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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




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366 replies
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  1. barbi
    barbi says:

    The whole college status thing is very American and maybe Asian. Or maybe it was different when I was college age in Amsterdam, but I always thought you went to college to learn a job. I patched some courses together while modeling then went back to college in London, paid for it myself and could not believe it when the professors gave me shit because I felt they worked for me, I paid them plenty! I left before graduating because i got a great job offer (fashion design) and never gave degrees etc. another thought. Until I came to New York. Husband grew up on campus @ Princeton, went to grad @ Yale, acts like my flaw is that i did not graduate, (well FU I made six figures when I met you and you did NOT!) Now when I hear people say about sending their kids to liberal arts colleges like Vassar, “Oh, I’m not sure what Britanny really will do withe her art history degree, but it was was great for networking” I do not shut up. I, like P, get heated, and yell why spend all those hundreds of thousands unless you are very clear on what you want to do and need to study for this? Like doctor, lawyer, vet, dentist, architect etc. otherwise just learn as you go, challenge yourself in all the areas that interest you. take courses but most importantly start in the field you feel passionate about…. at the bottom if need be…

    • Tzipporah
      Tzipporah says:

      “start in the field you feel passionate about”

      At the end of 12 years of elementary and high school, it’s a wonder if people are passionate about anything. Passion is a rare commodity these days.

      • barbi
        barbi says:

        Oh please just get off line and start to travel, like P said read, volunteer with Americorp, whatever it takes. Opening your mind is free and if you open yourself up to finding passion, believe me anyone can find it!

  2. Stephanie
    Stephanie says:

    Thanks for your post Penelope! In Blueprint for a Woman’s Life you suggested that women should “go to business school right out of the gate”. Although that lesson was slightly different, isn’t an MBA a non-science degree? Looks like someone else had a similar question regarding your definition. I am 36 and in a management position at a financial services company. While there are certain skills that I might still be lacking I don’t see the benefit of getting an MBA, at least not in terms of cost-effectiveness (even though I don’t want children). I wish there were better continuing education programs to achieve the same goal. Any suggestions?

  3. Al
    Al says:

    I’m getting paid to attend grad school in the humanities at a State University in exchange for teaching undergrads. I chose a low cost of living metro area, have full medical/dental insurance and lots of independence regarding how I allot my time (though my responsibilities require 60-70hr workweeks).

    I have time to be a musician on the side, my hours are flexible so I can fit in exercise and socializing to maintain my physical and social health, and I couldn’t be happier.

    I have an employable science undergrad degree which I expected to fall back on after I had my grad school experience. However, it seems everyone in my program that works hard lands tenure-track humanities jobs. I’m told I’ll be even more employable than the successful TT landers ahead of me because I’m bringing in outside knowledge to my interdisciplinary humanities degree.

    Many humanities AND science PhDs are ridiculously unemployable, but if you bring in outside knowledge and choose your program carefully, you can find pockets of thriving humanities. You need to go searching and ask a lot of questions, though. You can’t just expect to magically fall into those places. You’ve got to play chess and position yourself correctly.

  4. Lee Kariuki
    Lee Kariuki says:

    The points you bring up a pretty valid.Unless it is in certain fields or there are certain work requirements, then grad school is pretty much over hyped.It is supposed to train you to “think” in a certain way,(that’s why they have the GRE,GMAT,LSAT,MCAT before even getting accepted) to test your analytical evaluation of situations which by the way you can train yourself even better by exposure to real life experiences.Nevertheless,there is a crucial disconnect between what you learn and what is needed in the field.I am not sure if faculty and employers actually sit together to create cirriculums that are relevant and applicable in today’s work environment.Is it a miracle that online education has recently been on the rise? Despite the social responsibility of providing training to the residents and citizens of a locality,we have to constantly remind ourselves that they are still businesses. Our only concern is not whether the education is needed,(you will need some form of knowledge formal or informal to elevate and leverage your capacity for bringing worthwhile ideas to the table that offer solutions to existing problems)but the direct correlation with who we are, what we desire and the results we expect. I guess that is the main disconnect that drove a good number of dropouts to follow their own quest.

  5. Biancaelyse1
    Biancaelyse1 says:

    Great article! Do you consider undergraduate (Bachelor of Arts) degrees for foreign languages in the same category as other humanities degrees in regards to how well they prepare for career paths? While maybe not as advantageous as STEM subjects can the ability to speak and write at the BA/business level in other major languages in addition to English help add value to the employability of a undergrad humanities degree?
    Also what are your thoughts on MFA degrees in the visual arts/playwriting/film etc. which tend to be industry/internship oriented? Not that you need an MFA (or even a GED) for arts careers which are primarily portfolio (and network) based, however Ive never really seen these programs discussed in your grad school postings–and fine arts MFA’s can differ dramatically from MA and phD programs– so would appreciate your insight.
    Thank you for your time and consideration. Keep up the great writing!

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      I do have opinions on this. Because I went to grad school for creative writing and my ex husband went to grad school at UCLA for film. In both cases, if you are good, you don’t need school. And if you are not good, school can’t help.

      For creative writing, you need to sit in a room every day and write. And get tons of feedback, which you absolutely do not need grad school for, and then send out a finished manuscript. And then do it again. And again. Great writers float to the top. If you’re not great, no teacher can help you with connections.

      For film, you need to have a lot of money or a day job. Because you have to get your films done, which costs money, and you have to work on other peoples’ films for free. It’s a very hard life. And in hollywood most internships are unpaid. You get them by networking, not by going to film classes at UCLA.

      Making a living as a creative person is very, very hard. It’s waking up every day and doing the work, unnoticed, and unpaid, for years and years. Grad school is not a quick fix to get out of the drudgery. Some people get incredibly lucky. Don’t plan to be one of those people because luck does not need planning for. Plan to be a regular, very talented person.

      Bottom line: No grad school in creative fields.


      • Olivier
        Olivier says:

        “if you are good, you don’t need school. And if you are not good, school can’t help.” This reminds me of a cruel quip by a very grand mathematician (at the Collège de France in Paris). He said there were only two types of students: those who don’t need him and those whom *he* doesn’t need.

      • Biancaelyse1
        Biancaelyse1 says:

        Thank you for answering my earlier comment about MFA degrees/Grad school for the arts, writing, etc. Its extremely helpfull to see it spelled out so clearly–in black and white digital ink–on the page especially since (all things considered) the truth is that I would much rather be sitting in a room making art–be it film, poetry, playwriting, painting, and/or some other type of medium/mixed of mediums anything to tell the/a story–rather then sitting in a classroom studying it (nevermind the fact/question of if artistic expression is even studyable in the first place). So…followup question, if I may, what are some good ressources for artists to learn about the bussiness side of the contemporary art world? Ive mostly been reading bussiness or art publications–are there any ressources that talk about both–especially for unknown artists? Thank you again for your time and consideration.

    • Steve C
      Steve C says:

      If you are good at foreign languages and can become fluent in several, you can make a living just translating, or become a CIA operative. I can’t believe that having foreign language skills and degrees would not be very rewarding.

  6. Justin-to-the-good-stuff
    Justin-to-the-good-stuff says:

    What sets you apart when applying for a job when everyone and their mom have a degree just like you?

    Most people are go to college b/c that’s what they’re supposed to do… that’s what I did. I didn’t even think I had a choice. Half way through I decided to major in myself and make a big game out of the whole thing. And it works.

    The internet and a dose of curiosity can teach you just about anything you desire. Look what I just found:

    College Conspiracy Documentary:

    It’s not too late… teach the children… to teach themselves :)

  7. Greg
    Greg says:

    You make this argument and a lot and it’s clearly paying dividends. It’s a brilliant topic. You should write it more often. However, you’re an example that disproves the argument. If you didn’t gone on to get an English degree, you wouldn’t be the writer you are now, and none of us would be up at 1 am arguing about graduate school.

    You were a professional volleyball player who’s difficult to work with and terrible at start ups. Yet, today, you’re one of the most successful bloggers, and you merely linking to a good website is enough to make it successful.

    If you hadn’t gone to graduate school, the rest of us would be worse off, and we’d be deprived of your wonderful stories. Not because you wouldn’t write wonderful stories, but because we wouldn’t have the opportunity to read them.

    Graduate school is a scam. It’s another tool for the rich to take advantage of the poor. But, the poor can’t fix it simply by skipping graduate school. We’re going to be poor for generations whether we go to grad school or not.

    There are still ways to maximize your graduate school experience:

    1. Get your degree by the time you’re 22. (Otherwise she’s write, you look unemployable instead of smart)

    2. Don’t borrow money more than $30,000. You’ll still be paying it back when you’re paying for your children to go to college otherwise.

    3. Don’t go to grad school for an education. Grad school’s saving grace is connections. You won’t get a great job on Craigslist, but you will be handed the perfect job because you know the star employee. You aren’t going to meet them while getting drunk at your local bar.

    • Greg
      Greg says:

      It’s a shame your blog isn’t set up to allow comments to be edited.

      Perhaps if I had a degree in English, my writing would have fewer errors and I wouldn’t need an edit button.

      At least my tech degree made me better at setting up blog commenting systems… though I’d probably still be up at 1am unsuccessfully promoting my blog.

    • Steve C
      Steve C says:

      I agree, especially with #1. If nothing else, you have more time to recover from the sunk cost(time and money)that you incurred if Grad school turns out to be a bust; and I think you are correct that you get more credibility out of the degree if you complete it when you are younger. You are also more likely to much more flexible in terms of where you a willing and able to relocate to in search of a position capitalizing on your degree. That is a biggie if you ask me.
      I also agree that it’s unlikely that we would be reading Penelope’s blog had she not chosen English as her graduate degree.

  8. Megan
    Megan says:

    I went to grad school for a non-science degree, while I worked, and while I had an internship. I can honestly say the degree helped me land all of my jobs – especially my current one. I work in health care and they care a lot about credentials, even for the non-science jobs. I also got my first job because of networking my grad school helped me with (I was hired by an alum). I agree that everyone should carefully decide what to do with their education/career, but I can’t categorically say non-science grad school is not worth it.

    • Jon
      Jon says:

      I’m still curious to hear Penelope’s take on grad school for science degrees. Equally useless? Or a different animal?

      • Jake
        Jake says:

        I do not know her opinion but father’s opinion was: Do not get a science degree. Get a related engineering degree. You can still get the science jobs and now you have access to the engineering jobs. Where if you only have the science degree, you often can not have access to engineering jobs.

        He has a PHD in one of the science fields and he has been dealing with this issue his entire life

  9. my honest answer
    my honest answer says:

    I hate the ‘my parents are paying for it’ argument. If you don’t think it’s a good way to spend your money, it’s probably not a good way to spend anyone else’s, either.

  10. Carl
    Carl says:

    Ok you’ve discussed humanities, what about art school’s? I have a step daughter that graduated from RISD, great reputation but no preparation for how to make a living with the talent.

  11. Steve C
    Steve C says:

    I’m sticking to my comment that Helen’s suggestion to Beth, to simply leave off any mention of a graduate degree in humanities on your resume, is bad advice. I mean, a lot of graduate school experiences take up even more than two years. That’s a pretty good sized hole to have to paper over with a fake story about a trek to Nepal or something. Why not just make up a whole fantasy life and resume then? I say flat out lying about your background is bad advice.
    I’ve heard this advice before, and I’m sure it has worked before, as you pointed out; but for every time it has worked, my guess is that there have been many, many failures we’ll never hear about, and many people who get caught up in falsehoods further down the road, once they get started down that path.
    It seems to me that just pointing out that even though you now have second thoughts about your decision to start graduate school, you wanted to follow through on a personal commitment and not quit in mid-stream is enough of a “re-framing” to put a positive spin on the experience.
    It’s also okay to admit that you were good at the finishing grad school part but not so good at the putting it to work part. I think the the trick is to somehow network your way around the Human Resources gatekeepers, and let go of the hope for a better past.
    BTW, Penelope, I got a comment of yours in my email notifications that doesn’t seem to be here on the blog. It was a pretty intense comment. Did you pull that for a reason?

  12. Olivier
    Olivier says:

    While I broadly agree with PT I think she is being unduly harsh with the degree takers. The main driver of degree inflation is not a surge of muddle-headed thinking in the student-aged population but rampant credentialism in the workplace, whether in the private or public sector. I think it’s just a form of entropy, of civilizational decay.

  13. Jennifer
    Jennifer says:

    Speak for yourself — while unemployed and laid off for the 3rd time – I choose to make better use of my time, while applying to jobs in my field. Don’t bash those of us who choose to “expand our horizons”. Grad school is pricey – nobody said it would be cheap. To each his own.

  14. Jake
    Jake says:

    Ok, so if baby boomers are going to retire in my lifetime, and those jobs are going to open up to me, how will I set myself apart. Everyone is going to have a BA. Everyone at that point is going to have the same amount of experience-give or take two years is not going to matter. Besides quality of experience, which you should be able to frame anyway, I think a masters will be something that puts me back up in the top tier. Am I wrong?

    • avant garde designer
      avant garde designer says:

      Unless you’re under age 10, we’re not going to retire in your lifetime. We’re going to live forever and because we’ve just lost our retirement portfolio, we won’t be able to retire.

  15. Alex
    Alex says:

    Penelope, you’re missing one key indicator. If you do not get funded for graduate school that is a very strong signal you won’t make it in the academic market. However, you might get funded (ideally a fellowship, maybe a TA ship),and while it is slave labor, it obviates the debt issue and increases your confidence in getting that rare academic posting. Most grad programs are pretty good at sorting folks who are serious about the subject from those who fear leaving school- and denying funding to the later.

    The folks without funding are the kinds who drop out after a semester or a year because they discover that humanities graduate programs are about theory and methods, not just learning more about the things that they liked as an undergraduate.

    Paying for school is not wise, getting paid at least keeps you in the game.

  16. HopeinNH
    HopeinNH says:

    Great discussion. While I agree with most of the points in this post, I defend my decision to get an M.Ed. in teaching writing, luckily for free, in my 40’s.

    I wanted to adjunct at the local community college one or two nights a week and I couldn’t even get them to look at me without a graduate degree.

    Plus, grad school was fun and gave me good connections.

  17. Joe
    Joe says:

    Everyone is having a tough time finding jobs in our current economy. The economic conditions changed in a short period of time in 2008 and has continued in the same state more or less since. Jobs are scarce in many disciplines, including teaching.

    To argue that a graduate degree is a waste of time and money is short sighted in my opinion. If you want to teach in Massachusetts, you need a masters, so go to graduate school. In other disciplines, eg history, a historian needs time to develop a thesis and write; graduate school allows that opportunity.

    In science and technology careers, graduate degrees are expected. You’ll get jobs with a BS, but there is a ceiling in many cases unless you have an advanced degree.

    I think your rebuttal arguments are sarcastic and short-sighted. Your arguments against the 6th and 7th are the only ones with merit in my opinion, and the 6th one depends on what job you apply for.

    The economy will change. Jobs will become available when the economy improves. Those people with advanced degrees are likely to be the first ones to get jobs when it does.

    Lastly, graduate school is work–at least it is in science and technology. It may not be work that business people appreciate, but it is work nonetheless.


  18. Art
    Art says:

    I made the decision to go to Grad school for my MBA despite hearing Penelope and Ramit saying it’s a waste of time and money. They actually told me that in a webinar I participated in. I did it anyway but still had that thought in the back of my mind. Because of that, I made sure that I included work experience by doing an internship in the summer which was a very valuable learning experience and filled the gaps in my graduate program. The MBA plus internship boosted my confidence, thickened my skin, and allowed me to see opportunities I didn’t see before. Also, without the MBA, I wouldn’ve have gotten the internship. We’ll have to wait and see if there was a signicant ROI in my decision to get the MBA as I just completed the program a few days ago.

    Now, my MBA would probably mean nothing without experience. I believe experience trumps over a graduate degree by itself.

    I believe it’s best to get a graduate degree if: (1) you need it to get promoted, (2)you want to be a teacher, physical therapist, psychologist, doctor,and etc. where it’s a requirement, (3) if your place of employment has a tuition assistance program and the grad program will increase your skills in your specific job.

  19. Valerie
    Valerie says:

    Massive overgeneralization. What about grad degrees that are necessary if a person wants to obtain a professional licensure, and otherwise would not be able to work in that field?!

    • Lori
      Lori says:

      First sentence: “[N]on-science degrees are not necessary for a job.”

      If you can’t read, school probably doesn’t help either…

  20. Jane
    Jane says:

    I so wish I could have read this when my daughter dropped out of high school 2 years ago. I did the whole grad school thing myself and since she is bright I’d always assumed she’d do the same… I had no clue how to advise her when she took another route.
    She got herself a job as a receptionist at the Holiday Inn near Bristol airport (UK) because she thought she might like to do event management. It has been a fruitful employment and I have seen her grow from the one who’d throw a sickie because of a night on the tiles in Bristol to the one they push to front of house each time there’s a difficult customer to calm.
    Now she is about to live a dream that has been in her head for over 2 years. She is putting desire into practical action in a way that i think would be difficult thro a conventional channel. This Thursday she has organized a ball to raise money to build a library for a tiny school off the beaten track, in the bush just north of Mombasa. The school is a relative known quantity because we’ve been before but the organization of the ball and living in Kenya is a whole new thing, and a big thing at 19 years of age.
    I’m very proud of my daughter for battling thro conventional wisdom and having the courage to strike out on her own

    • Steve C
      Steve C says:

      I’m flattered, really. BTW, I agree with your comment. As for “low poets”, I think you ought to run with it. The Low Poets Society, or something. It has a nice ring to it.

  21. Academic Vs Biz
    Academic Vs Biz says:

    If you do anything for the wrong reasons you will most certainly fail. In such cases motivation isn’t there to push your through the hard times.

    If you go to grad school without “knowing why”, “to satisfy others” (parents, peers, etc), or simply because “there is nothing else”, then your mistake was starting a long-term commitment without the right motivations. You will simply burn out.

    If you instead take that tuition money (as someone pointed out) and start your own business in a field you are “not passionate about”, “don’t understand”, or simply “don’t like”, you too will fail.

    There are exceptions to both of these, of course, but this is the norm. If you don’t have any skills or passions and go the non-grad school route, you at least have a better chance of not starving.

    The benefits of not going to grad school is at least being employable. Owning a business you learn to wear many hats, and this I believe makes you a great candidate for a related position in a larger company once your business has run its course.

    A Master’s teaches you (or at least should) to think about a topic in depth, (PhD also teaches you how to do research), or if it’s not a research degree (course based), it teaches you to think in broad terms and consider many possibilities. This often involves reading more publications rather than writing them. If you fail at your degree, you should at least take away some skills in thinking objectively.

    For the commenters who noted that some HR/Managers only hire people with degrees, that is a sad truth. A graduate comes with a guarantee. The guarantee is not that the applicant is good, but that hiring a bad applicant with a degree is less risky than hiring a bad applicant without a degree. For positions that don’t require any research experience but need practical experience, working experience should be enough. Sadly, as someone else pointed out, many HR personnel simply follow guidelines, without putting too much thought into each applicant. In their defence, however, when you have to go through 100 applications in 1 hour, some key characteristics they look for are going to make or break your chances of landing that job.

    Of course if you’re a prodigy then grad school is not required to be rich. It is still required to teach at a graduate level…. usually.

  22. K
    K says:

    In almost all cases, I agree, and I would also extend these to those considering science graduate degrees, too. I have a graduate degree in a science field, and I’m teacher/scholar a research university. It’s probably heresy for me to agree, but I see too many students fail out because they’ve chosen graduate school for the wrong reasons. I think students should only choose graduate school if the job the student wants requires it, and they’ve exhausted all other options to get that job. If the student doesn’t know what that job they want, grad school isn’t going to help them figure it out.

  23. Meg
    Meg says:

    I can’t figure out why a woman who is so ardently determined to walk her own path — career-wise, love-wise, in raising her children, you name it — would decide to denigrate anyone else’s path or choices.

    I guess you could make the argument — which you did — that you’re trying to save people the pain of “wasting” money on something you don’t value. Fair enough.

    But the common thread in so many of your posts is self-validation. I did this, you should. I found this to be true of something, so it’s true. I made this choice, and you’re a chickenshit if you can’t make the same one. Even when you say, “I wouldn’t recommend this”, you still couch things in the context of your own “courage” and risk-taking.

    Perhaps this will truly help people who feel that a graduate degree is painfully unavoidable. They will feel more empowered *not* to pursue one.

    But here’s the thing: if those folks needed a blogger to tell them they don’t have to do something, they’re not ready to take control of their lives and careers yet. If they needed you to list arguments against grad school so they could defend their decision not to go, they’re not sure enough of their decision, and won’t be able to stand behind it if someone effectively trounces one of your points.

    If people want to go to grad school, they should. If they don’t, they shouldn’t. If they’re feeling pressured, that’s something they’ll have to develop the strength to handle.

    And if you need to mock or put down what other people choose to make you feel good about your life, then you don’t feel as good as you think you do.

    I keep waiting for you to own something without torturing yourself or shouting at people that disagree.

      LINDA WOMACK says:

      EVERYONE should go to undergrad then grad and get their degrees!

      Yup, the guy at the fast-food window can ask me if I want fries with that without shame because he has a bachelor and masters. Never mind that he isn’t working in a related field or that he doesn’t even have a house because his mortgage IS his student loans…only bankruptcy can’t save you from that debt! Yea! COLLEGE DEGREES FOR EVERYONE…DEBT FOR EVERYONE!!!

  24. Juli
    Juli says:

    To each his/her own. If you don’t want to go to grad school, then don’t. Choose a career that doesn’t require it. But please don’t berate other people who make the choice to further their education.

    I have two master’s degrees (not in science!), and each one has opened amazing doors for me. I’m of the opinion that education is never a waste of time or money. I worked full time while getting each degree, and I also took out loans and paid them back myself. It was worth it.

    BTW, right now I work at a university in a department that doesn’t “require” an advanced degree. But literally every person in my office has a master’s degree or higher. I see it all the time in job ads these days, that someone with a graduate degree is “preferred.”

  25. Erin McJ
    Erin McJ says:

    I’ve seen a lot of commenters saying “but degree X is required for employment in field Y!” Even if that’s true, that doesn’t mean Penelope is wrong. For instance I have no idea why anyone gets a graduate degree in Social Work; it’s probably true that it’s required for a lot of jobs; it’s also true that you probably won’t make enough money to live comfortably while paying off the loans. That’s not a justification for why it’s rational to go to grad school, it’s evidence that it’s irrational to pursue a career in social work.

    Which is not to say that all of life has to be rational. Plenty of people would question the wisdom of quitting a whole series of lucrative jobs to live on a farm in rural Wisconsin and homeschool kids. I’m mostly sympathetic to Penelope here because I’m tired of watching people get to the end of the grad-school moving walkway and stumble as they realize that posh professor job at the end was a mirage.

    I say this all as someone who’s got a graduate degree in a social science, and had to do some creative maneuvering at the end of it to turn it into a career. It’s all working out fine for me, honestly, and I don’t think I’d undo much of what I did; I’m actually back in school now, part-time, picking up some more technical skills for this new career, but I’m still making a real salary and have a retirement account. It definitely would have saved me a lot of aggro if I’d realized the odds of traditional academic success at the beginning, or if I’d had a better idea what other options I had and how to pursue them.

  26. WG
    WG says:

    What I have noticed in conversations and in the comments on blogs like yours and “100 reasons NOT to go to grad school” is that people just getting started in grad school are the quickest to defend it, while those who have been in it for a while are much less enthusiastic (and often bitter) about their decision to go in the first place.

  27. Brad Wats
    Brad Wats says:

    Bull! Sounds like we got a whiner here! After 30 years in executive management, I can state that if an employer has the choice between a freshly minted BS with work history and a freshly minted Master’s with work history, it’s a no brainer; the Masters every time. Period. It is the only verifiable method at this time to remotely certify KNOWLEGE COMPETENCY, other than testing. And in today’s market (and for the foreseeable future), 9% unemployment and an undereducated workforce, plus a Masters willing work for what a BS made and be glad for it, you can stop with the whining that grad school will not pay! POPPYCOCK!
    Come on folks! It’s the 2nd decade of the 21st century! KNOWLEDGE IS POWER, BRAINPOWER SELLS.

    • Anonymous
      Anonymous says:

      I learned more in four months at my first job as an engineer than I did in the previous four years of school. My co-workers were much brighter than my most of my professors and more interested in sharing knowledge. And I got paid for it.

      The best teachers I had in college were the people who worked as engineers during the day and taught a class at night. The worst were people who stayed in the university environment their entire lives. 

    • Anonymous
      Anonymous says:

      I learned more in four months at my first job as an engineer than I did in the previous four years of school. My co-workers were much brighter than my most of my professors and more interested in sharing knowledge. And I got paid for it.

      The best teachers I had in college were the people who worked as engineers during the day and taught a class at night. The worst were people who stayed in the university environment their entire lives. 

  28. Will
    Will says:

    I would say this is pretty much true for science degrees as well. I got a phd in physics because I wanted to do science for a living. I discovered that
    a. there are no teaching jobs
    b. the US doesn’t really do science anymore (and I don’t want to move to China or India)
    c. my degree has made it really hard for me to get a job doing anything else.

    • Steve C
      Steve C says:

      It’s hard to believe that you cannot find any work with a PhD in Economics. One thing is for certain though: the longer it takes you to get a job, the harder it will be for you to get one. Not just because of your own failing confidence and emotional state, but because of the perception by gatekeepers that you are unemployable for some reason.
      If it were me, I’d jump at the chance to work in China or India. There they would probably treat you like you walk on water, and you would most likely be able to live like a king. And then, when and if you get sick of living overseas, you can come back home with some real job credentials and the added value of experience working in another culture, either of which are going to play major roles in the global economy.
      I don’t care what the degree is in, if you aren’t willing to go where you are needed, you will be cutting your career prospects down significantly. If you were an agricultural economist and you insisted on living in New York or Boston, you’d be missing a chance to really be somebody where your talents are not only understood, but appreciated: where ever there are a lot of farms. I don’t think your job search problem is with your degree, I think your job search problem is with your emotions.

      • Will
        Will says:

        Physics != economics. I’m not sure your reply was aimed at me?

        I’d also suggest that relocating to China (without one’s family because China’s residency visas are very hard to get) to take a low salary position is not likely to be the career booster you claim.

      • Steve C
        Steve C says:

        @ Will. My bad. I was referring to your post but was thinking about another situation and didn’t refer back to your original post. I also got the impression that you had an opportunity to work in China or India and did not want to do that. I don’t like the commenting format on this site because the reply window is not directly attached to the original comment window. Still, no excuses. I was sloppy.

        Having said that, I don’t get the same buzz over at PhD in Physics as I do over Economics, with respect to your post, at least not in India, but I still find it hard to believe that a PhD in Physics is not highly valued in many different industries.
        I still think it is better to take something in the field rather than get bogged down in a job search indefinitely. In my opinion it is always better to have a job when searching for a new one, than it is to be unemployed while doing it. Being out of work carries a stigma to it that is hard to work around. We can’t always control that, of course, but I think most people would agree with what I’m saying. The visa thing is problematic of course, as most countries prefer to keep their own citizens employed before they look elsewhere for workers. Wish it was the case here in this country, but here profit is king, everything else is secondary.
        Good luck with your search!

  29. Ace
    Ace says:

    I think your post makes sense for the type of people who read your blog, those who are motivated and genuinely focused on ongoing career development, but I think you are failing to identify what I think is the #1 most important reason to go to grad school – to build confidence in yourself. The reality is that an undergraduate degree is (for the large part of the population) nothing more than an extended version of high school with more freedom and the ability to pick a “major”. However, the reality is that you are at this point not qualified to do much of anything and you don’t have the experience or maturity to make any kind of meaningful contribution within a company – and you definitely dont have the funds to start something yourself, so you are stuck – this is the primary driver of the quarterlife crisis – the feeling of wanting to be able to start down a career path but having no idea what you want to do, what you can do, or what your capable of.

    Going straight into work is necessary but very frustrating given that many people who are working today in their 30s and 40s are overwhelmed with their marriages and their kids and either hate their jobs or are completely bored by them and could care less about advancing….this is the stark reality that hits most 20 year olds when they hit the workforce and these people are typically overqualified but considerably under enthusiastic about work. This can have very negative impacts on young people just out of university.

    I think graduate school can sometimes be necessary to kick start and really provide the career focus that at one time going to college did – it guarantees that you will be surrounded by other intelligent people presumably interested in the same things you are, it will give you a chance to really evaluate yourself against your peers and know what your capable of, it gives you time to mature and explore things with the optimism that naturally comes with being in school, as opposed to the overwhelming pessimism that can be found in many companies, and finally should open doors to you at a younger age for positions in companies where they give you more trust, more responsability, and greater expectations, all things that will help drive your career forward and help you avoid getting stuck in a job that you started in your 20s and now has you on some kind of long, slow career path to middle management. Unfortunately, this is the reality for most people who go straight into work (who aren’t fundamentally career motivated like many of the readers of this blog).

    Having said all of that, the cost issue is a major concern and I have trouble justifying all of the above when looking at taking on significant debt (sometimes additional debt to undergrad), but this is where I think you have to plan ahead – I think the number one motivation for doing well in undergraduate is purely to open doors for you at the graduate level and more importantly to try and get money at the graduate level – doing well in undergrad means almost nothing in the workforce, but it can mean thousands when it comes to graduate school (maybe not at the elite schools, but certainly in the lower tier 1 or higher tier 2 schools). For me, I did exceedingly well in undergraduate school which translated into the most average job afterwards – I did that job for two years and found my motivation, my confidence, and general enthusiasm for work starting to fade….just starting the graduate school exploration process started giving me that jolt that I needed and the resulting two years (got a very generous scholarship at a very average graduate school) provided me with two critical years where I matured (it was between 24 and 26) considerably, made great friends, met great professors (I never even bothered to get to know my professors in undergraduate as it felt more like a 4 year party than anything else), and realized through the experience that I was as good as my peers, that I could handle some very complicated business concepts (I went for an MBA), and that I deserved and could handle a low level manager position in a major company at the age of 26….I would never have had that kind of confidence had I not gotten my MBA….and spending two years reading business cases and discussing them with 30 or 40 other people your age, with different backgrounds, and debating them and writing about them, is a whole lot better than sitting in a cubicle, surfing the internet, and feeling your soul slide away…

    For me, the two years was pracitically break even financially – I took some small loans to live off of, but had most of my tuition and expenses covered by the school through a combination of financial aid and scholarships – I could have gone to a top MBA school with my undergraduate grades and had many sleepless nights debating this topic, but looking back, having had success in my career and with manageable undergraduate and graduate loans (less than $30K combined) I think my path was a good (and conservative) one. There are still days I wonder if I would be some kind of uber-success had I simply gone to the best school I could have gotten into (maybe a top ten MBA) – with maybe $100K in loans, but potentially making so much money that I could pay it back with ease, but alas, I’ll never know and I never would have had the stomach to take on that kind of debt.

    In any case, I think your points are valid for certain types of extremely self motivated people, but for those of us who are career orientated, but don’t necessarily have the confidence coming out of undergraduate, a few years in graduate school (at the right price) can be the perfect thing in your mid 20s to get you on the right track.

  30. leonard waks
    leonard waks says:

    I have two comments.

    First, I think Penelope is spot on for most people. My son is currently a college junior and I plan to discuss this and the follow up article with him tonight. And I have a good angle to view this entire problem: I am a retired professor of education leadership and this column is smack dab in the middle of my field of research.

    Second, I went to grad school — twice. Once for a Ph.D. in philosophy, and then again, fifteen years later, for an Ed.D. in organizational studies. The philosophy Ph.D. was incredibly valuable for me. I lusted after philosophical understanding since age 16, knew I would go on to study philosophy seriously before I entered college, choose an undergrad university based on its philosophy program, and stayed there with the same hand-chosen professors through to my doctorate. I can’t say it “made me what I am” as I obviously was already that by age 16. But it helped me build an incredible skill base, not only in philosophy but in critical thinking and writing. It also prepared me for the real world of the philosophy professor: publishing books and scholarly articles, inventing and managing major conferences and grant-funded projects, etc. I didn’t learn these things in grad school but I learned what I needed to position myself to learn these things on the job.

    When I left the philosophy business I became an events manager full time for a while (while working in a different university) and then earned money for my research in the grants economy. I was hugely successful, and I have to credit my philosophy grad school for the skills that made that possible.

    OK. So isn’t there a contradiction here? Not at all. In 1964 when I entered grad school US universities were expanding and every newly minted PHD got one or more acceptable job offers. In 1966 when I passed doctoral prelioms I was getting amazing offers from top universities without even applying for jobs they were offering. A any field in 1968 was a great meal ticket. Today it is economically worthless.

    How about that kid who just lusts for philosophical understanding? That kid should definitely go to grad school or find suitable teachers elsewhere — or form an on-line personal learning network and study philosophy with them e.g., through MIT Open Course Ware courses. The combination of learning what you love and doing it through your own initiative will be unbeatable. Not following your dream marks you as a loser in your own eyes, and nothing could be worse for your spiritual or economic development.

  31. Virginia
    Virginia says:

    I went into a graduate program because I wanted to be immersed in a topic I’m really passionate about… and I figured it was going to be sort of like a vacation with interesting homework. I ended up doing my thesis on a topic that pulled me into work that I was even more passionate about. I got to use most of the subsidized loan money to travel, eat well, and pay myself while I wrote a book proposal that was just picked up (with an advance!). So, I figure I spend about $2000/month when I’m on vacation so over two years I saved money!

  32. Lovro Dvcic
    Lovro Dvcic says:

    Spot on! Observations from a retired teacher:
    Most teachers (K-12) have a useless Masters degree from a diploma mill.
    All undergraduate and graduate degrees that end with “Studies” (Women Studies, Hispanic Studies, African American Studies, etc.)are usless exercises in victimhood and altruism run amuck.
    The intellectual slum of a university is the school of education.

    • Steve C
      Steve C says:

      Lovro. I don’t know if I would use such harsh terminology, but the schools of education are definitely cash cows for colleges and universities.

  33. Stuart Dean
    Stuart Dean says:

    Excellent points, and anyone thinking for a moment about law school should click through to your comments on that.

    But the problems with graduate school are but symptoms of a deeper structural problem with our educational system generally.

  34. David
    David says:

    I am a self-employed writer/consultant. There's no way I would be doing what I do, and charging what I charge, if I hadn't gone for a Ph.D. in the humanities (philosophy). I had slogged it out as a journalist for some years, mainly editorial writing, and felt an increasing desire to learn to think more deeply and creatively into the variety of topics that journalism put in my way.

    After earning my degree at one of the Ivies, I returned to journalism. Three years later someone at a large Washington DC think tank phoned out of the blue and asked if I'd like to apply for a job as a senior writer. I got that job and, two years later, reduced my employment to part-time status (two days a week) so I could freelance. Five years later I went solo and have been entirely self-employed for the last seven years. I make a comfortable living by working substantially less than half-time, and the present miserable economy hasn't made a dent in my income.

    Total tuition I paid for the doctorate: $5,000 — and that was only because a faculty member mistakenly gave someone else an assistantship one semester that should have gone to me. The rest was paid by scholarships and fellowships.

    As a bonus, the stint in grad school forced me to take a variety of part-time jobs to pay my rent and other living expenses. These brought valuable experiences. For instance, a low-wage job working with mentally retarded adults taught me to think about how people with such limitations could be helped to live more productive and fulfilling lives. Clinical work in the intensive treatment unit of a private psychiatric hospital opened whole new worlds of insight into human frailties and the challenges of coping with them. I also taught more than 20 courses at half a dozen colleges, which taught *me* more than I can go into here. I would never have branched out into such fields had I not returned to grad school.

    I agree with all the caveats, and I suspect that in the majority of cases, people could invest their time, money, and effort more profitably in other ways. But in some cases, and mine is certainly one of them, grinding through a doctoral program can yield enormous rewards. "Look before you leap" is good advice. Just remember that deciding for grad school and deciding against it are both leaps.

  35. craig duke
    craig duke says:

    I really don’t look back fondly on my academic career even though I did teach on the college level and left voluntarily, heck I don’t even like academia and see alot of waste in graduate degrees, BUT, I transitioned into a field where I make three times as much as I would have otherwise without the degree/Ph.D. Entry level, the post is right, but when you want to get ahead and move into specialized fields why do so many people already employed want graduate degrees? Go into debt big time to get a degree is not smart. But neither is thinking that only work experience will get you ahead of the pack. So I posted cause I wonder where all the hostility comes from on this post–did the author get tossed from a graduate program, or does she just want to make herself feel superior to anyone with a degree–funny I don’t feel superior as a person cause of any degree–why would you? Whatever the case, the post is so biased it’s idiotic to package it is well meaning advice cause it doesn’t reflect much real world experince–reader beware–in the end you need to do what you feel is right and appropriate for you–especially with all the ignoramus comments swirling around you.

  36. BradleyC
    BradleyC says:

    As someone who’s a small business owner that takes home close to $300k a year, my first instinct of those with masters degrees is that they are usually some sort of trust funder or someone who simply doesn’t want to face the hardships of the real world. My first instinct if they were to apply would be not to hire because they aren’t hungry.

    I also lump these same people to those that go to small, expensive liberal arts college (and I’m not talking about ivy league colleges here).

    What’s encouraging is the real world is starting to catch up with the con that is higher education.

    • Steve C
      Steve C says:

      Bradley. As a small business owner, you get to make a lot of rules that other organizations can’t make. That’s fine, as long as you don’t violate the law of the land. It’s your right as a small business owner. Employees of your firm should not assume that they have that right though, unless you specifically tell them that that is what you want.
      Not that you care, but what your comments tell me is that you probably aren’t going to evolve from small business owner to large business owner. It’s a pretty narrow minded perspective, not unlike the HR person who made a similar comment early on in the comments section.

  37. ELM
    ELM says:

    I did a Master’s degree while working, going at night and both days every other weekend. I paid out of pocket, and oftentimes was late to class coming from work – but understood. The job literally got me promoted immediately; then after I retired from my first profession I was hired several times in different jobs/professions before I settled on the Dept of State where a Master’s (or more) is the norm.

  38. Lee
    Lee says:

    This article has some good points regarding why you shouldn’t go to grad school…right after undergrad. Or without seriously considering the costs and benefits. But the reality is, not everyone is business-oriented, not everyone has the capital and connections to start a business, and not everyone is going to be able to earn a living wage every waking moment of their life, no matter how well they plan. There are just too many educated people, too many people trying to start businesses, too many blogs, and too much competition in general to go by the bootstraps model of success anymore. There are no more “meal tickets” and even the best resume, with “marketable” experience up the wazoo, does not guarantee success. On the flip side, things are changing and moving so fast that the role of expert is no longer what it used to be. I mean, no disrespect to Penelope, but we’re living in a age where anyone can create a blog, build up a following, and tout their way as the right way, simply because that’s what they chose and it worked out for them.

    There is more to life than a job: if you are nothing but a **** job in this life, you are a failure.

    There is no such thing as a ‘useless’ degree. I really wish people would stop saying this. There are only people who do not know how to look at what they’ve really learned and can see the value in that, rather than focusing on what the latest “hot jobs” article says are valuable skills.

    There is no one right path.
    I repeat: There is no one right path.
    Say it with me now: There is no one right path.

    • BS61
      BS61 says:

      When I was going to college, I would have much rather gotten my degree in Greek/Roman studies, but I went for the Computer Science degree because the trend was for that business to boom for the next 20 years.  I was gainfully employed for  30 years instead until the recession.  So my advice is to go into what will get you a job and for me it meant a move to FL for my first low paying opportunity.

  39. Taxpayer
    Taxpayer says:

    Folks, this is not new. I wanted to be a college English instructor. But I left grad school in 1985 when I realized the job market contained numerous adjunct positions and few to no full-time positions…just like today. I went back to grad school when I could afford it: while working full-time at something else. And for the last 20 years, I’ve worked at other things while teaching part-time.

    If you want a career that has a crappy employment outlook, pursue it ONLY IF you love it and can’t live without it. But be prepared to do it only part-time.

  40. Pickles
    Pickles says:

    @Lee, I agree. There is no one true way! This post completely ignores those who have worked full time while obtaining advanced degrees. I do think there’s a bubble, but it shouldn’t be automatic to dismiss those who have gotten advanced degrees, either.

    I worked full time while making slow progress on an MA that was directly applicable to my field, as well as participating in a two year internal leadership program. Both were highly encouraged by my employers (and by “encouraged”, I mean “close to mandatory if you ever want a chance at promotion”). I just turned in my thesis, and they’re already encouraging me to start another professional development program that focuses on organizational structure and interaction with other agencies. Once I wrap that up, I’ll go back to self-study for language training, with limited support from my employers. At some point in the next five years, I’ll probably get bored enough to start a PhD.

    All of these programs cover different areas and are teaching me a wide variety of skill sets that are directly applicable to the job. It’s my job as the employee to put all of those pieces/degrees together to be the best employee I can by expanding and maintaining a broad base of expertise.

    I think people should simply should be selective. Go into the right programs, for the right reasons, with the intent of learning in order to have applicable knowledge that will help you become a better employee – in the future as well as the present – not just to obtain a degree.

    One last thing – I was appalled when I arrived at college for my BA at how many people weren’t there because they wanted to learn. Frankly, most of my college classes were far less difficult than my so-called “college prep” high school studies. I did a lot of self-study because I wanted the actual education, not merely a piece of paper that claimed I’d been educated. That suggests a cultural attitude shift is needed….and maybe we need to look at the past to see how much actual learning has been eroded.

  41. John Davies
    John Davies says:

    The only time I regretted not completing my masters in Electrical Engineering was when a friend wanted me to teach programming part time at a local college. Without a the degree they wouldn’t consider me for the job.

    I guess programming professionally for 25 years was not sufficient to teach freshmen.

  42. Steve C
    Steve C says:

    CNN just posted some statistics on this issue on a segment called The Education Effect. It’s on right now. Interesting juxtaposition.

  43. willem
    willem says:

    Even the more modestly-read business professionals know that hiring is the voodoo of commerce, the most demanding of all forms of gambling. From the biographies of old man Firestone forward, the illusive art of hiring and the frustrations encountered are legend. Roll in the clown show of affirmative action and phrenology-based “diversity” and its a wonder any of our major institutions function given the superior culture of duplicity and disingenuousness that has taken over our modern institutions. The literature is full of histories involving Mass Psychogenic Illness and Collective Psychoses in institutional workplace settings. Many recoil at the murderous history of Stalin, Hitler, Mao and Pol Pot, but they should contemplate that ordinary employees executed their policies, as soldier and as workers, and most of what they did was required by policy and institutionally considered to be a normal, necessary and rational act.

    Though mortocracies provide extreme examples, what was the human cost of Aimee trashing resumes that were never read?

    Hiring carries the slipperiest of trustee duty. Even the personal interview is an unstable filter and no reliable guarantor of eventual outcome. The resumes themselves are virtually worthless.

    The job is the only filter. And it too is subject to fatal irony. The better the candidate and the more important the potential benefit from hiring the candidate, the greater the corruption and misuse of authority to deny the assets and talents of that person to the employing entity.

    Those educated in Darwin know the issue was never evolution but instead natural selection. The surviving rubric of hiring institutions are themselves being selected-for by how they hire and fire.

    In upper executive circles, the initials “H. R.” are satirically noted as standing for “Human Racketeering”. The racket is preserving the mediocrity and security that pleases the established middle dominate the work culture, while creating pretensions of policy and procedure that create evidence (however hollow) that an earnest effort is being made to identify and hire the next wave of organizational thoroughbreds and transformationally talented personalities.

    And what is diversity, really. Is it ten phrenologically-filtered and Hegelian adjudged Black, Brown, Mulatto, Yellow and White paired equally in male and female derivative form? Or, is diversity ten people from Gas City, Pueblo, Hawthorne, Hoxie, Guyman, Mina, Brooklyn, Alameda and Gu-inn?

    Diversity should be about the optimal distribution of talent that prospers the hiring organization and cause the workplace to also serve as a positively transformative life experience for those who work there.

    Hiring is expermentalism in its most demanding form. It is not something to be left to the cowardly, the provincial or the ignorant. How interesting that the bigger the corporation (for profit or not) the less this is the case.

    Something is being selected-for. In human history, democidal government and mortacracy is the norm. Our Constitution is the exception.

    Those hiring should sit with their team and re-read the DoI and discuss it before ramping up the next round of candidate reviews. There is a constitutionally-protected life embodied in each of those submissions. Mutual decency requires no less of them, and they and their organization will be the better for it.

  44. edward Rueda
    edward Rueda says:

    The attitude of this article toward education is very worrisome to this constitutional conservative. Counseling on the practicalities of life is one thing, but to attack and ridicule liberal education is quite another. This is especially the case since there is no mutual exclusivity inherent in this improperly alleged dichotomy. On the level of philosophic propriety, what appears to be the grand assumption here is that self government in this great country of ours can continue with a citizenry whose education is tethered exclusively to its "marketability" for the work place. If we take this view seriously, an education for liberty, nay the greatest things said and done, must rise and fall by how effectively such things allow one to "fit into" the career market. That is, fit in as a productive cog in the great machine. The author's flippancy aside, we are commanded to "Know thine place" in a distributive system that spews products to fulfill a commodious life of pleasantries the purpose of which we know not what. This, ladies and gentleman, is "value" defined economically. Why not commit the great books of the western literary tradition to the fire in favor of the latest version of Ipad 2.0 for dummies. What fun!! What you may not do, what is a violation of the employee tested practice and reason, is any advanced study in non-technical PhDs. Such temerity will lead to a life short nasty and brutish. Dare not, they say, slip the sully bonds of earth and chance to touch the face of God, when landing the "district supervisor" position is so much more reasonable. Deep study of the "good, wise and the just" are not favored on resumes, a mark of lassitude don't you know. Agnosticism regarding abiding issues is encouraged, no no no, rather celebrated by this author. You too, with practice, can mute your natural strivings for distant worlds; the quixotic experience of transcendence that takes hold when exposed by great books that are at once beguiling as they are maddening. The comfortable life of Hobbsian commodious living is the stuff of a life well lived.

    Regarding the relevancy of a nontechnical education, the horizons of our liberal social order must be defended not by the laughingly naïve practicalities of current marketable skill sets advanced by this author. The very capitalist system under whose sway the author pens her gibberish must be justified as a genuine moral order when questioned. Such defense requires a fashioning of arguments from philosophic suppositions that inspire and define. Our enemies state that deviance from theocratic cannons warrants death!!! What conservatism, as a proxy for the west, needs more than anything in this day and age is its supporters to undertake an emersion into and renewal of western traditions. After all, by what touchstones do we guide national, state and local policy? What principles inform law? What is justice? You'll not find these answers in "career" manuals. Such dribble, along with the author's silly bromides, assumes the most important issues of "life" are settled. They are not, to wit: Why national health care is wrong is not something addressed in the moral vacuum of that withered space deemed, "the intersection between work and life" – Plato's cave in 12 easy steps.

    The author's opinions go too far in the direction of know-nothing barbarism. Self evident principles on the realities of satisfying the practical necessities of life must never be expanded to obscure life's purpose. She has struck a profound imbalance and distortion in the suggested approach to a life well lived. Socrates was said to be penniless, yet the happiest man on earth. And, I may add, my savior came to me in rags. As a purveyor of the empty philosophy of lemmings, please teach me: What is worth dying for? Our enemies know, what does your penchant for resume building offer? Will a PhD in engineering, physics, nanotechnology provide the answer? Of what possible relevance are admonitions in favor of careerism offer to a man who believes it is easier for a camel to go through an eye of a needle, than for a rich man to go to heaven? What is it that you believe being conservative is? What is your criterion of relevance?

    We may thank God that the founders of this great country understood the value of liberal education even if its immediate utilization and value is not measured by the impression it makes on a prospective employer. Let's be clear, it is not to empirical science, or wondrous technologies, that these men turned to justify the constitutional order. It was to the teaching and admonitions of history, philosophy, poetry and yes even law.

  45. willem
    willem says:

    What an excellent thread.

    At the root of this issue lies the failed and parasitic bureaucracy of accreditation. The entire paradigm of university accreditation is a raging farce. It is not a quality system. It seems to be little better than a protection racket to monopolize and balance competitive pressures between the respective universities.

    We need to liberate students and faculty from the entire false economy of “diploma” and focus instead on classwork and a socratic professorate. Diplomas do not in themselves demonstrate competency, much less mastery. But today, students may have to purchase and endure 20 credit hours of rote fluff to get 8 hours of what they are most anxious to learn.

    If they ever knew, most have forgotten our “higher ed” culture is mostly the product Peabody Coal’s desire for obedient workers to replace those damn Americans that didn’t know their place. He leveraged a virtual buy-out of the Prussian education system and had the pedagogy and many of its technicians transported from the Prussian Empire to the east coast of the United States in the latter 19th Century.

    The superior culture of today’s higher ed institutions remain shamefully obsolete, largely because of these imported and now cardinal paradigms. The administrations continue to this day to practice derivatives of discredited Hegelian supremacism with all its utopian affects and condescension.

    Why should this matter? The fatal conceit of the Hegelian and Victorian era are the intellectual birthplace of eugenics, phrenology, mass sterilization policy, “the one drop” rule and the segregationist constructs of racial purity, racial impurity, human breeding experiments and the Jim Crow legislation championed by British interests who controlled the monopoly on cotton exports from the southern plantations many of which themselves were bankrolled into consolidation by same British financiers that facilitated underwriting the formation of Confederacy that resulted in the Civil War.

    This entire notion of “the master race” was a normal and broadly accepted Hegelian belief; it’s highest mission; a dominating principle truth anchoring early 20th Century European thought. Thus, it was also thought championed by the majority of the university intellectuals of the era.

    This was the same utopian movement that spoke of “progressive man perfected under socialism” — compulsory improvement by scientific means operated by experts for the greater good. In this original context “socialism” was a term that meant “scientific government”. It’s counterpart was “phrenology” which was the scientific prioritization of human intelligence, ability and breeding so mankind could be scientifically governed in the most efficient manner possible.

    Laugh as you must, but this lofty idiocy comprises the philosophical rooting of today’s American Higher Ed. A kinder and gentler version of these same cardinal operating premise dominates the superior culture of the American K-12 public education system today. How ironic that after the victories of the American Civil Rights movement, the operating premises of phrenology would rise from the dead and provide the ‘academically blessed’ framework of affirmative action and the intellectual premise of “diversity” studies.

    For more on this look to Karl Popper and the work of the Mont Pelerin Society formed in the late 1940s, by scholars alarmed with the rise and acceptance of “scientism” which was displacing the scientific method, intellectual rigor and classical scholarship with the false memes of dialectics and reductionism — the underlying methodology used in part by @Aimee to segregate the employment applications in what they presumed was a responsible, scientific and logical way.

    I know. OT. Mostly. But damn, people. It’s time to shake-off the europhile academic non-sense and re-develop some “honesty competency” and champion more tolerance for free and faithful critical expression.

    If there’s one new academic discipline I would like to see some free thinking university champion, it’s “Institutional Pathology.”

    If we can’t better learn to heal our institutions, our society will certainly perish in the sepsis. Is this not the greater problem that confronts our economic interests today?

  46. willem
    willem says:


    You need to realize that Hegel constructed the apologia, repudiation and rationalization for NOT adopting the values and system of governance put in place by our nations founders.

    The problem is not “liberal education” but the emergent absence of classical liberalism in the modern American university and the student product.

    E Pluribus Unum has been hijacked by rogue narcissism fueled by the hubris of Hegel Uber Alles.

    We are a nation founded in mutualism, not pluralism; a hysteresis of mutualism where your rights end where mine begin and vice versa, preserved in continuum by equal protection under the law.

    Amidst the magnificent accomplishments of technology and the classical sciences, we ironically live in an administrative era of bureaucratic scientism and selective enforcement — the opposite of equal protection under the law.

    Yet more evidence of the Hegelian corruption predicted by Karl Popper and his scholarly cohorts.

    Lose the conservative/liberal dichotomy. It’s a false meme.

    Either each individual enjoys primacy in a hysteresis of mutualism preserved by equal protection under the law, or its just the same old authoritarian tyranny.

  47. Matt
    Matt says:

    #4–The bit about very few jobs available to non-science degrees is not entirely correct. Most jobs in accounting (a gigantic field with many jobs) beyond the most basic introductory positions requires a degree in usually either accounting or finance. People with a Masters in Taxation are always in high demand.

    Still, your broader point is absolutely true–useful college degrees are mostly in difficult subjects.

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