Don’t try to dodge the recession with grad school

, , , ,

A recession is typically a good time for graduate schools. Their application pool goes up because people see them as safe shelter from the storm. The scariest part of a down economy is the idea of having no income. Of course, graduate school does not solve for that. But graduate school does solve the second most scary thing about a bad economy: lack of a learning curve.

The more desperate you are for a job, the more likely you are to take a job that doesn’t teach you what you want to learn. And then you get to that job and you think, “Grad school could solve this problem.” But in fact, grad school creates larger, and more insurmountable problems. And some the problems you’re trying to solve with grad school might not be problems at all.

1. Grad school pointlessly delays adulthood.
The best thing you can do for yourself is take time to figure out who you are and where you fit in the world. No one teaches you that in school. You need to do it yourself. Grad school is a way to delay this process, rather than move you forward, according to Thomas Benton of the Chronicle of Higher Education. So instead of dodging tough questions by going back to school, try being lost. It’s normal, and honest, and you will end up with more self-knowledge and less debt than your grad-school counterparts, and in many cases, you will be similarly qualified for your next big job.

2. PhD programs are pyramid schemes
It’s very hard to get a job teaching at a university. And if you are not going to teach, why are you getting a degree? You don’t need a piece of paper to show that you are learning. Go read books after work. Because look: In the arts, you would have a better chance of surviving the Titanic than getting a tenure-track position; and once you adjust for IQ, education, and working hours, post-PhD science jobs are among the most low-paying jobs you could get.

3. Business school is not going to help 90% of the people who go.
Here’s the problem with business school. Most people want to work for themselves, but you can’t learn entrepreneurship in school — you have to learn by doing. And a business degree that is not from a top school is not going to get you very much at all, according to recruiting firm Challenger & Gray. Finally, Harvard Business School has acknowleged that if you are planning to downshift for kids around the time you are 30, your ability to leverage an MBA is drastically compromised.

4. Law school is a factory for depressives.
It used to be that if you had a law degree it was a ticket to a high salary and a safe career. Today many people go to law school and cannot find a job. This is, in a large part, because law school selects for people who are good with details and pass tests and law firms select for people who are good at marketing themselves and can drum up business. Law firms are in a transition phase, and they have many unfair labor practices leftover from older generations, for example, hourly billing and making young lawyers pay dues for what is, today, a largely uncertain future. Which might explain why the American Bar Association reports that the majority of lawyers would recommend that people not to go into law.

5. The medical school model assumes that health care spending is not a mess.
Medical school is extremely expensive, and our health care system does not pay enough to doctors for them to sanely accept the risk of taking $200,000 in debt to serve as doctors. Specialists like opthalmologists have great hours, and plastic surgeons have great salaries, but most doctors will be stuck in a system that is largely broken, and could easily break them financially — like OBGYNs who cannot afford to deliver babies in New York because they can’t afford the malpractice insurance with their salary.

6. Going to grad school is like going into the military.
Applications to the military increase in a bad economy in a disturbingly similar way that applications to graduate school do. For the most part, both alternatives are bad. They limit your future in ways you can’t even imagine, and they are not likely to open the kind of doors you really want. Military is the terrible escape hatch for poor kids, and grad school is the terrible escape hatch for rich kids.

7. Most jobs are better than they seem: You can learn from any job.
When I worked on a French chicken farm, I thought I’d learn French, but I didn’t, because I was so foreign to the French farm family that they couldn’t talk to me. However I did learn a lot of other things, like how to bargain to get the best job in the chicken coop, and how to get out of killing the bunnies. You don’t need to be learning the perfect thing in your job. You just need to be learning. Don’t tell yourself you need a job that gives your life meaning. Jobs don’t do that; doesn’t that make you feel better? Suddenly being in the workplace doesn’t seem so bad.

8. Graduate school forces you to overinvest: It’s too high risk.
In a world where people did not change careers, grad school made sense. Today, grad school is antiquated. You invest three to six extra years in school in order to get your dream career. But the problem is that not only are the old dream careers deteriorating, but even if you have a dream career, it won’t last. You’ll want to change because you can. Because that’s normal for today’s workplace. People who are in their twenties today will change careers about four times in their life. Which means that grad school is a steep investment for such a short period of time. The grad school model needs to change to adapt to the new workplace. Until then. Stay away.

Not sure if grad school is right for you? Penelope now offers 1 on 1 career coaching and can help you work through the toughest question of all: Is grad school worth it for you?


602 replies
« Older CommentsNewer Comments »
  1. dunsany
    dunsany says:

    Of course, there are some folks who want a career in hard scientific research and the only way to get into the field is a PhD. Recession or not, they follow their dream.

  2. The translator
    The translator says:

    As an avid reader of your blog and a current active-duty soldier, I just had to interject about your awful comments about those who join the military…
    I joined the Army after teaching high school and elementary French for a year after college. I wanted a challenge, something more rewarding than parent-teacher conferences and explaining to kids why grammar and syntax still matter.
    What did the military do for me? Well, I was stationed in beautiful Monterey, California for one year, where I learned Arabic, after which I was sent to the East Coast and I soon deployed. Yes, being in Iraq sucked balls, but I was rewarded with a nice stateside assignment in a prestigious locale once I re-deployed from the Middle East. And of course, I hold a Top Secret clearance, meaning that if I want to go to work right away once I leave the service, my prospects are pretty good.
    Although I was always a good student and upright citizen, the military taught me to endure hardship way beyond what I could ever imagine. I learned to be a true leader, not just a manager, to always put my suboordinates’ needs above my own.
    I am leaving active duty this summer, and guess where I am headed??? Yep, that’s right, GRADUATE SCHOOL, and your tax dollars are funding it. After way too many near-death experiences, I know what I want in life now, and I need an MA to do it. So after risking my ass to save yours, Ms. Trunk, I will think of you and smile as I walk across the stage and grab that hard-earned Master’s Degree.

  3. gregcnorca*AT*aim
    gregcnorca*AT*aim says:

    I loved this post. Think hard about what you are doing with your future, and especially what you are doing in the “Now.” Then you cna realize that educational institutions (and their attendant degree) are just one part of a much bigger equation. A lot of people that jump for post grad programs feel they will be entitled to a great future, but then they meet a harsher reality. Read the woman who was laid off aswt the Wall Street Journal’s new “laid off” blog, a woman and former VP at BOFA who lived through this reality very recently, has the M.A. but J.O.B.

  4. Dave
    Dave says:

    You are so right about b-school. I own a company, and entrepreneurship is about balls, not business school. Also, just as you say strategists are INTJs, you can’t spell entrepreneur without ENTP. Outside of the artisan flower shop owners, plumbers, carpenters, etc, just about every successful entrepreneur I know is an ENTP. Fewer of those four letters you have, less chance you’re a natural entrepreneur. Recently went to a meeting of people who had started successful companies, and it was an ADD paradise.

  5. Caitlin
    Caitlin says:

    Penelope, be honest, is this a new post? I’m sure you’ve written this before. You said on Twitter that you wrote something fast at 6am because Ryan censored your post. So did you just take an old post and reformat it? I know you have a lot of new readers, but you have lots of longstanding ones too! The only part that doesn’t sound familiar is the French chicken farm – which is, admittedly, a cool story.

    And, um, but is Ryan your boyfriend? Because it kinda sounded that way on Twitter.

  6. Dan Schawbel
    Dan Schawbel says:

    I started a conversation about this on Twitter because I thought it was very interesting. Here is the best Tweet that I received to help you prove your point:

    joewaters @danschawbel Funny, Dan. Few years ago they asked the outgoing dean of Harvard Business if he thought an MBA was worth it: “NO.”

  7. jane
    jane says:

    This is an old conversation.
    Grad school does not make a lot of sense as an investment in most cases – but it is still worth it if the person (a) enjoys being a student and doing research and (b) can afford it.

    Grad school is a safe heaven if you want a vacation from a career. And the cost of this vacation goes down in recession, if the alternatives are a lower-paying job or being out of work altogether. Still, before taking a grad school vacation, consider if you can afford it.

  8. curiously random
    curiously random says:

    I’d like to go to grad school, but only because I think it would be an interesting way to learn more about what I do for a living.

    Then again, I’d MUCH rather be a guest lecturer at a university someday. That way I don’t have to be the one sitting still for an hour or two. I hate sitting still. Besides, I’m self employed, I don’t need a degree to get a job.

  9. Becky
    Becky says:

    I think you could have been more clear about the difference between going to grad school because you know exactly what you want to do, and the path to that job leads through grad school, and going to grad school because you are lost.

    I have seen people in both circumstances, and the difference is striking. If a person is honest with herself, she knows which category she’s in.

  10. curiously random
    curiously random says:

    Dave, I should have read your post before I posted my own:

    “You are so right about b-school. I own a company, and entrepreneurship is about balls, not business school. Also, just as you say strategists are INTJs, you can’t spell entrepreneur without ENTP. Outside of the artisan flower shop owners, plumbers, carpenters, etc, just about every successful entrepreneur I know is an ENTP. Fewer of those four letters you have, less chance you’re a natural entrepreneur. Recently went to a meeting of people who had started successful companies, and it was an ADD paradise.”

    Um, yeah. I’m an INTP and I know what you mean.

  11. Akhila
    Akhila says:

    I don’t completely agree with your comments. Doctors make a LOT OF MONEY. I have cousins, family, friends and more who make quite a bit of money as doctors. Surgeons make 600,000 in the first year after med school!! And even general practitioners make 100 to 200k after med school. Plus having your own practice is more relaxing than many other well paying jobs and pays off really well. I have a lot of friends going to medical school and I have no doubt it’s going to pay off well.

    I also think 1 year Masters program, especially in the UK, are not too costly and definitely worth it if you’re interested in working in the UN or international development. There are a lot of positions in the UN and UNICEF that require you to have a Master’s degree in so and so, and it is also not too expensive since it’s only a year long.

    • Sara
      Sara says:

      My dad is a general practitioner who owns his own practice. It is definitely not relaxing. He is extremely stressed out all the time, mostly from dealing with insurance companies. They screw doctors as much (if not more) than they screw patients. He mostly does it because he wants to help his patients, and he doesn’t know what else to do. His malpractice (and it’s the lowest for GPs, and he’s been practicing for 30+ years and has NEVER been sued) is something like 20K – 30K per year. The overhead is just insane.

      He’s told me if he could do it all over again he would go back and be a PE teacher, or a high school basketball coach.

      Most doctors are not surgeons who make 600K, and law school grads aren’t all working for top NYC law firms who bill $600 per hour. That’s like justifying your 100K MBA from PoDunk University by thinking you can be a CEO who makes $10 million.

      • Rachel
        Rachel says:

        I LOVE the “PoDunk” verbiage. I actually read an article about a year ago that more and more doctors are choosing to work for hospitals and do not want to open their own practice b/c of the malpractice costs. Soon the health insurance industry will collapse b/c it doesn’t – and hasn’t in decades – make any moral or economic sense to charge people outrageous rates for basic health care services and treatment for illnesses such as cancer.

    • Alora
      Alora says:

      The “doctors make a lot of money” argument is not universal. Where I grew up in the Bay Area and then where I just recently left in NYC, no matter how much money a doctor made, they were usually in financial trouble because of the insane cost of malpractice insurance. Between 1990-2005, my hometown saw a mass exodus of doctors simply because they could not afford to stay and practice. Every six months for three years I got a new letter in the mail from my doctor saying that they couldn’t afford to stay in their practice and were retiring/moving away, and that my files had been sent to the doctor they’d arranged to take over their practice… and then six months later I’d get the same letter from the next doctor.

      There are very lucrative specialties, but malpractice insurance — like other types of insurance — is often regionally specific, and prices in some parts of the country are prohibitive. And in parts of the country (like the Bay Area or NYC) where the cost of living and doing business starts out being ridiculously high in the first place, adding in huge amounts of malpractice insurance has bankrupted more than a few doctors who never imagined they’d find themselves broke.

  12. jrandom42
    jrandom42 says:

    I’m just glad my wife’s oncologist decided to take the time and spend the money and effort to go to grad school.

  13. Laurie
    Laurie says:

    I think the military has the same caveat that graduate school does. There are great programs in both places that lead to fantastic opportunities and jobs. But if you go into either lost, with the thought that it’s your only good option, it won’t go well.

    Yes, the armed forces won’t leave you in debt. But you often need to have a good recruiter and great test scores (and great credit scores) to get a shot at the plum learning opportunities and advancement. And relatively few get the military experience in the commercials (fighter pilots and warriors and such). And, of course, there is the getting shot at part. Like any big decision, it’s a big decision with upsides and downsides.

  14. Melissa Daniels
    Melissa Daniels says:

    Hi Penelope,

    Great article. I earned my MA right after finishing my undergraduate degree, and like many have mentioned, went to grad school initially to “postpone adulthood;” I wasn’t sure as to what I wanted to do. I agree with many of the comments here– simply having a degree doesn’t necessarily get you ahead in your career, and it can take some strong negotiating skills to persuade someone that you’re as adept a candidate as someone who may have been working whilst you were in Grad school.

    However, the thing(s) that helped me get my foot in the door (and got me a “real” job before I even finished my Thesis and had my MA in hand) was interning/working whilst in Grad school at companies that interested me, and, writing my thesis on something that was incredibly relevant to the field I wished to enter.

    That in itself was enough experience and proof for many companies that I knew what I was talking about, and I was an adept candidate. It doesn’t matter whether you go to Grad school or you stay in the professional space, all employers are looking for (in the recession or otherwise) is whether or not you can take your skills and knowledge and apply them in a meaningful way.

    If you’re able to do this with the skills and knowledge you garner while at Grad school, then maybe it is a good decision for you. But I don’t think that anyone can make a blanket statement about Grad school one way or another– recession or not. It’s not for everyone, and it’s not the band-aid for life’s problems.

    As an aside, there have definitely been some benefits to having an MA: I know that having a graduate degree has helped me earn more money, and achieve better roles in both of the companies I’ve worked for.

    Like everything, you have to be interested, and you have to be able to truly apply what you’ve learned in a unique and meaningful way in order for it to be “worth it”– in terms of your finances and your time.


  15. Mike Stankavich
    Mike Stankavich says:

    Penelope, this article reflects the conclusion that I recently came to in planning my career path. I’m a fortune 100 software developer in my 40s. I can get funded to take a part time MBA, but what doors would it open? Wall Street? Wouldn’t want that even if if the downturn wasn’t a factor. So there’s really no point. Better to invest the time in building side businesses and personal brand. I can gather any knowledge that I’m missing on a targeted basis for what I need rather than sitting in front of a scattergun load of random knowledge of questionable relevance.

  16. The Opinionator
    The Opinionator says:

    “Military is the terrible escape hatch for poor kids”

    You could not be more wrong! That is just pablum people (on the left) are fed. Mauri has it right. I went back to my 20 year reunion of my high school in a poor area of Arkansas. All of my friends that enlisted are doing tremendous. They have degrees, are entrepreneurs, etc. My military service paved the way to college for me and gave me experience leading a dozen people at 19. My brother enlisted, was awarded a ROTC scholarship and has been in 20 years. As a new grad, he was in charge of dozens of people and a many $ in resources. In the years since, he has even commanded a ship. Not everyone gets a 651ft. long ship with a crew of 350, but you get the drift. No doubt is sucks for some. But your statement is one many of us who have served find insulting and ignorant.

  17. pip
    pip says:

    From my perspective (as an older grad student)I think there were some (bitter)kernals of truth to what P had to say about grad school and Phd’s. Particularly in regards to law school.
    If we had a stable middle-class society with some sort of reliable safety net in terms of unemployment comp, health insurance, and affordable education, going to grad school would not be such a problematic decision.
    However, we have none of the above and one must think very carefully about the debt load of higher education. Having said that, there are certain jobs that won’t let you in the door without that masters.
    Ultimately, one has to be dead realistic about the job market, current skill sets and potentially acquired skill sets. And then do a cost/benefit analysis.
    I did just that analysis before returning to school – and I should disclose that I don’t have children and a mortgage to provide for, so that made the decision much easier.

  18. Sereita Cobbs
    Sereita Cobbs says:

    Did you flunk out of grad school or something? Geez. Well, at least you are writing about something practical and not “The Farmer.” Those posts were painful and better suited for your personal diary. Zero career advice in any of those posts.

  19. Michelle
    Michelle says:

    Excellent and timely (for me) post. When I got my M.Ed., I was absolutely passionate about teaching. It did open some doors for me, although they weren’t financial ones. Now I’ve been offered a position in an educational leadership cohort which would give me the opportunity to earn an E.Ed. The thing is, I’m no longer as passionate as I once was, and I’m looking for more options, which as you so aptly pointed out, can be found outside of grad school.

    I really needed to read this, THIS week. Thanks.

  20. Sassy Molassy
    Sassy Molassy says:

    Lots of good points here Penelope. It definitely makes me think a little more seriously about why I’ve been wanting to go back to school. Part of me feels like I’m supposed to being that a bachelors degree means far less these days than it used to. Part of me wants to because I still feel stupid when I talk to highly educated people. Like maybe if I went back that second degree would make me feel more validated and confident in conversations with highly intellectuals. And part of me wants to go back because i’m a student for life, i want to keep learning, i want a challenge, i want to find something to be better at. However, the truth is, the real world has taught me a lot.

    I continue to express to new grads not to go right into grad school after undergrad. I think a few years of real world experience is vital for gaining perspective on your future as an adult rather than postponing the inevitable for a few more years.

  21. Isaac
    Isaac says:

    I agree w/ P up to a point. I’ve been told that a degree either undergrad or graduate is basically corporate America’s “hazing” ritual. It’s your entrance ticket to be able to play on their playground.

    I’m currently evaluating going back to grad school to get a Masters in social work to become a therapist. I wish there’s some other ways around it but without a MSW and getting a license as a LCSW, you basically won’t even be let into the ballpark let along the dug out.

    So grad school makes sense if the career direction you’re going into make you. Other than that stay away from it.

    PS: If anybody’s got insights on MSW, LCSW or careers in social work I would appreciate some feedback!

    • Jon Wetzler
      Jon Wetzler says:

      I have an MSW and work as a school guidance counselor. Previously I worked as a teacher of high school English and Spanish. I would be glad to share my experiences in grad school with you as well as some general thoughts on what you might do once you complete your MSW if you like. You can contact me at

  22. JoeG
    JoeG says:

    Corporate America is centered on greed and the manipulation of various market forces including the labor market. Graduate school is just another vehicle for indoctrinating people to become effective indentured servants. That is, for those clowns that choose to enter corporate slavery. Thankfully, the current American economy and modern financial system is crumbling and will never return to its former glory. Unfortunately, many of you will suffer in the process. In the end, the world will be a better place.

  23. Angie
    Angie says:

    Penelope, I’ve been reading your blog for a few years now, and you’ve said this (or something similar) repeatedly. But I just don’t buy it. For some people, yeah, it might not be worth it. But as many have already said, there are some jobs that absolutely require an advanced degree.

    As regards an MBA: I just asked my former boss, HR exec at a reputable company with more than 10,000 employees, whether it’s still worth it. Her thoughts? That an MBA isn’t as impressive as it used to be, but it’s still more impressive than not having one. She also mentioned that, if you have a great job, you should stay in it and do night classes, but if you don’t, then it’s still a good option to dig in and get a Master’s in something that’s relevant.

    I don’t believe that your advice on this issue applies as broadly as you seem to think it does. We each need to weigh our options on our own. But I do agree with you in that the cost (both time and money) REALLY needs to be counted before making the commitment.

  24. David
    David says:

    You completely blew it with your military comments and I haven’t seen you respond so I’ll just pile on. After 8 years in the military to boot I think I’m qualified to comment.

    “They limit your future in ways you can't even imagine”

    Help me with this one. How exactly is anyone limited by having served in the military?

    “Military is the terrible escape hatch for poor kids, and grad school is the terrible escape hatch for rich kids.”

    I did both and know plenty of people who have as well. What does that make me? Why do you think that people who are joining the military are running from something? How many people with military backgrounds do you even know?
    I’ve never been laid off. Never had a problem finding a well paying and for the most part satisfying job.

    Damn you pissed me off with this post.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      Okay. You’re right. I should respond to the military comments. Honestly, I’ve been reading the military comments in this string, trying to figure out what I think about it, and I’m not quite sure…

      I think there are different types of people who enter the military, for different reasons. Just like there is a wide range of reasons to get a graduate degree.

      Someone in this string pointed out that his wife’s oncologist really needs a degree. Yes. And someone pointed out the example of airforce pilots who get training, an a pension, and then a job with commercial airlines. Both good examples.

      I just think that there is some truth to the fact that a lot of people go to the military becuase they can’t figure out what their options are. And the military recruiters push really hard in low-income neighborhoods where the perceived options are smallest.

      I think what we should all do is ask ourselves if we’re taking the right path or the easy path. For everything.


      • David
        David says:

        Thanks for responding. I knew you’d come through! “I think what we should all do is ask ourselves if we’re taking the right path or the easy path. For everything.” Perfect.

  25. Andy Santamaria
    Andy Santamaria says:

    thanks for the great advice! can I ask how you decided to write this post because all last week I was talking with my girlfriend about if We should go into grad school right after college, especially with the way the economy is. You have given me some good things to think about. thanks again!

  26. Recent grad grad
    Recent grad grad says:

    “Grad school pointlessly delays adulthood.”

    Are you kidding me?!

    I went back to school because I was tired of bouncing between jobs, trying to find something that fit. I went back to school to focus my life, begin a career in something I enjoyed, and start being a grown-up. Going back to school was the most adult decision I had ever made up to that point.


  27. Dale
    Dale says:

    Thank you for saying what needs to be said. You don’t hafta be in school trying for a piece of paper to learn. You can learn for free… or better yet, get paid to learn. Or conversely, take the $50,000 that you would’ve spent on grad school and fail at a business. It’ll be much more educational.


  28. Rachel
    Rachel says:

    I’d like to reiterate what Corky said – I was laid off from my first job out of college after only 10 months. But in those 10 months, I learned a ton. Now, I have an opportunity to take a job that offers free grad school. Hm, the dilemma. It’s definitely not my first decision, and there are plenty of other crappy jobs where I could learn and have my nights free to blog and read all those stacks of books in my apartment I’ve been meaning to get to, so this post was just what I needed. Thanks.

  29. Peggy
    Peggy says:

    For those who want to go into a “profession” grad school is a must. I am grateful that the nurse who was on-call when I had a complicated delivery with my second child had a master’s degree in nursing with a speciality in obstetrics. She saved his life. I am grateful for the Dr. who performed my husband’s surgery last week – her years in grad school benefitted us immensely. I am also grateful for the employment lawyer that I partner with to serve my clients in my HR consulting practice – her expertise in invaluable to me. She’s a fabulous, fun person and if she didn’t have her law degree I probably never would have met her and gotten to work with her. Etc., etc. You get the point – if you want to contribute to society in one of these ways, you need the degree.

    For the rest of us whose work is more “generalist” in nature – it’s possible that whether grad school is valuable or not is entirely up to the indvidual. Taking out excessive loans that you will have trouble paying back for any reason – school, house, car, etc. – is never a good idea and sets you up for stress and unhappiness. But if you can find a reasonable way to pay for grad school grad school (mine was paid for with an employer tuition reimbursement benefit) and it is something you would enjoy, then go for it! The networking, the friendships, and the learning are energizing and can build your career in ways that you might not be able to predict in advance, but if you embrace the experience they will definitely pay off.

    That said – you can also have a great career if you don’t go to grad school – it really depends on the individual.

    • gregcnorca*AT*aim
      gregcnorca*AT*aim says:

      Your opinions above about what is and isn’t a “profession” demonstrate an extreme bias and borders on ridiculous. I would guess your train of thought on this topic reflects mostly what you were taught in life rather than your having a wide range of experience in differing workplaces. A person does not need a degree to contribute to society or have a “real profession.”

      Furthermore, careers outside of the Legal and Medical fields are not “generalist” in nature, that is not even close. (Sweeping generalities you chose to write!). No degree? See Michael Dell, Steve Jobs. Then considering the more average “generalist” worker as you state…A person can have an *extremely* specialized job that requires levels of perfection, critical thinking, verbal/written communication; dealing with the C-suite & Wall Street, a deep knowledge of intricate/technical topics (ones many people would take years to understand) and be considered highly successful by his/her colleagues without having a degree. It happens a lot, a lot more than you might think. Maybe it is time to explore outside of the confines of of your prejudice.

      • Peggy
        Peggy says:

        Gregcnorca – €“ your comment woefully mischaracterizes both my comment and my intentions – €“ let me see if I can be clearer. First I was in no way implying that the 3 professions I highlighted (nurse, Dr., lawyer) constitute the sum total of jobs that I consider to be "professions" – €“ they were merely examples. Secondly, if you've ever read my blog you would know that I would NEVER suggest that only if you are in a profession can you contribute to the world – €“ my beliefs are quite the opposite. My comment above merely states that if you want to contribute in one of the 3 ways I have identified, (nurse, Dr., lawyer) that a graduate degree is required. Of course there are endless ways – €“ paid and unpaid – to make a contribution to the world! And as to the your suggestions that I have not had a wide variety of work experiences, that I don't do my own thinking, and that I am prejudiced – €“ you are wrong on all three counts. It might be worth slowing down to read what people are actually saying and taking the time to find out facts before making wild accusations. A more productive approach to conversation – €“ in the blogosphere and elsewhere – is to listen/ask questions, and offer your own opinions rather than maligning others. Cheers!

  30. bhline
    bhline says:

    Coming from the mouth of a corporate recruiter (10 years in the business, all in IT) a degree above and beyond the typical undergrad will absolutely earn you more money.

    I’ve worked with:
    – small firms of 100 to 400 employees
    – mid tier fortune 500 firms
    – spent two years at a Big 4 consulting firm

    They all had two things in common with higher level degrees: more money and better opportunities at higher levels.

    Granted if you get your upper level degree b/c you aren’t ready to work and you just stay there for lack of direction, then that doesn’t do much for you.

    However, if you have your undergrad and you choose to work a few years and then go back – it will pay off. I see it on a daily basis.

    Just a side note, when I graduated from my graduate program (part time while I was still working) I found a new job within 4 weeks of posting my info with a $13K raise. You can bet I negotiated a higher dollar amount b/c of my degree.

    You make a generalization that might be correct at face value, but upon deeper consideration and specific conversation around degree, work experience, inner push and self esteem – your argument has multiple flaws.

    As with any generalizations – they aren’t that simple. It’s like saying tomatoes cure cancer, it is one small piece of a bigger and more complex equation.

  31. jenx67
    jenx67 says:

    Graduate school is for people who just graduated college and can’t find a job and need to defer their student loans a little while longer. The problem is, these people end up borrowing more money for graduate school, and two years later, they’ll either have to start a PhD to buy more deferral time or start making loan payments, which will then be higher than they would have been had they not gone to graduate school in the first place. *this* is worse than a pyramid scheme. this is my life. hahahahahahahaha.

  32. Angela
    Angela says:

    I do not have an MBA and I started making 90K right out of college. It’s a matter of not settling for any job – oh yeah, and leadership and initiative play a large role too! Stop looking for substantiating documentation (such as degrees) to boost your value. Assign yourself the value you want by building a reputation for yourself and not undermining your own efforts.

    It is a known fact that most millionaires do not have advanced degrees. (I am not talking about the millionaire elite but rather the “middle-class” millionaire. What it comes down to is hard work, connections and a passion for what it is you do. With these three ingredients, you can’t miss.

    I know, I live it.

  33. Angela
    Angela says:

    For the record, I just made reference to millionaires because it seems that every hard working, average American measures themselves by the millionaire yard stick; the “I will have made it when I bank 1 million dollars”.

    Essentially, what I meant to say was that you don’t need an advanced degree to be successful, by any yard stick!

    The only barrier to your success is, usually, yourself.

    • Jacqueline S. Homan
      Jacqueline S. Homan says:

      Angela and Penelope, the tuition price-tag is precisely why the legal system is a mess.

      Do you realize that if you’re poor, and the only lawyer you have access to is a legal aid lawyer, you don’t even have the right to sue when you are egregiously wronged? I blame this on the fact that law school’s over-inflated tuition price-tag makes it impossible for anyone to enter law with the intent on bringing justice to those who otherwise have none.

      I always wanted to be a lawyer, because I grew up admiring heroes like Clarence Darrow. In fact, I wanted to be a human rights lawyer. It is not the highest paying area of law to get into, but that is what I wanted to do…because I know what it is to be denied justice because of pervasive classism in a rich white male society where poor women are disposable.

      I am 42 years old and I came from America’s underclass (never knew my father, mother abandoned me, etc.). I am the first and only member of my family to have even gotten an undergrad degree (which failed to be the ticket out of grueling poverty that everybody else claimed).

      I was on my own with no support and no help at the age of 13. I didn’t have any opportunities. I didn’t get to live the American Dream; I got to live the American Nightmare.

      I never knew anyone in my life, or in my neighborhood, growing up that had been successful in school, or in the labor market. The only exception were school teachers who were all mostly from the middle class – and who looked down on the poor ghetto kids and treated us like crap. (I wrote about this in my first book, “Classism For Dimwits”)

      Everybody else I knew worked hard, but they still couldn’t afford basic human needs (like health and dental care, all your basic utilities, reliable transportation, etc.).

      I did not get to go to college until I was in my late 20’s after three years of physical therapy from a disabling car accident that took me out of my blue-collar job at age 24. I had to take out student loans to do it. As a very low income non-traditional aged student, I did not have the same privileges, advantages and all sorts of other things that middle class non-disabled kids right out of high school (the traditional aged college students) take for granted as “normal.”

      I also had to spend a few years taking remedial classes at a community college because I have a learning disability (I am dyslexic) and therefore lacked a high school college prep background.

      It took ALL my time outside of classes to study and absorb the material because of having a learning disability. I endured ridicule and abuse from snotty rude kids and elitist professors who, from their lofty position as self-appointed “gatekeepers”, felt that older learners – especially those of us struggling with poverty AND a learning disability – didn’t have a right to be in college.

      I FINALLY was able to graduate in 2001 at the age of 34, in spite of all the obstacles in my path. My degree was in mathematics. But, owing to having to take all those remedial level classes before being “college-ready” before getting to take college level courses, I ran out of allowable Pell grants before I was able to graduate. There certainly was no money for me to go to law school/

      So there I was, a middle-aged woman with dyslexia, “poor white trash” from a Philly ghetto, with a bachelors degree…that I could wipe my ass with since the job market was not welcoming middle-aged women from the bottom socio-economic rung in their early to mid thirties trying to re-enter the job market with no more professional experience in a degree-required job than the twenty-somethings from the middle and upper classes.

      One of the few professors I had who was NOT a jerk coaxed me into considering law school because of my penchant for pursuing social justice, because I knew firsthand what it meant to have justice denied. I seriously looked into it because I wanted to be a lawyer because of all the human rights violations going on against the very poor (most whom are women), and against Native Americans.

      As a woman with a disability, and an older lady at that, plus coming from extreme poverty, I was not convinced that I’d have a real fair chance of making it in an environment that is set up rigidly along class lines that is really biased against those who are not middle or upper class. My not-so-pleasant experience with classism as an undergrad did not help matters.

      I had always wanted to be a lawyer – a human rights lawyer. But I never knew any lawyers personally, and I did not have a middle class social network; so for me, just getting to graduate from a state college with a four year degree was a huge thing. But the professor who encouraged me to go on to law school felt I was smart enough to make it, dyslexia or no dyslexia. I checked out a book to prepare for the LSAT. This LSAT exam didn’t seem too bad. But the what ended up being the deciding factor was the tuition price-tag.

      Coming from a position of having no recent job or work experience, no money, no family, no social support, no nothing, there was NO way I could go to law school and become that next Gareth Pierce, Robert A. Williams, Fay Clayton, or Clarence Darrow. The $130,000 tuition price tag might as well be a million dollars for someone like me.

      Most aspiring lawyers just want to get rich, have a fancy house and clothes and the BMW, working for some Martindale Hubbell firm doing corporate law, making a comfortable living helping corporate America to get away with cheating the poor little guy. Nobody cares about what is right, or about “justice for all.” And therein lies the problem. The poor are the ONE group of people (especially poor WOMEN) whom it is acceptable to deny justice.

      Make no mistake about it, there is no “justice for all” when you’re from the underclass, especially if you’re a disabled woman; you don’t get any justice.

      You can’t even sue unless you’re suing an OB/GYN for being doped up on cocaine while inserting the forceps backwards (well, you get the idea) while delivering your baby, injuring you and the baby in the process and leaving your progeny as deformed as the Elephant Man. In other words, your case has to be a slam dunk before a lawyer working on contingency fee basis will even look at you, let alone take your case.

      The right to sue or seek legal remedy is really a social class privilege that is not available to all of this nation’s citizens. And of those contingency-fee lawyers, most will sell you out on the turn of a dime. Nobody cares about this country’s less fortunate who drew a blank in life’s lottery.

      But given the chance and the opportunity before I got too old, I would have LOVED to have been able to go to law school so I could be a voice and a source of justice for those who otherwise have none. To me, getting to become a lawyer if I would have had the chance meant:

      1. Going after multinational corporations for egregious human rights violations (Doe v. Unocal)

      2. Taking on the Vatican for hiding Croatian Ustase war criminals from the 1990’s Balkans war; plus the Vatican’s promoting of human rights violations against women in Latin and Central American countries where abortion is criminalized, even to save the mother’s life, because those countries’ governments and laws are 100% Catholic and premised upon the Roman legal system of corpus juris – in conflict with Article 7(g) of the Rome Statute.

      3. Representing Native American rape victims who are denied justice because of inherently racist US federal Indian laws premised on a racist US Supreme Court case ruling in 1823 (Johnson v. McIntosh) – yeah, fighting to overturn Johnson v. McIntosh and Oliphant v. Suquamish would be the best thing since Brown v. Board of Education, Topeka overturned Plessy v. Ferguson and the notion of “separate but equal.” Being a lawyer would empower and emprivilege me to do just that – and bring some long overdue justice to Native Americans who are still treated as “less than.”

      4. Going after utility monopolies who have placed executive and shareholder profit above the lives of the very poor (children, the disabled, and the elderly), who paid for their poverty with their lives in winter heating crisis related deaths.

      5. Going after lawless vulture capitalists who use slave labor in the Marianas to make clothing deceptively labeled as “Made in the USA.”

      Having the fancy house and the BMW didn’t matter to me. Having the opportunity to work in a career that would allow me to support myself with some dignity and where I’d be in a position of power to actually make a damn difference meant EVERYTHING to me.

      That is not something I can do as an economically disadvantaged 42 year old woman eking out a subsistence on food stamps, no health care, and no income except for $30/mo in book royalties as a self-published author ( a real “starving writer”) lacking any real job opportunities owing to age discrimination and a very real – not imagined – lack of unearned privilege.

  34. Slightly Bitter Lawyer
    Slightly Bitter Lawyer says:

    I loved undergrad, but I worked all the way through (three jobs at a time). After a few years in the workplace, I decided to go back to law school. I thought it could be a way to transition from journalism to a career in environmental law, to expand my mind while focusing on learning without other distractions, and to gain a peer group I didn’t get while working 60 hours a week in undergrad.

    Wrong on all counts. I went for all the right reasons – I love learning, I needed the specific degree, and I wanted the career.

    Unfortunately, law school was NOTHING like undergrad. Administrators were exploitative – job statistics were a lie, and there were TWO full-time employees in the career services office! That’s one career counselor for every 100 students. Very few professors paid attention to students. Nothing they were half-heartedly pretending to teach in the classroom was relevant to the actual jobs you get after graduation anyway, but the classes take so much time (often 80 pages of reading a night) that it was next to impossible to gain work experience and contacts. Finally, stressed out people competing to be one of the 10, out of 200 students, who actually get a job in the first year, working against each other in a curved grading system, do NOT make for a fun peer group.

    People don’t realize that the schools lie about employment statistics and that private student loans don’t operate like public student loans. The idea of “only go if you don’t have to borrow,” is laughable, btw. Do you have $135,000 lying around? (Plus opportunity cost). Anyway, the loans can’t be discharged in bankruptcy, there are few rules about exploitative practices, and they compound quarterly if you don’t get a high-paying job right away to pay down interest. And even if you do earn $140,000 (Which means you had to have graduated from 10 schools, or you were one of about 10 in your top-50 school), you’ll still be paying at least $1,000 a month for about 35 years. Also, you’ll likely be laid off from your 80-hour-per-week-minimum job after two years, because law firms weed associates ruthlessly. Only about 8% of all associates go on to become partner. The other 92% slept at the office, endured abusive partners (ranging from weird to scary), and seriously injured their health, for nothing.

    Most people won’t be in the 10% who get to compete to be the 8% who make partner, anyway. Most people contract (awful, no job security, and no benefits), or tend bar, for about a year until they find an entry-level job. Then, most entry-level jobs pay about $40,000. So that’s about half their income going to pay for three years spent teaching themselves con-law and other useless subjects, in the company of totally stressed out assholes they never want to see again.

    Thanks for trying to tell people Penelope. I hope at least a few people listen.

    • Jennifer
      Jennifer says:

      Sheesh! Couldn’t have said it better myself! I spent 1 semester and 1 day in law school, and cut my losses. My grades were good, but the environment was like working in one of the most abusive workplaces imaginable. One of the deans even suggested I avail myself of the student psych counseling services, because over 60% of the students there use it and say that it helps. Amongst the other 40% were severe drug and alcohol issues (her estimate). Work/life balance is not something to be achieved through the modern (ancient?) law school path. . .

    • Alora
      Alora says:

      I have two good friends who, within a year of finishing law school, were miserable and looking for any chance they could find to get OUT of practicing law. And a frightening number of their classmates in law school were in the same boat. The only thing that saved one of my friends from being suicidally depressed about it was that he didn’t have to rack up huge loans to go (someone else footed the bill). My other friend’s tuition was covered by her parents, and so if she bails on law at this point, she (literally) in danger of being disowned.

  35. Wisco
    Wisco says:

    I mostly agree with your comments about B-School. I’m not saying that UW-Madison is a top tier b-school, but, at least at UW-Madison, you actually need to have your future career aspirations figured out before you can even apply.

    Everyone I graduated with is currently working in their concentration.

    The ones that are unemployed or working in jobs they hate are the ones that specialized in entrepreneurship. I think there were 16 people in the program when I graduated and only 3 have had successful business ventures.

    You just can’t teach creativity.

  36. Eric
    Eric says:


    (One more time I’ll beg you to excuse my french, because, indeed, I am french.)

    I’m OK with you on the major part on this subject.

    But, as far I can tell, it seems that you have a diploma yourself and you did go to school. Am I wrong ?

    It’s pretty easy for people who get a diploma to say that school is useless.

    You’re right, school will not teach to an entrepreneur to be an entrepreneur BUT it will learn to him how masterize a huge amount of technical tools very useful for an entrepreneur.

    What if you have no Business Angel, not a lot of money to spend at the beginning ? You cannot afford Public Relation Agency, Lawyer, Business Plan conception and stuff. You have to do everything by yourself. Yes, you can learn on the field but honestly, it’s a gap in your planning. You have to learn everything from the beggining. And most of all, you have to learn some stuff which is not your domain of skills. I know that most of US Business Schools are better than French ones. But I’ll speak for French one because I know their program. They study the Work Law, the International Law, company administration, technical book keeping, economics and some language.

    So, as a young entrepreneur who have no diploma, I have to learn all these things by myself on the field, make some mistakes due to the lack of technical knowledge and of course, as I’m not a native english speaker, I have to learn Business English all by myself. Where I get the time to manage my own company, heh ?

    I had to prepare myself and learn all these things during six months before really launch my company. It’s time wasted. Time which was not been wasted if I get to school few years back from now.

    All I’m saying is that you are right. School do not learn the “Spirit” of an entrepreneur but technically speaking its help a lot.

    I’ll take myself as an exemple. As I said, I’m french, 27 years old, without ANY diploma (not even the GED or the High School Diploma). I begun to work very early (around 16). Well , I know that US Recruiters like pretty much the extra-school activities and don’t focus on diplomas for entry/middle jobs but in Europe, a lot of recruiters are “old school”. I can remember five years ago, when I was looking for a job, I got two excuses from recruiters :

    Recruiter 1 : I’m sorry Sir, you are over skilled for this job. We cannot recruit you at an entry level job like this one.

    Recruiter 2 : I’m sorry Sir, this is not an entry level job, we cannot recruit you without any diploma.

    Well, at this time I thought to change of career. I asked myself : Ok, what I’m good at ? What can I give in exchange of money ?

    I found one of my hobbies was valuable and break through a new career where I was hired, good at and finally, launched my own company few months ago from now.

    I am a specialized recruiter now, I thing the fact of do not have any diploma helps me to focus on what is important of the job that I have to fullfill with someone. But I will never forget that the school helps a lot to get technical knowledge and I really miss that at the moment.

    I don’t know if I was really clear on this one. I’m still working on my poor english skill, sorry about that.

  37. Stretch Mark Mama
    Stretch Mark Mama says:

    Penelope, I always enjoy these higher-education themed posts. I know of many people who run to schooling for safety. Ai yi yi. For my friends in their 20s who ask, I generally steer them away from grad school. The educational system is about 20 years behind; experience is in the now. Not to mention the debt.

  38. Anca
    Anca says:

    I think people who studied what they honestly loved and enjoyed college and grad school are lucky people.

    Penelope, I’d love to see you tackle the topic of college in general, in a similar vein as the tv show you were on recently. I think the whole system is flawed. There were some college courses I really enjoyed, some where I would rather have learned the topic by myself out of a book, but overall I did not enjoy college and never felt like I had any guidance in choosing my career path. My main goal in choosing my major was whether I would be readily employable upon graduation. (I was — I chose engineering.)

  39. Alora
    Alora says:

    Penelope, this is one of the best posts you’ve written in a while — and I so completely agree. Grad school is a trap, unless you are 100% certain that you are going to do the same thing for your ENTIRE LIFE (which sounds like purgatory to me! Yuck!) or unless it is absolutely required for a specialized field — and you’ve thought about and are ok with the downsides that go with it.

    Even more than this, as someone who’s been working for ten years and who routinely hires people, experience is what I look for. It’s what every hiring manager I’ve ever had looks for. There is HUGE distrust at any resume that crosses my desk where someone has spent excessive time in grad school. It looks like they are hiding out, and the last thing you want as an employer is an employee who looks like they like to hide instead of jump in and tackle something head-on.

    I slightly disagree with your military comment, though: I do not think the military itself is the trap. I think the real trap is an economic and education system that does not leave so many poor kids any options BUT the military. If leveraged properly, the military can be of tremendous benefit to those who go that route. The tragedy is that many of them take that option simply out of a lack of alternatives.

  40. Mary K
    Mary K says:

    Going to grad school is like going into the military.
    Um, how? In grad school, nobody holds you accountable or responsible. The military requires you to assume a perspective beyond yourself. Nowhere does grad school say, “Honor, courage, commitment,” or “Semper fidelis.” Nowhere does grad school develop leadership traits or principles as well as practical application of them. Nor does it require servantship or followership. In fact, grad school can be “all about me” and hiding from the adult world.
    Applications to the military increase in a bad economy in a disturbingly similar way that applications to graduate school do. For the most part, both alternatives are bad. They limit your future in ways you can't even imagine, and they are not likely to open the kind of doors you really want.
    The military does not limit your future. On the contrary, admission to any of the service academies opens your future to possibilities way beyond the typical grad school. They don’t call them “ring knockers” for nothing. It’s a prestigious and exclusive club that is comparable only to some of the best Ivy League schools. Quite frankly, I went to grad school on the Navy's dollar so I could become a nurse practitioner. Instead of limiting my options to staff nurse, I am now a healthcare provider who can augment the general practitioner shortage. I get emails from headhunters every single day.
    Military is the terrible escape hatch for poor kids, and grad school is the terrible escape hatch for rich kids.
    I grew up in an upper lower-class family. I enlisted in the Marine Corps (mainly because my dad said, “If you’re only going in for a few years, then go Marine Corps, not Army. That’ll get your foot in the door because employers will be curious about what a Woman Marine looks like.” [He was also a former Marine.] I was picked up for a Navy Officer program and I make more money and have more responsibilities than I ever would have if I had stayed in my hometown. I’ve seen a lot that you’ve never seen, and with my Top Secret Clearance (SCI), I know that the news they present on TV and other media is often disinformation and misinformation.
    Finally, George Orwell said it best: "We sleep safe in our beds because rough men stand ready in the night to visit violence on those who would do us harm." You can’t say that about grad school.

  41. David
    David says:

    You mentioned distinctions between top & bottom tier Business schools but talk as if all grad programs in English lit are the same. Yale graduates have a very high placement rate! Also, English PhD programs are an EXCEPTION in the humanities as there are TONS of them, hundreds of programs. They flood the market.

    Do you realize that good humanities programs are free? The best schools offer full fellowships which cover tuition and stipends for living expenses. Humanities Grad students graduate debt free and some of the less ‘flooded’ fields like say French lit or Anthropology the better schools have excellent placement records. As a graduate student with a full fellowship in a top tier school I’m very optimistic about my future and very happy with my choice. My stipend which I do not have to work for, pays almost as much as the last admin job I had.

    • Erica Peters
      Erica Peters says:

      Just a quick note about placement rates. I was just at a talk at the AHA (main history conference), where a statistician reported that the top-tier grad programs no longer have better placement rates than the bottom tier. It’s like different universes. People who got in to the top-tier programs are picky, and when they don’t get a great research-oriented job, they often switch fields rather than take a job with a high teaching load. Whereas people who get PhDs in history from Kansas State probably have a reason for staying in the midwest, and would accept a job teaching at a community college in Kansas, that the Yale PhD would never accept.

  42. noririn
    noririn says:

    I don’t know why I commented on Penelope’s current topic. I just think Grad School is an answer to some people, and not for others. It all depends on their situations and how they want to utilise it.

    Straight after I graduated with two Bachelor degrees – one in Media and one in Linguistic, I found a really good well paying job in one of those well known household names corporation. This is not an entry level job, nor does it has anything to do with my degrees for some reason.

    To top things off, I completely love this job. It has its ups and downs but everyday is fun in a nerdy sort of way.

    It has nothing to do with languages nor does it has anything much to do with media, my work is mostly physics and maths, maybe more on the mathematical and IT site.

    I’m considering of doing a Master in Science so I can perform my job better. I was also hoping this should secure my future since recession is a bleak topic in every giant corporation.

    Apparently where I am located, the government is also giving subsidy to eligible students who enroll in this post grad field. This could be good and I hope I’m not going to look back to this entry in the future.

    • Alison
      Alison says:


      Would you would be willing to e-mail me? I have taken 3rd year science classes but am completing my undergrad in the department of Rhetoric, Writing and Communications (and am getting among the highest grades in the department). I would love to hear what it is you do and your thoughts in general. I am trying to discover how to find a job integrating my love of science with this degree!

  43. pam
    pam says:

    I don’t fully agree with you. I do agree that it’s never a good idea to go to graduate school just to go, to escape from something else, or to make someone else happy.

    However, IF getting your MBA or any other graduate degree is something you WANT to do, for yourself, then doing it now, in a recession, is probably the absolute BEST time to do it.

    For several reasons….while everyone else is fighting over the same jobs, you’re working on making yourself more marketable, and avoiding a huge gap that could hurt your resume. This is a bad market, it is not at all unusual to see people go for a year or longer without landing a job. That is devastating to your search.

    When you graduate with your MBA, you’ll have something to show for the last two years other than a big gap.

    A friend of mine did this in the last downturn. She was a top producer in my company, but when the market crashed, she decided to get her mba, from MIT’s Sloan school. Which landed her a fantastic job after she graduated.

    And then two years later, she went into business for herself. Have the MBA from a good school helped open a few doors for her both in getting that first job after school and then when starting her business.

    I think a recession is the BEST time to go to grad school if it’s something you’ve really wanted to do and have been waiting for the timing to be right.

  44. Emily
    Emily says:

    I completely agree with you when it comes to something like going to grad school for an English or Journalism masters degree, or sometimes even an MBA. Professions in the related fields don’t require graduate-level education. However, if someone wants to be a doctor, lawyer, or psychologist, grad school isn’t optional — you must do it if you want to be in that profession. So I agree that it’s throwing away money and time if your desired field doesn’t require it, but for those that do, there really isn’t an alternative.

  45. Cathy
    Cathy says:

    My husband and I went to grad school- he because he could not seem to find a job, me because I hated my $8 an hour shit job and was not finding anything else. It seemed like a good idea at the time.

    Both my husband and I went to grad school for free in exchange for low paid labor- he as a GA and me as a TA. My husband made contacts in grad school (for engineering) that he would not have made otherwise; he also made more money starting out than he would have otherwise. I am in a job now that required a graduate degree. For these reasons, it worked out for us very well.

    HOWEVER, I would NEVER get a grad degree if I had to pay for it. Never. Lots of jobs have tuition reimbursement, there are scholarships, and if you can pinch a penny until it screams and have little or no prior debt, we’re living proof you can live on the stipend. Don’t pay for grad school!

  46. Lea
    Lea says:

    My problem is that I want to become a librarian, and you HAVE to have a master’s degree to be employed as a librarian. I’ve spent the last 3 years being “lost” after 11+ years in my first career, and the experience has confirmed that I need training to start a second career.

    Here’s the hard part though: After I get my master’s degree and become a librarian, I will earn exactly what I’m earning now as a PR/communications person. I’ll just have more student loans. Luckily there are master’s programs in this field that don’t break the bank. My argument is that either the master’s programs need to drop in price to be in line with the salaries, or the salaries need to go up to pay for the student loans, since you absolutely cannot hold the title “librarian” in any setting without a master’s degree.

    I agree with your post when it comes to business school or law school. But for anyone who wants to become a librarian or get into a research field with a library degree, we have no choice.

  47. Dennis Campbell
    Dennis Campbell says:

    As someone with a JD and an MBA, I generally agree with the thrust of this article, that graduate schools is overrated and very expensive. I disagree about the military, which is real world experience and is looked upon favorably by employers after one leaves the military.

    There are certainly too many lawyers. Finding a job in the field is difficult. Before going to law school, one should work in a law firm to determine if this is a career he/she really wants. It is not a place to “find oneself.”

    I would pursue the MBA only if I got into as top school, which provides decent odds that the expected salary boost will justify the expense.

    While I agree that real world experience is the best teacher, there are certain jobs for which the MBA is required by employers, such as consulting with a top firm or investment banking. Employers get a lot of applicants and use the degree as a means of filtering the pool down to a more manageable number.

    Net, graduate school may make sense for some people with a clear sense of what they want to do and who understand the costs and potential benefits. Too many people underestimate the former and overestimate the latter.

    • Ariana
      Ariana says:

      I have to wholeheartedly agree with this comment. I’m finishing law school and will be going on to get an MPA…but I know exactly what, Lord willing, I will be doing with both degrees and what it will take to pay it all off. People with clear career goals and not just a generalized desire to make a “better” salary are probably the best candidates for grad school.

      So much of the article and comments seems to overlook one thing: People disappointed with their choices likely didn’t think clearly about their choices in the first place. Any expense of time or money shouldn’t be invested unless one has a clear plan and understand of what the return on investment will most likely be. Life involves risk, so you aren’t guaranteed that things will work out as planned. But still, I think about 90% of the disaffection many people feel with their grad school decision has to do with not thinking clearly about it at the outset. Do your research! Don’t make any assumptions. Really, these things should guide all decisionmaking.

  48. Randy
    Randy says:

    Regarding Point 6, “Military is the terrible escape hatch for poor kids,”, could you explain what you mean by the military being a poor choice?

    Because if you mean that serving one’s country isn’t being selfish and only looking out for number one, then you are correct. The people you have to depend on in the military and are forced to depend on you says a lot more about an applicant’s character than post graduate work.

« Older CommentsNewer Comments »

Comments are closed.