Seven reasons why graduate school is outdated

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It used to be that the smart kids went to graduate school. But today, the workplace is different, and it might be that only the desperate kids go to graduate school. Today there are new rules, and new standards for success. And for most people, graduate school is the path to nowhere. Here are seven reasons why:

1. Graduate school is an extreme investment for a fluid workplace. If you are graduating from college today, you will change careers about five times over the course of your life. So going to graduate school for four years—investing maybe $80,000—is probably over-investing in one of those careers. If you stayed in one career for your whole life, the idea is more reasonable. But we don’t do that anymore, so graduate school needs to change before it is reasonable again.

2. Graduate school is no longer a ticket to play. It used to be that you couldn’t go into business without an MBA. But recently, the only reason you need an MBA is to climb a corporate ladder. And, as Paul Graham says, “corporate ladders are obsolete.” That’s because if you try to climb one, you are likely to lose your footing due to downsizing, layoffs, de-equitization, or lack of respect for your personal life. So imagine where you want to go, and notice all the people who got there already without having an MBA. Because you can do that, too, in a wide range of fields, including finance.

3. Graduate school requires you to know what will make you happy before you try it. But we are notoriously bad at knowing what will make us happy. The positive psychology movement has shown us that our brains are actually fine-tuned to trick us into thinking we know about our own happiness. And then we make mistakes. So the best route to happiness is one of trial and error. Otherwise, you could over-commit to a terrible path. For example, today most lawyers do not like being lawyers: more than 55% of members of the American Bar Association say they would not recommend getting a law degree today.

4. Graduate degrees shut doors rather than open them. You better be really certain you know what you’re going to do with that degree because you’re going to need to earn a lot of money to pay it back. Law school opens doors only to careers that pay enough to repay your loans. Likewise, your loan payments from an MBA program mean that you cannot have a scrappy start-up without starving. Medical school opens doors to careers with such bad work-life balance that the most popular specialty right now is ophthalmology because it has good hours.

5. If you don’t actually use your graduate degree, you look unemployable. Let’s say you spend years in graduate school (and maybe boatloads of money), but then you don’t work in that field. Instead, you start applying for jobs that are, at best, only tangentially related. What it looks like is that you are asking people to give you a job even though you didn’t really want to be doing that job. You wanted another job but you couldn’t get it. No employer likes to hire from the reject pile, and no employer wants to be second choice.

6. Graduate school is an extension of childhood. Thomas Benton, columnist at the Chronicle of Higher Education, says that some students are addicted to the immediate feedback and constant praise teachers give, but the work world doesn’t provide that. Also, kids know how to do what teachers assign. But they have little idea of how to create their own assignments—which is what adult life is, really. So Benton says students go back to school more for comfort than because they have a clear idea of what they want to do with their life.

7. Early adult life is best if you are lost. It used to be that you graduated from college and got on a path. The smart kids got themselves on a safe path fast. Today there are no more safe paths, there is only emerging adulthood, where you have to figure out who you are and where you fit, and the quarter-life crisis, which is a premature midlife crisis that comes when people try to skip over the being lost part of early adult life. Being lost is a great path for today’s graduates. And for most people, graduate school undermines that process with very little reward at the end.

Dan Ariely, economist at MIT, found that when people have a complicated choice to make—and there is a default choice—they pick the default nearly every time. So if your parents or friends went to graduate school, you are likely to do the same, not because it’s good for you personally, but because choosing the alternatives seem more difficult. But making exactly that kind of difficult choice is what your early adult life is all about. So don’t skip it.

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  1. Mrs. Micah
    Mrs. Micah says:

    I may go back to grad school for some specific training and opportunities, but I’m waiting until I’m really sure that’s where I want. And I’m not counting on the degree to get me what I want.

    Instead, my goal is to work tangentially in the field (which only requires a BA) and learn some key skills independently. Then use those skills as a stepping ladder, keep going, see where it gets me. The path I’m currently exploring is a mix of tech and library science (information science). The best jobs probably require an MIS…but I’m going to wait on it for now.

    As a benefit, a number of library systems will pay you to get your MLS or MIS if you commit to a few years with them. We’ll see.

  2. Karl Staib - Your Work Happiness Matters
    Karl Staib - Your Work Happiness Matters says:

    I contemplated going back to graduate school, but I thought about all that money. Then I thought about all that time. Then I realized that I can create my own path with a little creativity and pig-headed stubbornness.

    I’m in the process of trying to brand myself through the internet. Instead of giving money to a bureaucratic institution I’m keeping it and in the process gaining a small fan base for a future business launch.

  3. Duff
    Duff says:

    Right on. Many of my coaching clients went to grad school and come to me because they hate their jobs.

    Much more important is figuring out your strengths and passions first, which may take 5 years of self-study while working a shitty job.

    After that, decide whether grad school is a good investment!

    • A. Irie
      A. Irie says:

      This post was written when I was a junior in college; I wish I would have heard and listen to this advice then. I’m finishing up my grad degree in social work and have no desire to go into the field, at least not the jobs offered in the field (direct practice, mental health, health, substance abuse treatment, child welfare, and abuse cases). Even interning in a non-traditional role as a school social work didn’t ignite a passion in me. I had one acquaintance who warned me after I had already applied. I was so mad at her for saying that gradschool was a waste of time if I didn’t 100% know what I wanted. I thought I did, but wasn’t sure, so I focused my internal anger at her (briefly). Her words haunted my these past 18 months. Overall I don’t regret going to grad school, because it has been such an accomplishment for me, like many others can say; I’m not a great or quick writer, I was the first person in my family to finish grad school, and I got into a top notch school. However, I do wish I would have figured myself out first. Now I have to start that journey at little later. But I know all will work out.

  4. Dan Schawbel
    Dan Schawbel says:

    Penelope, this is extremely well written and timely. We can’t manage our careers like our parents did and therefore don’t have to be subject to the same educational constraints.

  5. Melissa Pierce
    Melissa Pierce says:

    Cheers to being “lost”, or more rightly put, figuring out exactly what it is that you WANT to be doing.

    Perhaps the next step is to evaluate graduate programs and let them catch up to the fluidity of the job market.

    Are there graduate schools out there that are already implimenting stratagies to play by the new rules?

  6. Bill
    Bill says:

    If graduate school is outdated, then apparently we have no further need for doctors, dentists, pharmacists, college professors, scientists, and other professionals. After all, those jobs are hard, and the hours suck.

  7. Andrea >> Become a consultant
    Andrea >> Become a consultant says:

    My MBA was the best decision I’ve ever made. However, I made sure I worked full-time while completing it, so that I could test new ideas in the field, avoid debt and keep up my work experience. (All very important when you’re planning a home and a family — which I now have.) I love that it allowed me to see the world outside my own silo. But, if I’d taken on enormous debt or dropped out of the working world, I think it would have forced different decisions. I probably wouldn’t have two kids, a low ratio mortgage, a thriving business and a life I live on my own terms.

  8. Miriam Salpeter
    Miriam Salpeter says:

    What resonates most with me in your post is the idea that “Graduate school requires you to know what will make you happy before you try it.” For students to graduate college and step directly into an (expensive) graduate program without having experienced working in that field is a gamble.

    When I advised graduate students regarding their job searches, the most heartbreaking meetings were with soon-to-be graduates who still didn’t know what type of job they wanted. One young woman went to graduate school because “her grandfather suggested it.” Clearly not the best decision she ever made!

    The concept of being lost as an advantage is innovative! It would probably be an easier sell if so many college graduates weren’t coming out of school with so much debt.

    The fact is that many things in life are a gamble. Knowing when and how to gamble (“knowing when to hold ’em and when to fold ’em”) is a skill that comes with experience and still requires some luck.

  9. Steve
    Steve says:

    “1. Graduate school is an extreme investment for a fluid workplace.”

    An MBA or law degree from a top school will pay off. Many people in PhD. programs can get free tuition, and a stipend that is equivalent to a living wage.

    “2. Graduate school is no longer a ticket to play.”

    I’m repeatedly told I need a graduate degree to be considered for positions, and frequently see job postings that require a grad degree.

    “3. Graduate school requires you to know what will make you happy before you try it.”

    Hence graduate school self-selects people who know who they are and what they want out of life. Otherwise they would not have invested the time and money/opportunity cost.

    “4. Graduate degrees shut doors rather than open them.”

    See point two.

    “5. If you don't actually use your graduate degree, you look unemployable.”

    See point two. If you do find yourself underemployed, pro bono moonlighting can help boost your resume.

    “6. Graduate school is an extension of childhood.”

    I haven’t finished my degree yet, but I found that like college, it has boosted my intellectual powers incredibly–and this is from someone who never stopped reading and learning new things after college. Have you gone to graduate school?

    “7. Early adult life is best if you are lost.”

    I wish I had gone back to school earlier rather than doing crummy jobs that didn’t fulfil me intellectually. The earlier you get your degrees, the more years of working life that you have to take advantage of them.

    • Tami
      Tami says:

      Thank you! Grad school is a good thing and you’re right many jobs do want experience (5 plus years) or an MBA or MA.

    • Tara
      Tara says:

      I wholly agree with you, Steve.
      I am finishing my PhD. It was free (teaching fellowships and scholarships). I am not extending my childhood (the work is too serious and the competition too tough for that). I am also a grown woman who was in the work force for 15 years before going back to school.
      Without a graduate degree I wouldn’t be able to reach my goal.

  10. Jessica Bond
    Jessica Bond says:

    This perspective certainly makes some excellent points particularly as more people opt for entrepreneurship. As for me, my MBA was the best investment that I have ever made. It allowed me access to a broader field that my original undergraduate degree. I actually returned to grad school several years after being in the workforce…and worked full time while in grad school. It was a great professional experience as I could apply my education to real world problems in the workplace.

    All the best to you,
    Jessica Bond
    Medical Careerist

  11. Stretch Mark Mama
    Stretch Mark Mama says:

    Oh. I just. Loved that.

    And I would make a sweeping generalization to add that sometimes those with advanced degrees are too smart for their own good–stuck in the Land Of Acadamia.

  12. Christine
    Christine says:

    The younger staff that I work with have the belief that they need to get additional degrees in order to succeed. I always suggest they work for a couple of years to get the experience, broaden their practical knowledge base and then specialize.

    Really enjoyed this article! Thank you!

  13. Mark
    Mark says:

    This is all very true. And I speak from experience, since I have two graduate degrees myself. Which also makes this post very depressing.

  14. Jennifer
    Jennifer says:

    I agree with Miriam Salpeter. In my field, one can start work with a B.A combined with an internship. Unfortunately, this has not been my experience. After graduating, I worked many crappy jobs while investigating every avenue I could think of to launch my career. Even though I have been told that I have a stellar resume with excellent references, I have found that the employers in my industry are either hiring people with years of experience or a grad degree. So if an applicant is at an entry level, you're in a catch-22 situation. The only time I have heard of an applicant with entry level experience getting into this industry was if he/she KNEW someone with hiring power. If I was aware of this information early on, I would have gladly applied to grad school. I am actually preparing to apply for grad school right now.

  15. Jennifer
    Jennifer says:

    Oops, I was looking at the wrong message. It looks like the message I was agree with was written by Steve not Miriam.

  16. Heidi
    Heidi says:

    I’m a bit conflicted about this – I feel that my career (and income) has benefited greatly from my MBA. My master's paid for itself in about a year – €“ I feel like that was a pretty good ROI.

    I worked full time while I got my MBA – most of my student loan debt is from my years of undergraduate school. I wish I had known what I wanted to do before I pursued my BA (I changed my major three times and dropped out once), but my reasons for the MBA were crystal clear.

    I work a fascinating day job, and I occasionally teach undergrad courses at a local university. I love both of these jobs, but I wouldn’t have been considered for either one without my master’s degree.

    I totally agree that early adult life is best experienced "lost." It took me 10 years to finish my bachelor's (five of those were actually spent in classes, the rest of the time I was – €˜finding myself), but once I did, I knew exactly how I wanted my life to go. I’ve signed on for 20 years of the corporate thing – €“ then relaxing into an extremely comfortable semi-retirement consulting and teaching as an adjunct.

    Some people may view that as being – €˜stuck' in academia, but the adjunct instructors in my tier-two MBA program where pulling in $120k a year and didn't have to publish – €“ not a bad life. I wouldn't be qualified for that life without my master's.

    And as a hiring manager, I seek out smart people. Period. I don’t care if you have a master’s or not.

  17. Mykel
    Mykel says:

    I agree with the earlier post from Bill. To say that graduate school is outdated is to be somewhat misguided. It’s true that getting a JD or MD might push the owner towards a career in law or medicine, it wouldn’t hardly be possible otherwise. Almost all undergraduate degrees will allow you to be a generalist in a one area or another. This is great if you will be skipping through 5 wholly different careers in a lifetime. At the same time generalist work is not for everyone, but it is probably great for the majority of people that are not necessarily game for a challenge.

    The overall point being made is misguided logic… Most people will change careers 5 times. As this is the case, most people should not pursue a graduate degree in any one area, it may not be applicable in every area. Therefore graduate degrees are outdated. The real title of this blog should be ‘Graduate school is not for everyone’.

  18. rk
    rk says:

    good one. So now all the immigrants can do all the work. Since the natives no longer have a professional degree. Hmmm…

  19. maria
    maria says:

    > immediate feedback and constant praise teachers

    Uh…what grad school are you talking about? my Ph.D. program was led by demanding scholars who didn’t mince words when a student’s work wasn’t up to snuff.

    One doesn’t attend a serious grad program out of some infantile need for “wuv,” but out of a passion for the discipline and for scholarship.

  20. Mykel
    Mykel says:

    “So going to graduate school for four years – investing maybe $80,000”

    Were these points were pulled out of thin air? When you say graduate school, what do you mean? MS, MA, JD, MBA, MD, PhD?

    MS = 1-2 years
    MBA = 2 years
    JD = 3 years
    PhD = 5-6 years

    The PhD is a special case in my mind, everyone I know that has pursued a PhD level degree has, as a part of the program, received some level of compensation. They are not racking up debt.

  21. Brenda
    Brenda says:

    “And as a hiring manager, I seek out smart people. Period. I don't care if you have a master's or not.”

    Ha, and this was supposed to be proof that one should get a grad degree? I’m glad I didn’t waste my time. I’m three years out of a B.S. and I my two assistants have graduate degrees.

  22. Mark
    Mark says:


    I really like your blog, but may I ask why you pick on lawyers so relentlessly? If I was going to unleash some pop psychology, it almost sounds like you regret not becoming a lawyer yourself, and need to keep backing up that decision for yourself by slating the profession.

    If you were to examine any job or profession, including doctors, dentists, CPA’s or Wall Street Traders, you would find legions of very unhappy people, just as you would among shop assistants and toilet cleaners.

    So either your thinking is getting a bit stale (time to come up with a new point, you’ve hammered the “lawyers are unhappy” one ad nauseam), or there is definitely something personal for you about it. I’m thinking it’s the latter, because your writing’s creative in every other way aside from flogging this example.

  23. john
    john says:

    This has already been implied in a number of comments already, but what’s written here applies mostly to particular fields. Your blog is focused on the business world, so I assume this is written from that perspective.

    Grad school in the humanities can be quite expensive, but in the sciences – and even in the arts if you choose the right school – graduate degree programs are often covered by fellowships, and students usually have a teaching or research assistantship that pays a reasonable stipend. (My degrees are in music, and I only paid for my undergraduate program.) Many programs only accept as many students as they can afford to fund.

    Sure, it’s best to have some sense that this is what you want before starting down this path – and I agree it’s not a good place to park yourself while you figure out what you want to do – but the fact is if you want to be a lawyer, doctor, scientist, academic, etc. (and we do still need people to do these jobs), you’re most likely going to need an advanced degree.

  24. Patricia
    Patricia says:

    I agree with John, there are certain fields that it is valuable to have a grad degree. In Canada, our Library Science degrees are graduate and the field is really opening up.

    Also, grad degrees aren’t the only game in town. Sometimes, it’s valuable to revive a stale degree by earning a post B.A. or Bsc diploma. Universities are now offering these in such topics as communications, writing etc… Or offering 2-year second degree programs. Our university is currently offering an undergraduate 2 year computer science degree that tops up an already existing degree where your first degree determines what area you study in computer science.

  25. m
    m says:

    Amen. I think this list offers great reasons for really making sure grad school is the right choice before making the commitment.

    I don’t think the reasons above mean grad school is not for anyone, only that it’s not for everyone who thinks it is a good choice for them. Grad school is something many may think they’ll benefit from when in fact it may be unnecessary for them or even worse, at times even counter productive.

    I think one of the most important factors is what one of the commenters above said: “For students to graduate college and step directly into an (expensive) graduate program without having experienced working in that field is a gamble.” The best advice I’d give someone considering grad school is to get experience in the relevant field first to make sure it’s what they want to devote the time and money to and to make sure grad school will pay off for them in that particular field.

    Now, where were you–and this post–when I was making *my* decisions about grad school?

  26. t
    t says:

    Wanted to re-highlight that “Graduate School” here appears to mean “MBA/Law school/Humanities graduate school”.

    PhD’s in science…

    (1) are generally fully funded – I came out of mine owning a home, with a retirement package started and savings;

    (2) generally very independent (in fact, I had to reread the comments on addiction to immediate feedback over because when I saw the phrase in the paragraph I expected something totally different – one of the aspects of graduate school that’s commonly discussed where I’m at is that graduate school is generally considered to be an extremely rough transition for those who are very dependent on immediate feedback, because it’s suddenly so completely lacking)

    (3) For both of the fields I’m involved in (scientific research and clinical medicine), a graduate degree or an MD (technically not graduate school, but if law school counts…) are THE entries into the major career paths in these fields (yes, you can of course do an RN instead of an MD and have a career in medicine as well, but that’s a lot of schooling, also!).

    Just to make sure someone considering these options isn’t confused by this post!

  27. Greg
    Greg says:

    1. Shop around. My MBA is less than $9k total. And my employer is picking up half the tab.

    5. Why put it on your resume?

    6. As the parent of two Autistic boys (both preschool), with a house and a full-time job that requires travel, neither my wife or I am liveing our second childhood.

    7. AGREED!!! Unless a young person is really focused and knows at a young age what they want to do, graduating university with no debt is more important than going to the “right” school or choosing the right major.

  28. Orrick Nepomuceno
    Orrick Nepomuceno says:

    Great advice. But one thing that you may forget to mention is that if you are able to find an employer willing to front some of the bill, it is totally worth it to get one regardless of where you may end up later in life. My wife got her graduate degree while working and about 60% of it was paid by her employer. In hindsight, she thinks that her Master’s does not match up with relevant work experience, but it certainly did make her career progression go a lot faster.

  29. Jim
    Jim says:

    Do you ever say anything new? This is yet another recycling of things you have said multiple times in other blog entries…

  30. rickf0628
    rickf0628 says:

    In general I think PT is great – unfortunately this article was totally off-base. Only dealt with MBA’s and a few other select occupations.

    Would you want your doctor to not go to med school, or your lawyer to not be knowledgeable on the laws – I think not.

    Most basic research which fuels the economy comes from graduate schools – where would we be without it.

    People can succeed without grad schools, but “life as we know it” would not be “life as we know it” without grad schools.

    If I knew how to rate this article I would rate it a 1 out of 5.


  31. GenerationXpert
    GenerationXpert says:

    I think I agree with you, but not 100%. I got my masters when I was 32. I got my bachelors at 22. When I got my bachelors, I was a total idiot (thank goodness I didn’t know it then). I really benefitted from going to school for the masters because I wasn’t so hung over.

    Where I agree with you is that I’m not really confident that any degree will get you anywhere careerwise. But as an educator – and also the daughter of an educator – I kind of like going to school.

    I guess what I’m saying is that if you’re going to graduate school with the expectation of making a lot of money from it, you will probably be disappointed (but hopefully not). If you are going to grad school to learn some stuff, you will not be disappointed. I’m glad I went.

  32. Dan
    Dan says:

    As I recall, you kicked around numerous dead-end jobs in your twenties, which supports your premise. But then, seemingly lacking any direction, you went to grad school for writing. This led to your first book and ultimately to your writing career. So was your way the right way, or the wrong way? Or is it that grad school was cool 12 years ago, but “outdated” now?

  33. tinyhands
    tinyhands says:

    Having gone to graduate school later in life (my 30s) and used it to jumpstart a second career, I’m obviously biased, but I’d say that this article is all about the exception and not the rule. Website publishers and volleyball players obviously don’t need a graduate degree (do they even need a bachelors degree?) but nobody with whom I work will make it above “lead” or “senior” (which is not very high, in a global company) without one. Changing jobs won’t do anything about that.

  34. Tiffany Monhollon
    Tiffany Monhollon says:

    I can see where a lot of these points are coming from, and I am definitely of the mind that going to grad school because you can’t find a job right out of undergrad is the worst (reason to make that) decision.

    But the reality is, there are still a lot of careers that have ladders, and for them, advanced degrees are not really an option… yet. Who knows if they ever will be.

    This conversation is very important to me, because when I first applied to grad school, I think it was for the wrong reasons. I wasn’t sure of my career path, and I thought that getting a doctoral degree and becoming a professor was the best potential for a fulfilling, balanced career. Crazy, right, that I percieved teaching as a balanced career? But I did. And who knows, maybe it is or could be. I could still end up deciding that’s the way I want to go. But that’s the point, really, isn’t it? To, no matter where you are in your professional or educational journey, always be pushing for new doors, new paths, new directions? For a lot of people, that may mean getting an advanced degree, and that’s great. I will be one of those people, even if it’s just for my own personal satisfaction and knowledge…

  35. Rich
    Rich says:

    I like reading the comments for this article because people have a lot of passion around the issue. If you do not have a graduate degree, you think they are a waste of time, and that it only indicates that you are ‘book smart’.

    If you have a graduate degree, you think that it reflects positively on your intellect and dedication.

    The bottom line is, does it work for you?

    I had a job that I loved, making almost 30k a year, barely scraping by supporting my family. I quit my job, went to a top 30 MBA program (nothing too fancy) and in 18 months accepted a job offer for $85k. More importantly, though, I met some fantastic people.

    When I lost my job 5 years ago (that 85k gig) it was the MBA on my resume and my network of grad school friends that kept the interviews rolling in, and an eventual job offer.

    Had I not gone to grad school, I would not have had those connections. Income/cost aside, a trip back to school can broaden your network and open you up to some very smart, connected people.

    Love the discussion!

  36. Jon
    Jon says:

    Jennifer wrote: “Some people may view that as being – €˜stuck' in academia, but the adjunct instructors in my tier-two MBA program where pulling in $120k a year and didn't have to publish – €“ not a bad life. I wouldn't be qualified for that life without my master's.”

    I’m in my late 30s, and just left a large high-tech company, where I was making more than that, and I was managing a marketing team of 10, all of whom had MBAs. I took some smart chances in my career, delivered results, built alliances and a solid reputation. I stepped off the corporate treadmill to start my own company.

    I used to think about it a lot, but it retrospect I don’t feel that the lack of an MBA has held me back in the slightest.

  37. Eve
    Eve says:

    For the most part, I agree. For myself, I am fortunate/blessed/lucky enough to actually be using my very specific graduate degree in the Helping field. I am also doing exactly what I wanted to do. It did NOT happen overnight but I only worked at a start up/entry level job/for a year first before I got to where I want to go. Without my degree my job would be much harder. But I do agree that for the most part, especially the part about not being sure if it will make you happy…..because, if I had not been an Intern doing exactly what I am doing right now-and I do mean exactly- then how would I truly know if this is what I’m going to like???

  38. Eve
    Eve says:

    Where I agree with you is that I'm not really confident that any degree will get you anywhere careerwise. But as an educator – and also the daughter of an educator – I kind of like going to school. ”

    Same for me GenerationXpert! I’m younger than you-technically, a Y-er but I am borderline, really. And I love Education. But, I grew up (maturity wise) and realized I do NOT need more student loan debt! I used to say that if I won the lottery I’d go back and get my ph D just for fun. Because I am a nerd. However- I actually really really like my job now and do not need one, nor would the ph d I’m considering help me in this job. So, the question is IF you go on the grad school, Masters or Ph D, can you make it work for you? That is the real question.

  39. eac
    eac says:

    Hey – what about graduate school to meet a spouse? Penelope, you recognize the importance of doing that while you’re young. I know of almost no better place to do it. It used to be high school sweethearts, then college. But now people are think that’s too young to meet a mate. So – work a couple of years, go back to school – boom! Meet someone in your mid-20’s, who has the same sorts of goals as you. It’s a breeding ground. Lots of parties, socializing, a relaxed atmosphere. I went to law school to be a lawyer, but the best thing I got out of it was meeting my husband! It wasn’t calculating at all, it was damn good luck. But the situation was perfectly designed for it. Now I may not be bouncing off the walls for love of my job, but my law school experience was priceless.

  40. Colin
    Colin says:

    @Steve, thank you for posting a balanced response, I couldn’t agree more.

    Grad school is obviously not for everyone, but to suggest it is outdated is an oversimplification. In fact, I think grad school is becoming more important than ever as undergraduate degrees have become ubiquitous and too easy to obtain. Grad school is a great way to differentiate yourself.

  41. Rosezilla
    Rosezilla says:

    Maybe its just NYC, but every basic admin position here requires a bachelors and every “real” job requires a masters. Hell, I’ve seen admin positions asking for a masters. Inflation isn’t just in our economy….

  42. Adam
    Adam says:

    I think that Steve hit the points of your article much better than you did Penelope. I definately think that the title of this article is misleading.

    I think that if you are unsure of what you want to do in life, and still trying to “find yourself”, you are completely right PT. Grad school is not for you, and should not be entered for the wrong reasons. It took me 6 years to get my BS because I didn’t know what I REALLY wanted to do and changed majors 3 times. Fortunately, I did end up finding something that interests me: Business/Finance/Economics. I’ve since worked in the Banking field to gain some experience in this aspect of Business/Finance while earning some savings. Working here, I’ve realized even more what I want to do: Financial Analysis. IMO, this is probably a more realistic approach… Finish your BA/BS, go work in the field to see what kind of jobs are out there and what you’ll REALLY be doing, and if you like it/enjoy it, go back and get that Grad degree. I plan on working full time and getting my job to pay for some of it and doing Grad school at my leisure… not just tryin to earn a degree as in College, but trying to learn this time around.

    For those of us who KNOW we want to make it to those top CFO/CEO/President of Company jobs, an MBA is required. Sure you can start your own company, but your not going to make a $150,000+ salary very quickly if ever. Unless of course you have some innovative idea that enables you to sell off the company for a nice profit… but in this case, you don’t even need a BA/BS now do you? I also completely agree with the aspect of MBA being golden on your resume rather than a hinderance, as well as the points about the networks you make. Your networks in grad school are much more specific than your frat/drinking buddies from undergrad, and are much more likely to pay off in the long run.

  43. Editormum
    Editormum says:

    I don’t think that you mean that grad school itself is outdated. I think what you REALLY mean is that following what is widely perceived as the “traditional” educational path (high school, 4-yr-college, masters, PhD) before officially embarking on a full-time career is outdated. Which is more or less true, depending on your field.

    Doctors and lawyers have to get their degrees “out of the way” before they can launch. And most college teaching positions require at least a master’s in the field of instruction. Same goes for jobs in the applied science sector.

    If you’re not planning to be a doctor, lawyer, professor, engineer, or research scientist, however, it DOES make sense to postpone your post-graduate education until you know what degree will be most applicable to your work.

    I chose to go to work after getting my baccalaureate degree — mainly due to money issues. But it was a big mistake, since what I really wanted was to teach literature and grammar at the college level. And that’s STILL what I want, after 20 very successful years in the administrative field.

    SO, I’m going to go back to school and get my master’s and my PhD, as soon as my own kids are out of college. And then I will FINALLY get the chance to do what I always wanted to do. Maybe late, but better late than never.

  44. Marla
    Marla says:

    I’m not sure if early adult life is best when you are lost, and that you don’t really need a graduate degree – I know a lot of smart people who never got that graduate degree and have hit ceilings because they have ability but a MA, PhD, whatever is needed for the higher rung.

    Now this may not be true on the West Coast, or in places where work is more fluid and entreprenurial, but most of us across the country are not dealing with that – we’re still dealing with more conventional ways to work and the 50/60 year olds calling the shots are the epitome of convention. “Where did you get your MBA or JD?” still matters. Being a woman with a MBA or JD is still a problem – nice degree but “eeew, she’s a girl!”

    I liked Steve’s post, and also liked the person who mentioned that most employees – not lawyers – are pretty unhappy. Frankly, the only people I’ve ever heard talk about loving work or following their passions are career writers, career counselors (hm, now why would they tell people that – oh, to sell more services!), and those wacky West Coast people who are all “dude, I’m following my passion.” Try to find someone who likes what they are doing in the Real World – the lawyers want out of law, the doctors want into law, the civil engineers hate engineering, the IT people feel blocked and stalled, the sales people want out of sales, teachers pretty quickly hate teaching… the human condition is to be dissatisfied (unless a particular human is in a manic phase or has been lobotomized).

  45. Marla
    Marla says:

    I should also add that the medical supply and pharma sales people I know all want out and into medicine, but the docs and nurses they call on tell them “no, it’s awful, we want out into sales.” And the architects have mostly left because, passion for design aside, the developers have ruined their profitability.

    Perhaps this is why the healthiest attitude towards work is that it is only a job, and only one part of life, and not a person’s whole identity. So go for money that you can enjoy on weekends and evenings.

  46. Celeste
    Celeste says:

    I’ve heard the “graduate degree is outdated” argument a few times before. I think it depends on what your field is and what you want to do. I work in public relations – I don’t need a graduate degree to succeed (although I’m planning on getting my MBA to better my business skills for when I want to start my own PR firm). However, quite a few people told my fiance that he would need an advanced degree to advance in his career. In fact, many companies won’t even hire him without one. (he’s an engineer).

    With the record rates of people graduating from college today, I think an advanced degree helps differentiate candidates from the field.

  47. Eli
    Eli says:

    Penelope – I usually like your posts, but this one missed the mark by a mile. Your usual voice of sound advice seems to have taken a vacation, with sour grapes filling in as a temp.

  48. Shefaly
    Shefaly says:


    Sad to note a post which is an overgeneralisation bordering on the ridiculous, especially since it is disguised as advice.

    The views are probably also very America-centric. In today’s world, anybody who harbours dreams of making a truly borderless career, will find him/herself contending with standards set by others.

    As long as there are immigrants in the US (mostly from “Eastern” cultures which place a great deal of emphasis on higher education, however misplaced from your perspective, it remains a fact) and there are people wanting to work in India and China (more of the same kind of people as those immigrants in America, except this time on their home ground and bolder than you can imagine), graduate degrees will not be outdated.

    I also find it curiously amusing when non-MBAs tell MBAs that MBA is a useless degree. Would we non-medics tell a doctor that his specialisation was useless? Or tell a lawyer his JD was not much use?

    As a recently minted PhD, I do however actively dissuade people from pursuing a PhD. Mainly because people do not find out until it is too late, that it takes something else to succeed at completing a PhD, which is why an PhD (ABD) is considered acceptable in America.

    If this is advice, shouldn’t there be at least a semblance of “balance” in the argument?

  49. John Feier
    John Feier says:

    In order to be a CPA, you have to take a certain number of advanced accounting courses. Most graduate schools will not let you take the advanced accounting courses until you finish their MBA program. So you might as well get your MBA anyway. This varies from state to state, but this is the norm among most of the states now.

    But I agree with a lot of what you have to say. It doesn’t really seem to matter.

    What seems to be emerging as my career choice now, due to the fact that nobody wants to hire an inexperienced MBA, is to get together with others who are in the same boat I am but who have a different specialty. Like if my specialty is accounting, then maybe I can get together with others who have a specialty in MIS, operations and marketing. Then, like the collaborative projects we were assigned in school, we could work together on setting up a business of our own.

    Otherwise, what I’m looking at is starting out as a crewperson at the local sub chain, working my way up into management and then maybe the corporate office. Maybe then, I’ll find my accounting job.

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