) vindication of her thesis.

      • Steve C says:

        @Andrew. You didn’t really just use the word risible instead of just saying laughable, did you? Well, aren’t you all that!
        If that comment wasn’t so pitifully transparent, it would be risible.
        Penelope clearly is implying that going to Grad school in English had nothing to do with where she is now. She may be getting all of her career advising knowledge from whatever she did after realizing that an English degree was not going to “get her anywhere”, but to suggest that her experience in grad school had nothing to do with what she does now is ludicrous.
        I think the ones confusing cause and effect here are you and Penelope, not BJ.

      • Mike says:

        You need clear goals on what you want out of your grad program. If it’s english, you need to know how a masters will help you out, other wise you’ll end up confused and lost.

  24. Sylvia says:

    Understand and agree with most of this – but here’s why it’s still not a real-world argument. I’m a mom of two recent undergraduates with [useless] humanities degrees and neither of them are planning on doing anything that requires them to go to graduate school, yet for some reason both of them think they won’t get a [real] job unless they do. Wait – I know the reason: leaders at many companies think you must have a graduate degree in, say, marketing to do any kind of marketing job. Why? Possibly because THEY had to do it? I have been with a Fortune 50 company for 15 years, slogging away with my measly undergraduate economics degree after gaining experience running my family business. Working to move up the ladder, I’m seeing new, young kids with $100K marketing MBAs being promoted to jobs for which they have neither the experience or the passion that those of us with non-traditional backgrounds have. Pardon me for being the jaded old lady here, but until someone changes the focus of hiring managers to revere and accept experience as an equal or better source of education, we will not be able to move beyond graduate degrees being a de facto barrier for lazy corporations to weed through the long list of people looking for jobs. Better, as Penelope said, to be prepared to fail in starting your own company…and once you have the experience, stay with the smaller companies who may value experience over fancy degrees.

    • Steve C says:

      I tend to agree with you. I think it is a great and somewhat unexplainable tragedy that experience is so poorly valued in today’s corporate world. My own sense is that hiring managers are lazy, as you pointed out, and I also believe they feel less guilty throwing younger workers overboard when their jobs are outsourced or off-shored.
      You also have to consider who you are talking about here: human resources people, the absolute bottom of the productivity food-chain in any organization, almost without fail. Get any executive drunk and ask them who contributes the least to the bottom line of their organization, and they will tell you it’s the human resource people.
      It doesn’t have to be that way, but for a perfect example of what I am describing here, I would point to the post by Aimee above.

    • Chris says:

      I’ve worked in high-tech management for 12 years, and what I see is that the percentage of senior managers and executives with advanced degrees is a small minority. Our CEO has a BA in History. All senior leaders reporting to him have bachelors degrees only. The “marketing MBA” types you reference don’t last very long at our company, and real on-the-job work experience is much more valued than a marketing MBA. They do exist – sometimes a new VP will go through a fad of hiring MBAs – but then they will move on once the people that do the real work figure out that the MBAs are more interested in impressing everyone by regurgitating their textbooks than doing real work that moves the company forward. Maybe some companies have a bigger concentration of MBAs, but it is not popular at our Fortune 50 company.

  25. Tatiana says:

    I always think about your opinion on graduate school when I discover that many of my peers are getting their MAs and longing to get their Ph.D’s. People keep talking about a bubble – I don’t know what this means exactly – but my perception is that for many people, higher education is deemed as the HOLY GRAIL of, well, life. People who have higher degrees are perceived in a specific way, and there are jobs that might prefer that you have a MA in something versus simply a BA.

    (I remember reading somewhere that as BAs become more plentiful, jobs are demanding higher degrees to “weed out applicants”. But as you mentioned in an earlier comment, the price of education gets higher every year, which isn’t something people are realistic about as they shove students back onto college campuses).

    I’m on the fence with your perspective and my own. Your perspective has allowed me to view job security and education in a different way. A degree doesn’t really guarantee you anything, experience does (comparatively). And I go back and forth because like many people who pursue higher education, I enjoy institutionalized learning and it’s definitely something I want to go back to at some point. I’m just not sure what I would do, and I’d only go back if it was completely paid for.

    But I also feel that we can expand the conversation on how we utilize degrees instead of just looking at degrees as linear. Our view of education needs to be more expansive and not just focus on grades and what texts we’ve read. The graduate school experience needs to be re-shaped so that when you go, you get work experience. One college I looked at actually sends you on an internship for like a whole year or semester. Then you come back with industry experience. More colleges need to do that. Right now, academia – in general – is very cerebral where we talk about theory and abstract concepts. It needs to start being grounded and less “bubble-esque”. If that makes sense.

  26. Will L. says:

    Thanks for saying what I’ve long been thinking, Penelope! I went to business school right after undergrad (actually, it was kind of a dual-degree program), and I think it’s hurt me more than it’s helped me.

    Like you said, people assume that when you go to grad school, it’s because you’re going after what you want to do, but for me that wasn’t and still isn’t the case. So getting an advanced degree has pigeon-holed me into my field of concentration. But what’s done is done, and what’s important is that I learned from the experience. Thanks, Penelope, for giving me permission to call grad school a mistake.

  27. Erik says:

    I was a bystander to a conversation between a dutch law student and NYU law student over the weekend. Dutch student pays $1,500 / year for law school. NYU student said $69,000. The NYU student looked like she was going to cry when she heard it.

  28. B says:

    My friend linked this to me. So I’m going to jump up and down and point at myself as the exception. PhD in Economics/Finance.

    If you’re going to the heavy lifting in this field, you need the schooling. At a minimum a Masters in graduate economics and math is necessary (unless you’re a Russian chess champion and boy-genius). All of the best courses are taught through the PhD sequences so you’ll be hanging out with PhD students anyway. The difference? Masters students pay tuition. While finance PhD programs are very generous: free tuition plus 20-35k a year.

    • Cat says:

      B – you are so not the target audience of this blog. I mean, PhD in Economics? Don’t even bother; really.

      • B says:

        Cat,

        I’m not sure why you think that. Everything in an MBA student’s corporate finance or asset pricing textbook starts with us.

    • Cat says:

      B –
      Actually, my comment was a compliment.
      The target audience of this blog are low poets; period.
      The blog is fun to read, but it’s packed with fallacies.
      So, just take the “advice” as pure entertainment.

      • Cat says:

        Oops – meant “low achievers”, as in “laid-back”. But I mean it in the best way.
        Some commenters are more insightful, though. Too bad they don’t have their own blogs.

      • Steve C says:

        Aw. I was having fun hashing over the “low Poets” label.

      • B says:

        Thank you for the compliment. But I don’t think a PhD in economics is as hard as you make it out to be. It’s fairly laid back. I have some deadlines, but I decide when I want to work. There are a lot of discussions and presentations. (I was just assigned a 30 minute corporate finance presentation due in two weeks.) I imagine it’s a lot like co-managing a small business.

        And the collaboration with students and faculty is very rewarding. Being surrounded by like-minded people with the same passion is infectious.

        I work 50+ hours a week including Saturdays and Sundays. I think anyone that wants to do something exceptional should expect to do the same if not more. Nothing great happens in 40 hours a week.

  29. N says:

    You don’t have a problem with graduate school. You have a problem with the humanities.

    I get paid enough money in my graduate program in the life sciences to get by ok, and (get ready to overdose on sanctimoniousness) I am doing something I love and making the world a better place.

    No regrets, yo.

  30. Southern Man says:

    Well, there’s grad school, and there’s grad school in STEM.

    (1) and (2) – In my day they paid YOU to go to school (harder to find today, but still quite possible), expected maximum performance for their money, and didn’t hesitate to cut you loose if you couldn’t hack it. My incoming cohort had 33 students; five of us completed PhDs. Brutal, but my graduate education has actual value because of it. The only student loans I ever had to pay were those that came with my spouse. Who had a music major / English minor, couldn’t find a job, retrained as a math teacher, and has been working ever since.

    (3) Doesn’t apply to STEM folks, as we’re either all grown up by fourteen or never grow up at all.

    (4), (5), and (6) – If you want to be in a STEM field, and especially if you want to teach in that field, you get a doctorate. Period. So there’s no “standing out” or “making job hunting easier” or “planning on teaching” distinctions involved. And don’t worry about the lack of teaching jobs – literature PhDs may be a dime a dozen but good STEM teachers are hard to find. If you are one, you’ll never want for work.

    Like some earlier commenters I disagree that (7) is a disadvantage. I enjoyed grad school a lot. True wealth is being able to do what you enjoy and at that time in my life it was the right place to be and the right thing to do.

    I was lucky and found a department that was a cut above the university housing it. I didn’t fall into the post-doc trap and went straight into full-time teaching, with very little research requirement. So five years of grad school has given me twenty-five years (so far) of challenging and enjoyable work that pays fairly well, that frankly isn’t that difficult, and that’s mostly been on nine-month contracts that give me summers to work or play as I please. If you can do it and if you would enjoy it, I highly recommend picking up a graduate degree in a STEM field.

    • leftspeaker says:

      “And don’t worry about the lack of teaching jobs – €“ literature PhDs may be a dime a dozen but good STEM teachers are hard to find. If you are one, you’ll never want for work.”

      Have you been involved in the hiring process for new teachers lately? I suspect things have changed over the last 25 years. The common wisdom in my graduate department (biology-related) was that you have to apply to 60 jobs in order to land a teaching gig at a college. And now people are saying it’s tough to find 60 openings to apply to inside a year. And over the last 2-3 decades, the number of people admitted to PhD programs in the sciences has increased dramatically, as those teaching jobs disappear.

      (Disclosure: I left my PhD program with a masters degree and now work in the biotech industry)

    • Penelope Trunk says:

      Reality check:

      For argument’s sake, let’s say each university math professor has three math graduate students working under him (it’s always a him). All three eventually get PhDs. Their teacher does not retire. This happens, let’s say, 300 times in the US every year. So of course there are not enough tenured teaching positions to go around.

      The STEM people, or whatever you call them, end up having little control over where they live (the locations no one wants, like Idaho) and they have short-term gigs, because they are not tenured.

      So then the people with PhDs go teach high school science, or go into industry (seen largely as an act of failure among university types), and they didn’t need a PhD for either of those. The PhD becomes a formal announcement that they were not one of the short list of chosen people for tenure-track university positions.

      The whole thing looks like a ponzi scheme to me — so that tenured professors can get smart people to run their labs.

      Penelope

      • redrock says:

        STEM people overwhelmingly do not go for teaching or University professorships. Someone needs to run silicon valley, develop new devices to run your gadgets, develop the newest GPS system, make traffic run smoothly, develop the math to run Wall Street, find new rubber components for your tires, develop the newest medication, and find ways to make most of the things we use without thinking in our daily lives. And yes, you actually need the education from a graduate degree to work in these jobs, which about 95% (or even 99%) of students in STEM fields will populate.

      • Paul says:

        Yes, I agree with you 100%. And the worst part IMO is not being able to choose where you want to live. That’s why I switched to computer science.

  31. Murad Abel says:

    Education is about learning about “how to think” versus inputting raw knowledge with no insight. Schools need to be tied socially and politically to major employers and trends.

    • Southern Man says:

      I’m going to make a significant contribution to your education. Read and study the following books:

      Love and Respect by Eggerich
      Reconcilable Differences by Talley
      The Secrets Men Keep by Arterburn

      If the marriage counselors WE went to had done so, we’d still be married, and most happily so. Sadly, I had to learn these truths after the divorce; the counseling we actually got was…well, let’s say it was pretty useless.

      And if you can take it, read the blog (including archives) Chateau Heartiste, which produces more naked truth about how relationships actually work than any book ever written.

      Be aware that “truth” like this is often unwelcome in the classroom.

  32. Michael Feliciano says:

    I have a few responses to this installment – I have enjoyed Penelope’s blog for some time, but I think she is overgeneralizing here:

    I am 42, and starting graduate school tomorrow – to become a licensed Marriage/Family therapist. I could not do this job without recieving the MA degree and getting licensed, at least not without any legitimacy. I have been planning this career for about 20 years…putting it off, and trying everything else under the sun, career-wise – mostly focused on how I could earn a living while making the world a better place. I am not afraid to grow up – I served 4 years in the military after high school, where I promptly grew up. I have been inspired by other posts by Penelope encouraging that we do what we are most passionate about, so the statement that life is just about earning and surviving seems contradictory – I don’t buy it. I may be misinterpreting, since you also love the farmer because he chose to raise pigs.

    I just ran my own business for 6 years and was obliterated by this economy. My career/work life has beena journey of evolving to understand my gifts, and how to best apply them…on this knowledge I have based my currnet decision. Becoming a licensed therapist is a long and hard path, and I am not discouraged by that – I guarantee you that noone chooses this path based on earning potential or career prestige.

    So, please be careful about over-generalizing, because there are lots of reasons people make decisions like going to grad school, or not…After proving myself succesful in various arenas, I have found myself wary of winging it any longer, undercredentialed for a “profession” and overqualified for menial jobs…unemployed with three college degrees, and unable to qualify for social safety nets like food stamps or unemployment insurance. A truly nasty conundrum.

    • Michael Feliciano says:

      Speaking of education – ry for the typos – I was typing fast with a bandage on my finger LOL.

    • Southern Man says:

      I’m going to make a significant contribution to your education. Read and study the following books:

      Love and Respect by Eggerich
      Reconcilable Differences by Talley
      The Secrets Men Keep by Arterburn

      If the marriage counselors WE went to had done so, we’d still be married, and most happily so. Sadly, I had to learn these truths after the divorce; the counseling we actually got was – well, let’s say it was pretty useless.

      And if you can take it, read the blog (including archives) Chateau Heartiste, which produces more naked truth about how relationships actually work than any book ever written.

      Be aware that “truth” like this is often unwelcome in the classroom. But feel free to use it to make your professors crazy. And sorry about the double post, the first one replied to the wrong comment.

  33. Aubrey says:

    There is a perception at my office that an MBA degree is valuable. I have even been told by upper management that the position I’m in is as high as I will go unless I get my MBA degree. All of my bosses and coworkers have their degrees, but I don’t as I agree with everything you have listed above.

    How do I get promoted in an office that places so much value on a dying degree? I do not want to be overlooked just because I don’t have an MBA degree.

    • Chris M. says:

      Aubrey, I feel for you. I have an MBA and have progressed much faster in my career than other people equally talented but without an MBA. In a Fortune 100 company, that will often be the case, and no matter how logic Penelope’s arguments are, this preference for a degree still holds true. Fortunately for me I got my MBA outside the U.S. for a fraction of the cost, so the cost-benefit in my case was huge.

      • CT says:

        Hi Chris M. Could you do me the favor of telling me where you got your MBA outside of the United States. I’m looking at programs in Spain and Brazil. Programs in the former are incredibly expensive. Programs in the latter are cheap, but I’m worried about their transferability to the U.S. market. I would love to hear your thoughts/opinions. Thanks!

  34. Crane says:

    It’s all well and good to stay out of school if you use the time wisely. The advantage is that college directs you to awareness of areas you might not study on your own, increase your awareness of the complexities of the world, examine areas that you are weak in (and could improve on), and provide you a structure toward completion of projects. Most people without direction will waste the college years on the same thing as in college, parties, alcohol and sex, without the directed study and exams.

  35. Steve C says:

    The trouble is, if you look at how this situation evolved, and look at the job postings for many higher end jobs, it is clear that Corporate America created this dilemma. A college degree, and usually at least a masters degree, is used as a screening tool by business. Check out the job postings for professional positions. Many of them require at least a Masters in the field, or in a related field.
    Now with the “new colonialism” movement, exploiting cheap off-shore labor resources, they are transferring the same scam to other countries.
    The other thing that I don’t see in your post is the acknowledgement of how difficult it is to complete a masters degree, let alone a PhD, and what that says about the individual. This may not be true for all fields of study, but it is for most. I don’t have any statistics to share, but think it would be interesting to know what the drop out rate is for Graduate Schools. I doubt if schools are anxious to give that information out, but I suspect the most common graduate degree is the DnF, for “did not finish”.

    • newscaper says:

      Actually, corporate america got so career focused once the EEOC and various ‘civil rights’ lawsuits made them afraid of being accused of discrimination if they (the employers) simply used aptitude or IQ tests to more directly screen for sharper talent.

      The degree is a no-risk proxy for a more direct assessment.

      • M. Rad. says:

        I would point out that large corporations get many, perhaps most, of their employees these days by buying smaller companies. Further, the small company (now a division of the megacorp) is given wide discretion on who they hire after the acquisition, sharply contrasting with how megacorps quickly centralize IT, accounting, travel and often even sales. I see that as a tacit admission that their credential-oriented hiring practices are a poor way of screening for real talent.

    • ErikZ says:

      Corporate America USED to just give tests to see if you were qualified to do the job. Then those were deemed wrong and were made illegal.

      So, who would be making laws that cause people to not get jobs? I suppose it will be a cold day in hell before you blame “Big Government”

      • Steve C says:

        ErikZ. So, having laws is big government? Somebody sued, somebody lost. Tests with built-in biases were probably outlawed, but not all tests. Even a temp agency can test your abilities before they will refer you for a temp job. This is one of the reasons why companies contract with them. They assume the risk of hiring that companies normally would have to bear.

  36. Helen says:

    I have to agree with a point brought up by another commenter that these post graduate degrees are merely requirements for alot of jobs because those that have acheived positions where they are making the hiring decisions had to go get them themselves. Why on earth would they want to make things easier for the generations coming after them? THAT is human thinking too. We want to make things easier for our kids, but certainly not for our younger colleagues. By the way, I did not go to university or college. I started working right after highschool and I did just as well if not better than my friends who did go. Funny thing is, I just quit my almost six figure job to focus on my own company! I`m as poor as a church mouse right now but the freedom I feel right now is absolutely marvelous.

  37. krysia says:

    Thanks for posting this! I have been wrestling with this myself and have recently decided to not pursue grad school right now because I’d rather get real experience and not sink deeper into debt!

  38. Marc Luber says:

    Penelope, I love your style. You always make a strong point and crack me up while doing it. This is my first time commenting but I’ve been lurking for a while. I’m a big fan. I see some complaining about overgeneralizations, but that is the brilliance of your writing….which inspires countless interactions.

    For the most part, I agree with your main argument here and do feel that grad degrees in the humanities are a bubble waiting to burst. At my attorney search firm, I would often receive resumes from potential candidates who earned a long list of impressive degrees…but I would look at those resumes and think, “you’re almost 40 and you’ve NEVER worked before – what’s WRONG with you?!”

    At the same time, corporate America so often bows down to MBA grads. I don’t understand why, because other than uttering acronyms in every sentence (ROI, RFP, POC), I’m not clear on what added value the MBA brings to the job. But I’ve seen companies hire and promote them time and time again over those with no MBA degrees.

    Although a law degree has become prohibitively expensive and I thoroughly disagree with the fact that it’s a 3-year program that focuses on theory (rather than a practical system like med school with on-the-job rotations), I still think it’s a great degree for some people. It can be a great route with a variety of paths. Unless/until the government stops requiring law school to take and pass the BAR exam, there’s still a need for the degree for those who want in to that profession despite the overcrowding.

    And like the Marriage/Family therapist-to-be said above, there are certain careers that just require an additional degree for licensure, etc.

    The bottom line is that no grad degree, especially in this economy, is going to get anyone a job. Networking and being a self-starter are still the most important. And if someone can turn those 2 things into gold without taking on the additional debt of a grad degree, they should.

    • Steve C says:

      Excellent points, I think. Especially the last paragraph. I would add, though, that in the really prestigious institutions, the network/connections with alumni and fellow peers is at least half the value of the degree obtained, if not more. It’s like a continuation of those legacy programs which got many of the students into the institutions in the first place. Someone wrote an article(maybe part of a study) some years back about women in leadership positions in Corporate America. They found that a significant percentage of them had two things in common: 1)at least a BS/BA in economics, and 2)they graduated from a prestigious women’s college in Massachusetts(I think it was
      Wellesley, but I could be mistaken). It was the mentoring/networking with Alums that opened the doors for these women. You still have to work it though.

  39. Natalie says:

    Didn’t you just tell women to get MBAs a few weeks ago?!

    I think grad school has to be an intrinsic need. Maybe it won’t get you a better paying job — but maybe it will give you those two years of sanity you need, or two years of deciding what you actually want to do — which then helps you get the right job!

  40. redrock says:

    School and university are some of humanities greatest achievements, doing everything by an apprenticeship system puts us back to the middle ages. And dutch (and german) university tuition is so much cheaper for the individual student because the federal government pays the equivalent of tuition to keep the universities going. Education is considered to be so valuable that taxes are used to keep it going, and at a high level in terms of quality. Imagine the outcry on this blog if someone would come up with the idea to pay taxes to make graduate education accessible to everybody who intellectually qualifies.

    • Andrew says:

      Ah, yes… that old chestnut “The federal government pays…” Let’s be more specific: “Taxpayers subsidize the value of your degree from which they will never see a return.”

      That’s certainly an admirable system they’ve got over there (and in Canada, where I used to live.) The able and talented free ride on the taxes of the poor and middle classes. Further compelling argument for dramatically less government.

      I’ve got a good idea. Why don’t you pay me to do what I want. ‘Cause it’s no different from the way in which the Europeans and Canadians (and state universities and colleges in the U.S.) finance higher education on the backs of taxpayers.

      Lord; think clearly, please.

      • Steve C says:

        Andrew, I think you have to add every developing economy/government to your list that now seems to only include European and Canadian governments and economies. There is a simple reason why these countries all do this: they all recognize that it is better to have more smart people than to have more dumb people. They also recognize that it is better to have more skilled people than less. One of the reasons this is the case is that there is an expected ROI on this investment in the form of increased economic activity, and more valuable economic activity.
        I suspect you believe that private industry will just step up to the plate and educate all these individuals on their own dime. Perhaps, but I doubt it.
        What is missing the guarantee that there will be a pay back, maybe in the form of a term of service to repay the investment. Of course, there actually need to be jobs to fill in order for this to take place. It seems to me a lot of people could be doing jobs that are being cut, if there was a liveable wage attached.
        The way that capitalism is right now, given the global labor force, there is excess labor everywhere in world, because even businesses in Ohio or Alaska have to consider the labor pool in China, if everyone else is doing it.
        The money flows to the countries where the need can be met. And the best jobs go to the most highly skilled workers. That goes hand in hand with education.

      • Steve C says:

        “The able and talented free ride on the taxes of the poor and middle classes.” Apparently without realizing it, you have just succinctly defined the upper 2% of our malfunctioning Capitalist society. You really ought to take a hard look at some of the predictions Marx made regarding capitalism. You won’t like them.

      • Bladedoc says:

        “The able and talented free ride on the taxes of the poor and middle classes.” Apparently without realizing it, you have just succinctly defined the upper 2% of our malfunctioning Capitalist society. You really ought to take a hard look at some of the predictions Marx made regarding capitalism. You won’t like them.

        You have just succinctly described every political economic system in which some group is empowered to take some other group’s money and redistribute it. In “capitalism” which is presently actually corporatism/cronyism it’s the well connected 1% and in socialism it’s SURPRISE the well connected 1%.

  41. Leslie says:

    I just saw two online postings for jobs that required only a GED. They were not that well paid (8.00 – 10.00 an hour) but as entry level positions, one for a mechanic, the other for a secretary they could be a stepping stone to better things. Medical benefits and some retirement program benefits were also included. Getting your foot in the door it is still better than living with Mom and Dad forever. You can move up the ladder to something better once your reputation is established within the organization. Taking online classes in your spare time is also an option if you want an advanced degree.

    • Steve C says:

      I’m wondering what area of the country these jobs were posted in that an $8-$10 per hour job is going to move you out of mom and dad’s house and into our own place. I think you are superimposing a 1960’s cost of living onto the new millenium.

      • karelys davis says:

        yakima, WA. Buying a house and living pretty okay on a starting average wage (for both husband and I) at that range.

  42. Irving Podolsky says:

    I have a cum laude degree in Cinema Arts from the University of Southern California, and graduated with a 3.8 average. When interviewing for my first jobs, and my second jobs, actually ALL of my job, not ONE interviewer ever asked about my grades or college. What DID they want to know? They asked about my previous jobs, even when I didn’t have any. Eventually I DID rack up some “previous jobs” only to discover…what took me two years to learn in film school I could have absorbed in two months working in real production.

    But that was then. Today USC is incredibly cutting age and I’m sure students learn usable skills which emulate the industry’s demands. And the grads have a job placement service too. Good for them. I never had that opportunity. And I’m glad I didn’t.

    Thinking back, a week before graduation, my mentor asked me what I was going to do on the “Outside” having made my A’s in film school. I told him I was going to write and direct movies. He said, “You should spend some time pumping gas. Then you’ll have something to write about.” He was so right. For the first five years out of school I struggled to pay the rent with strange and bizarre jobs I grabbed solely for the money, or because they easily opened up to me. They had nothing to do with the film industry and everything to do with living and writing about it. It was the best of times. It was the worst of times. And I don’t regret a second of that adventure.

    Irv

  43. Jon says:

    Penelope: Your article addresses non-science degrees. But, what’s your opinion on Masters in Engineering degrees?

  44. c says:

    I agree with you most of the time Penelope; however, I am pursuing a doc. in psych. You should be given an honorary degree. I started when I left my corporate job and have been quite happy so far. I do miss my six figure salary and my unlimited expense account. I did not become a lawyer as was planned. I took the another route ten years later. I am terrified a lot of the time- on my own, divorced and no one to support me financially. Funny, I was so angry before, wanting to break you down. I am happy with what I am doing and so are you? I appreciate the HONESTY! Tough week in NY.

  45. Alina Rădulescu says:

    What if I am paid to go to grad school? This is actually my case. I am being paid to become and expert in my field and while I do this, I am doing some writing gigs about it on my own. I am sure I could get more money actually doing a job, but I wouldn’t get to meet all the people I meet now or improve my knowledge. If doing a job would be such a great way of learning there wouldn’t be so many people out there waiting for years to get up the ladder (and I think “waiting” is the essential word here, because they are not doing anything to get better or get paid better or learn more).

  46. Deena McClusky says:

    So great to see that you are back to arguing a side I can completely agree with. That being said, it would be wonderful to get this argument in front of the myriad of employers out there who are still requiring bachelors degrees for entry level employment and masters degrees for any positions of significant power, despite the fact that the piece of paper is functionally useless in both situations.

    • Penelope Trunk says:

      Deena, great point. Employers use the bachelor degree as a crutch, I think. Employers assume that if someone can pull themselves together to get a BA then they have passed some sort of hurdle. But many people can pass those same intellectual/self-discipline hurdles without getting a BA — it just takes a smarter hiring environment to see that.

      Penelope

      • newscaper says:

        Like I told Steve C. you’re partly barking up the wrong tree here — the real solution is the older way where many employers gave aptitude or what were effectively – if not in reality – IQ tests. Enough ‘discrimination’ lawsuits starting in the 1970s to kill that cheap alternative to the BA.

        Now the BA requirement lets the corporation have someone else assume that risk — at much greater cost to the job candidate of course.

        • Steve C says:

          newscaper. Isn’t this what I was saying? I didn’t go into the cause of the shift, ie lawsuits, because I wasn’t really aware of that,  but I wouldn’t argue with it. All I was saying is businesses have clearly shifted the screening process to Colleges and Universities. The thing I wonder about is whether they like it this way or not? Apparently, according to the HR people who have posted, they do not.
          Here’s an anecdotal tid-bit you might find interesting. In the 1950’s, most of my dad’s close friends were in management at Ford Motor Company. At some point, and I forget why(maybe one of the Ford son’s ascended to upper management), Ford decreed that all management level personnel needed to have a college degree. This was back in the day when admissions was something you had to qualify for. Most of these guys had spent their entire careers at Ford, worked their way up from the shop floors,and knew the business inside and out. All of them were terminated, as far as I know. They were all in their mid to late 50’s. Needless to say, it was pretty hard on them. I wonder what drove that paradigm shift?(no pun intended).

  47. Sean Crawford says:

    I figure a humanities/liberal arts degree is a real degree, and a career degree is a compromise. I got a career degree, but I tried to compensate by going to free guest lectures, joining student clubs and mingling lots.

    A few years ago I took a night class at tech school, while joking at work, “Everyone knows tech school gets you a job.” I took A History of World Film. (The school has a film career program) When I retire, instead of traveling I will go back to university full time and find out what I missed out on by “having to” prepare for a job.

    • Michael Feliciano says:

      I strongly agree with your comments. My experience is that people without college degrees often are simply not intellectually developed in areas related to critical thinking, and the humanities – and I think that the humanities broaden our field of understanding as citizens and community members. So, I am sad to see so many negative perceptions of general education. I think that academia was created to provide a broad scop of personal development, and that buying into the brianwashing of making ourselves workers above all else, is a tragic commentary on Capitalism and how it’s dumbing down our species.

      • Steve C says:

        Michael. Agree. The fundamental reason for all graduate level study has long since been turned on its head, and I don’t believe it is necessarily for the better. Still, for all the angry posters out there, I think it is better to be angry and educated, than to be angry and ignorant. Maybe not on an individual basis, but for a functional, rational society, yes.

      • Bob says:

        @Michael: Aren’t you failing to demonstrate critical thinking by dismissing all non-college educated people as being “not intellectually developed”? It’s a rather narrow-minded view to hold.

        Might even be one of the dangers of a humanities degree: it gives you the false perception that you know everything about the world, leading to a dismissal of opposing viewpoints.

  48. The Cake says:

    While I would agree with a bulk of this post, it is not entirely valid. I would contend that graduate school can be a waste of time and money if it is a mediocre graduate program without a recognized name or a quality of student that will develop one’s intellect and career connections. Having a top tier graduate degree on your resume, however, can and does open elite doors much faster than does attempting to start your career without it.

  49. Tzipporah says:

    I’m curious as to how you divide fields. You mention “non-science” and “humanities,” with an aside about law school. You do realize there are other large categories of study, right? Clinical psychology, social work, etc.?

    Also, I really have no desire to ever work for another company as an employee again. Some of us don’t fit what they’re looking for and don’t want to. That hardly makes us foolish. It makes us self-employed.

    • m.s. says:

      Ooo, social work. Yes, lets have more education in social work so they can continue to fuck up that whole system.

  50. CT says:

    How do you feel about dental school? I’ve always thought that dental school is well worth it for those who truly want to fix teeth. You’ve never told us, Penelope. Do you think your graduate degree was useless? To be clear, your post does not threaten me or my plans in any way. I’m just curious.

    • DEB says:

      I dropped out of school- you know, like Bill Gates. I worked some crappy and some decent jobs all my life- I only wanted to make music… The crappy jobs ( and a few crappy boyfriends ) gave me the best songwriting fodder I could ever have had. I learned guitar from teachers over 30 years — one who even learned from the top rock stars in the business ( bc he had sold them all guitars).
      I made a record and opened for a few big acts in my bands and in over 30 years prolly never made more than $25 For a gig.
      But I had a great ‘ career’
      I never did it for the money. ( ya know Kindda like Van Gogh). Only I kept my ear.
      It’s not all about money. But some will never get that.

In Archive