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.