Best alternative to grad school

After yesterday's post, about how stupid grad school is, a lot of people asked, what is an alternative to grad school?

This is a great question.

I see this picture outside my window at least once a month.

I have only a little idea of what’s going on. Should I go to graduate school to figure it out? I could. I could get in. And it’s clear that the next stage in my life will involve some sort of work related to farming. A business. Or writing. Or marketing. But I’m not going to graduate school to learn about agriculture because I have tried going to graduate school to get a jump on my job prospects and it doesn’t work.

When I graduated from college, I was supposedly going to graduate school in history. But I kept writing entrance essays about why I wanted to tell stories about people and history is a good way to do that. And finally, my professor who had stood by me for four years, getting undergraduate research grants for me to study mass movements in colonial America, said, “Forget it. You don't want to be a historian.”

What she really meant was, “I'm not pulling strings to get you into Yale.”

And that was the only place I applied. Because she said she'd get me in.

Every job interview I went on seemed stupid: An incredible combination of not enough money to live on and a job description that was one step up from slave.

So I played professional beach volleyball. I got as high as #17 in the US rankings. But when I went back down 32 I had no competitive urge to get back up. So I knew I needed to do something else.

But I couldn't get a job. I mean, I could. Working for my boyfriend. But that had sucked before. So I knew it would suck again.

I took the GRE and scored in the bottom 20th percentile in quantitative reasoning, which got me into an English master's program.

It took me a year and a half and $15,000 in loans to realize this degree would never get me a job.

I tried to date a few professors, but they were already adept at judging whether or not a grad student was too messed up.

Now I'm going to tell you what I did to make things come together in my career.

First, I stopped doing work that wasn't going to lead to a job. I got a C in Victorian Literature, a D in Film and Literature, an A in modern literature only because I plagiarized from the New York Times Book Review.

Meanwhile, I taught myself HTML before people knew what the Internet was. I presented a paper at the Dartmouth Technology Conference while my fellow English grad students were writing novels.

I left grad school a month before it ended. I just left. Went back to Los Angles.

I was the thinnest I have ever been in my life because I had no money for food. People worried about me and brought me leftovers. I ate them. This was happening when you had to send out resumes on thick, expensive white paper, and I used food money for postage.

I got an interview 50 miles from where I lived. I borrowed a friend's car and got the job.

I was hired to run the whole Internet for a Fortune 500 company, Ingram Micro. My job was to enforce the AP Style guide even though I'd never read it. I was in charge of the web development team even though I didn't know anything about development besides the HTML pages I wrote in grad school.

I gave myself a graduate course in Internet. And a graduate course in copy writing. And a graduate course in management. I read books. I read magazines. I tried stuff out and took way too long and then tried it again.

I worked 15 hour days, and I felt like I was a student. I was learning all the time.

So it's logical to me that this is what everyone should do. Find a foot in a door and then start learning everything you can to open that door wider.

I got fired for having sixteen non-work projects on my work computer. At the time I was horrified. Now I think it was the inevitable result of me taking control over my own education.

If you are thinking of going to graduate school, you need to understand that the process of discovering what value you bring to the adult world is a very hard process to endure. Because you are probably smart, and you like to learn, and most jobs are not about paying you to learn. You have to create that for yourself.

The best thing I did is that I kept my learning curve very high even outside of school. I saw where the opportunities were, and I started learning in that area, trying to figure out where I fit.

So look. Brazen Careerist has a Social Media Bootcamp. Everyone who is thinking of going to grad school should take the course. It's $245, which is nothing—nothing—compared to grad school loans. And the course can show you a way out. The Bootcamp is about possibilities. A course cannot answer your big life questions for you. But it can show you that you have more options than you think you do.

If you are thinking of going to grad school, it’s because you don’t like the choices you see in front of you. Maybe nothing gets you excited. But you can use social media to bridge the type of learning you loved to do in school with the type of learning you can get paid to do. And you can use social media to see how to make jobs for yourself that get you excited.

It might seem like a harder path to sign up for Social Media Bootcamp instead of getting a graduate degree. It seems harder because you won’t have someone’s stamp of approval. But credentials don't get the job. Experience does. So, in fact, Social Media Bootcamp is the path of least resistance. Your safety net is not a degree, but practice learning new ideas on your own and implementing them. So you know you can do that again and again.

Life should be a process of learning and doing, learning and doing. Grad school is all learning. It's an imbalance that is not fair to you, and not right for you. Create your own grad school. Open your own doors. Sign up right now.

[Note: The bootcamp registration has passed. But so many people have asked me about signing up that I am offering a one-hour bootcamp alternative. Email me for details:]

126 replies
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  1. Nella
    Nella says:

    “I took the GRE and scored in the bottom 20th percentile in quantitative reasoning, which got me into an English master's program.”


  2. Lisa
    Lisa says:

    Penelope, you are so right. Many people go to graduate school after college because it looks familiar. People, when lost, look for the familiar. In fact the most learning happens right on the edge between new and completely impossible. Which is the territory of jobs.

    • Job Space
      Job Space says:

      Depending on the job, some job requirements; experience is more important than education. The world has changed more in the last 10 years, than the previous 50 years.

  3. Michael Aumock
    Michael Aumock says:

    As an un-degreed (non-degreed?)professional who blew off a college scholarship and has accepted the position of president of an international real estate company, I applaud this. I applaud you, Penelope. In my not-too-humble opinion, you have made “calling it like I see it” an art form.

  4. Andrew
    Andrew says:

    I’ve been following your arguments on this for a while and having gone through grad school myself it pains me to have to agree with you.

    Grad school cost me about $80,000 and I now make 30% less three years later than I did going in! From the experience of my peers also, grad school rarely results in a career jump. The story we spin now is that it’s a long term investment (i.e. a long term right down)

    I would say to anyone thinking about this route – take a month off and read read read. then get back to work! This quote is so true.

    “If you are thinking of going to graduate school, you need to understand that the process of discovering what value you bring to the adult world is a very hard process to endure. Because you are probably smart, and you like to learn, and most jobs are not about paying you to learn. You have to create that for yourself.”

    • Steve C
      Steve C says:

      Or you could have bought a house, and been way worse off than three years ago too. Or maybe bought that hot stock just before a crash. Who would have thought that we would have a political war going on in which one part is ready to destroy the country to unseat a president? Or that Apple would ship all of it’s assembly work to China? These are things that can’t be controlled, no matter where or when you went to graduate school. Graduate school is a long term investment, and should never be judged on it’s short term return on investment.

  5. Harriet May
    Harriet May says:

    That’s what I like about my job. I am in elearning and I know nothing about education or technology, except for what everyone who has been through school and used a computer instinctively knows. Which is mostly that the US education system sucks and computers both solve and create a lot of problems. So I spend my days learning about academic analytics and writing a company blog on it. Then I tell the developers what I want them to do based on what I learned. And sometimes they say, “how did you come up with that??” which of course makes me feel really smart.

    • Steve C
      Steve C says:

      I’m also interested in e-learning. One son will be doing on-line school this year so he can be in “school” while playing a non-school affiliated sport in another state. I’d love to know what company you work for. It sounds like a company that has it’s feet on the ground. Have you ever checked out Khan Academy? I love his(their) stuff.

  6. Alice
    Alice says:


    I read your column regularly and I want to thank you for writing this latest post. I’ve been at an impasse with my current job and considering Grad School but you make a lot of sense in that it is a whole lot of $ for nothing. I have an outside of work interest that does get me excited and I just don’t know how to make that interest into a career. And yes, I’m one of those scared individuals that lets the “what ifs” and “I’m not good enough” get in the way. I have to remind myself that change is supposed to be uncomfortable and that’s the only way I’ll be able to recognize my options. I think this Bootcamp will get me going in the right direction.

  7. Dave Stokley
    Dave Stokley says:

    No question that experience is way more valuable. While in law school I learned way more in summer internships and doing odd-job research for attorneys than I did in law school. I also learned that I didn’t want to be a lawyer, the hard and expensive way.

    Perhaps this is the strongest argument in favor of skipping grad school and just going out and doing it: you learn what you like to do and what you’re good at, instead of paying for a piece of paper that says you can do something that you don’t even know if you’ll like or be good at.

    • redrock
      redrock says:

      it is advisable to check out what you like to do before applying to grad school. And to check out the university and the program and maybe talk to students beforehand. That way you will actually know what you are getting into and not receive a meaningless piece of paper. Why the contempt about grad school?

  8. Will L.
    Will L. says:

    Thanks again for telling it like it is, Penelope. I’m already signed up for the Bootcamp, and I’m looking forward to see where it can lead!

  9. Jay
    Jay says:

    Brilliant! The “grad school is awful” post followed by the sales pitch. I’m wondering, is the module on self-interest included in the price, or does that one cost extra?

    • Johanna
      Johanna says:

      I have to agree with this commenter, Penelope. I love your blog, but this post in particular is in poor taste. Your webinar isn’t the solution to not going to grad school. Regardless of how wonderful it may indeed be, you’re doing your young readers a disservice by oversimplifying.

      And now that I’m posting instead of lurking – you’re underestimating the value of the channel in grad school. I have a Kellogg MBA, and while I didn’t learn much in classes (you are right about many things), there is no way I would have been exposed to the amount and variety of recruiters in different industries and functions. This was vital since I was a career-switcher, and honestly, the experience was well-worth both the price of school and associated opportunity costs from time-off.

      In addition, some career paths require diplomas in specific fields; for instance, if someone is called to be a researcher, learning “on the job” isn’t going to work as that person will never get hired without the right credentials.

      Lastly, while you’re correct about humanities professors’ difficulties in finding jobs, business school faculty have a much easier time of it.

      At any rate – I’m a huge fan of your blog. I just wish that you’d treat this topic with the same balance and objectivity with which you treat other topics on your blog. We’ll still read it, you know, even if you’re not writing inflammatory headlines,… : )

      • Anonymous
        Anonymous says:

        “I have a Kellogg MBA, and while I didn’t learn much in classes (you are right about many things), there is no way I would have been exposed to the amount and variety of recruiters in different industries and functions.”
        kellog is a top 10 MBA program right? What about the other three dozen mba programs.. you think they are going to be expose to oceans of top recruiters.. or just a lot of debt and third tier positions?

      • Lauren
        Lauren says:

        Sorry, I agree, too. You can say grad school isn’t worth it in the long run, but please don’t say that a webinar your company is offering is a better substitute. I agree that you won’t learn $60k or $80k worth of information in grad school, but what I did get from grad school was a solid network of peers in my field in pretty high places. For me grad school was all about who I met there, and that made it worth it.

  10. dl
    dl says:

    I regularly read your blog just to keep up with things. I’m in my early 50’s and even though I’ve been working almost 20 years, because I went to school later and started my current field later, I still feel like a newcomer. Hey, that’s okay because I love my job and want to work till I’m a hundred!

    So that’s the advice I’d like to see more of from you. Today’s post was great since I won’t be going to grad school (I’ve signed up for the Bootcamp, by the way). I’d like to see more career advice for us oldsters who plan to keep working. How can we adapt today’s techniques to our age group? What fields should we target our skills to? What markets are receptive to social media from a 50-year-old? Things like that.

    Many of your followers are your age and older – I think you should start another blog targeted to us.

    • Steve C
      Steve C says:

      DL. I think you are going to be disappointed if you expect to get “older worker” career advice from Penelope, but I’d love to hear it. Penelope’s real target audience is the twenty-somethings. You can tell them practically anything and they’ll buy it.
      In this economy and age, if you are an older worker(45+) and are not well-connected and secure financially AND career-wise, you are part of the new “Ice-Flow” population.
      I’m surprised most of the people reading the 1st “death to grad school” post didn’t realize that the bulk of it is just made up stuff to increase traffic.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      The advice for “older” workers is the same. I mean, it’s the same workplace, it’s the same economy, older and younger people are competing for the same jobs. It’s the same interview process. The best advice I could give older people is to not think you need special advice.

      The workplace does not value more than 15 years of experience anyway. Here’s the post about that.

      So there are no special rules for people with 20 years of experience except don’t expect to be paid more because of that experience.

      Also, if you are older, do not be so arrogant to think that you want different things than a younger person. If only age made us wiser or something. But really, we all want meaningful, challenging work with interesting, engaged co-workers. We all want to be paid enough to have a good life and we want time enough to have that life.

      We all want the same thing, no matter what our age. So we can stop pretending there is advice for old people and advice for young people.


      • Steve C
        Steve C says:

        Well, I think you make some nice points here, especially in the sense that older and younger workers want the same things, a living wage, a sense of belonging and purpose, among others; but I disagree the older and younger workers face the same job market. In the overall sense of booms and recessions maybe, yes. But at the nuts and bolts level of getting past the gatekeepers to even hit the interview stage, I don’t think so. This is why some say to drop the chronological resume format in favor of a functional one where dates are not shown. My opinion is that both formats raise red flags for any HR person looking for a given age range. Those resumes head straight to the shredder.
        It kind of makes me think of the concept of perfect competition and capitalism. You can assume that the system is perfectly competitive, but the truth is that many of the players are trying to game the system, all the time. And many are successful. Look at China. It’s not perfect competition.
        I think it is naive to suggest that older workers are viewed with the same lens that younger workers are. And I also don’t think that older workers expect special treatment. Maybe if they already have some seniority in a workplace, yes, but not if they are out there looking for work. If they have any expectations, I think it is that they expect that age and experience would count for something, rather than being a handicap. They just want a level playing field.
        But if you are out there seeking employment, I think you need to try to find out which industries actually value older workers, or at the least don’t discount them. To me, that’s the challenge. Probably taking some community college or continuing education classes wouldn’t hurt either, especially in the technology areas. And then kick ass in those classes, go for letter grades, not pass/fail certificates.
        Oh yeah, and avoid all job postings that include the word “rockstar” in the job description.

  11. Lisa
    Lisa says:

    "But credentials don't get the job. Experience does."
    I totally disagree with this statement. I have an associate degree. I started on a bachelor degree but there was never a degree program I wanted to stick with so I worked full time. I have ten years of experience in my field. I am no longer entry-level due to my experience. However, I don't have a degree so employers skip over me when it comes to management positions even mid-level positions. I can completely relate to your statement, "Every job interview I went on seemed stupid: An incredible combination of not enough money to live on and a job description that was one step up from slave." Perhaps, I am not marketing myself correctly.

    • Steve C
      Steve C says:

      Lisa. Now you know why so many people return to college to complete degrees or go to grad school: They get tired of bumping into the glass ceiling and watching others with no more skills and qualifications, other than a degree, move up the ladder. It’s probably the number one reason for people leaving the workforce and returning to school. Even though you have an Associates already, my advice is that you should look into community college or on-line classes. Community Colleges are one of the great resources this country still has that are pretty accessible to almost everyone. And they are loaded with great job related programs. It may be difficult to find one with a 4 year degree program, but many courses are transferable to local state colleges and most CC’s have articulation agreements with those schools. They’re a great place to retool and you will probably be in classes with a lot of people in the same position you are in.

  12. Margaret Goerig
    Margaret Goerig says:

    When I took this past year off to travel the continent and write, funding it with savings that I had always thought I would use on grad school, my parents kind of flipped. I was 29 when I told them what I was doing and they had a reaction I would have expected half my life ago. I told them that it was my alternative to grad school and the answer was: “At least at the end of grad school, you have a degree.” I tried but couldn’t explain that I was going to be getting life experience that no degree would ever bring me and while I did exactly what I had planned to do, I spent the first six months silently freaking out that I wasn’t doing it right, that I was going to fail, that I wouldn’t get a book published, that my blog wasn’t being read, and so on and so forth until I finally came to the realization that none of that mattered and that if I didn’t start taking the entire experience for what it was, good and bad, it would be a waste of time and money for sure, but that if I stopped dwelling on success vs. failure, which is so arbitrary anyhow, and if I stopped worrying about what others thought and if I stopped measuring everything in stats and comments and followers, I would, if nothing else, have a better time. After that is when I started actually getting something out of what I was doing and it’s when I started making my best observations about life around me. Now the trip is finished and I don’t have a book yet; it’s true. What I do have, however, is the courage to try new things and to not worry so much about what will happen if they don’t go as you planned, because really: what ever goes as you planned? Brushing your teeth, I suppose.

    Maybe I would have had that realization in grad school but I am pretty sure I wouldn’t have, because in grad school, I would have had a syllabus telling me what to do and each success would have been measured in semester hours and grades, so essentially, I would have been learning the same lessons about applying yourself that I had learned all growing up in school, plus some extra subject-based knowledge. I spent most of my life thinking I knew what it meant to take a chance on something and then I also thought that two years in Mexico had taught me something about taking it in stride when things go unexpectedly, but until I found myself on the side of the highway with some truckers, because my wheels had just flown off and started a brush fire, and until I was halfway up the side of a mountain and stuck, relying on the kindness of a stranger to get me down again, and until I was living out of my car at a trailer park and making phone calls around town just to get a shower, I did not understand what it meant to really take a risk, nor did I totally get that whole thing about things not going according to script.

    So, yes, Penelope, you are right that grad school is not the only way and you are also right that it’s hard as hell to grasp that, because you don’t have someone’s stamp of approval, and if someone can get past the mind block to realizing those two things, it’s absolutely, motherfucking fantastic.

    I guess what I struggle with, though, is saying that what I did is what everyone should do. We all learn different lessons in different ways, just as you did with your own experiences in and out of school. Some people learn about being vulnerable just from letting themselves fall in love. I learned it from not having a home, or even a hometown, for a year. That doesn’t make one way better or worse.

    • Steve C
      Steve C says:

      Maragaret. I love this comment. It is so easy to forget that life should be a journey, not a destination; especially when the current destination sucks, or didn’t meet expectations.
      Success and failure are so arbitrary and subjective, especially if one is overly concerned with what others think, or have done. If we go through life constantly comparing our condition to others’, we are doomed to vacillate between envy or conceit.

      • Margaret Goerig
        Margaret Goerig says:

        Thanks for taking the time to read it, Steve. And yeah, though I hate to admit it, because it kind of reminds me of a coffee cup saying, life really is about the journey. The destination is important, too, but I think the trip itself gets overlooked far too often.

  13. Lori
    Lori says:

    “Life should be a process of learning and doing, learning and doing. Grad school is all learning.”

    So true. Every person I know says that they learned everything working and nothing at school. Every single one.

    • ChrisD
      ChrisD says:

      That is patent nonsense. I hope your MDs learned something at school. I certainly learned not to make broad unsupportable statements.

      • MDee
        MDee says:

        “That is patent nonsense. I hope your MDs learned something at school. I certainly learned not to make broad unsupportable statements.”

        You’d be surprised. The majority of what MDs learn re: actual practice/treating patients occurs during residency. If you’re not familiar with residency, you’re paid (poorly) and you’re most definitely working (sometimes 80 hours a week – the ACGME imposed limit).

      • MDee2
        MDee2 says:

        Your point that MD’s learn most of what they know in residency is incorrect. The basics are learned in grad school, then how those basics are applied is learned in residency.

        Also, and more to the point, you can’t get into residency -without- the gradschool (doctoral) dgree. So again, your argument is specious.

  14. Sam
    Sam says:

    Except that this is not what people do most of their time in grad school if we measure the “productive” time that is spent working towards your degree. Sure, you need to know what is known in the field already and that requires reading, but most of the time you are trying to create new knowledge. This new knowledge comes either from well chosen (or not so well chosen) experiments and tons of preparation or post-processing of the data or just plain hard thinking.

    What am I basing such an outrageous statement on? Talking to both professors and PhD students about their daytime job. How many did I talk to? Lets say 100, with high end schools being Harvard/Yale and Cambridge/Oxford.

    • Steve C
      Steve C says:

      Nice to see a post that gives the basic explanation for why post-graduate school really exists. Unfortunately, as has been pointed out by many other posters, the corporate world has bastardized much of the system by trying to minimize their hiring risk, and doing it on someone else’s dime. Of course, they are supposed to be profit maximizers after all, so I guess we can’t really blame them. But a lot of what Penelope has been trying to tap into here is caused just by that phenomenon.

  15. Sabrina
    Sabrina says:

    This post speaks to my soul. I know I’m lost and not trusting myself when I’m thinking about graduate school.

    My first job out of college my boss asked me if I could lead the redesign of the organization’s website. I lied and said I could, then rushed home and signed up for a web design course at the community college that totally changed my life for the better. That single course and the world it opened for me was more valuable than all my undergraduate classes. Oh, and the skillset helped me paydown my undergrad loans. That was icing (growing at 4.5% interest rate)

    I try to remember that moment of chutzpah when I’m lost, frustrated and unsure of myself. Maybe we all could give ourselves some credit; and the next time you’re seeking validation or pedigree remember when you pushed yourself into something over your head, forced yourself to rise to the occasion and was better for it.

    • Steve C
      Steve C says:

      You think you lied, but you didn’t, really. Right? You got the job done. The ability was there inside all along. You just had to lose the fear of failure and take the leap, realize your potential. And you did it. That’s uplifting. You can do it again I’ll bet.

  16. David
    David says:


    I agree to some extent with your point, but feel like it is really directed more at 22 year olds who are just entering the workforce.

    I am thinking about Grad School – as someone who has been successful as a manager for 10 years already. Not because I think it will somehow be a magic pill for my career – I drive my own career path and think that self-education is a better way – but because I think it will continue to increase my options and potentially provide me with opportunities which I would otherwise not have.

    I wonder if you feel the same for people like me, who aren’t using grad school as an excuse to delay being a grown up, but are consciously choosing it as part of a cost vs reward approach to our careers?

    • David
      David says:

      Also – your new comment layout kind of sucks. Get some containers around these comments so I can tell which author is associated with which comment, and where the replies that are not indented well fall. Since I am posting, I figured I would throw in my .02

  17. Jessica
    Jessica says:

    I love this grad school series. Also because I am a grad student, and I even feel like it’s pointless. Although I’m not in grad school to get a degree. I’m here to network, to try to get a job when I’m finished, and for immigration purposes. For me, this is necessary because I’m doing grad school abroad, and I don’t speak the dominant language. I came here to be with my partner, but I still want a career. Finding a job was near impossible due to labor laws, and grad school was the easiest way for me to network in this country without knowing the language. So, even though I find my courses pointless, and don’t feel like I’m learning a lot, I’m not going into debt to be here (tuition is free!) and I use grad school to access networks to hopefully land good internships and then a job. I know my biggest road block is the language, which I’m learning and know I need to focus more on. Your articles are really helping me to reflect. Thank you so much!

      • Pen
        Pen says:

        It sounds like she may a US or Canadian citizen who is in graduate school abroad (vs. going to tuition-free grad school in the US, for example).

      • Jessica
        Jessica says:

        Yes, Pen is right. I’m an American studying abroad in western Europe. My tuition is free even though I’m not an EU citizen. Which is SAH-WEET! If you research graduate programs in the EU, you are bound to find something.

        • Vania
          Vania says:

          Jessica, i’m currently researching free (or reasonably priced) graduate programs in western Europe. I also don’t have EU citizenship and, as far as i’ve been able to research, the only countries that still offer free study to intl./non-EU students are Norway and Finland since many countries have started implementing fees to international students. My question to you is which country you are currently studying in, or if you were able to bypass tuition via a scholarship of some sort?? Your experience and advice in this matter would be of great value to me=) You can reply to me at if you’d prefer, thank you!!

      • Anna
        Anna says:

        It works the other way as well, e.g.: Tuition is free in Denmark, plus students receive a state grant to cover living costs while they study. The grant follows the student if he/she studies abroad, and since last year or so the state also funds part of the overseas tuition fee (recognised universities only) for students abroad. So Danes can study cheaply in the US and have their living costs covered.

        I think the other Scandinavian countries run similar models for education, but I am not sure.

        Until recently, international students did not have to pay tuition in Denmark either based on the principle that education should be free for everybody, Danes or not. That nice arrangement was a bit too popular, so it had to stop. However, I think there is still plenty of opportunity to get a quality education in Denmark or another European country, much cheaper than in the US.

        And I also think European education is better than American education. I think there is a lot of status pitch and hot air in the American educational system because it is so expensive, so the piece of paper is a status symbol … just guessing. Anyway, this blog does not leave a flattering impression of the quality of US grad school.

  18. -k-
    -k- says:

    I love the two-post marketing scheme. It lets the people who were never going to go to grad school feel superior and validates the ones who didn’t get in, decided to leave, or made poor logistical decisions (people taking out ~$100,000 loans for a PhD shows that intelligence isn’t the determining factor when it comes to grad school) and we all know about buttering people up before asking for their money. People who did go, know why they went, and were smart about it aren’t really worried about your approval anyway, so in the context of these posts, who really cares what they think?

    What’s cool about this is that if you step back and look at it, it’s about different kinds of brains and values, and ‘know thyself’. You don’t have grad school brains (again, NOT a measure of raw intelligence, but things like capacity for nuance play into this), but you know the kind of brains you have and capitalize on that (in this case, shrewd analysis of the things that make your audience dance like puppets on a freaking string).

  19. Lily
    Lily says:

    This two-post infomercial was not very elegant.
    The ones for the matress & handbags were def. more subtle.

    • GingerR
      GingerR says:

      I thought it was pretty good. I didn’t see it coming.

      However, I think biting the bullet and getting a job is the best solution. Job = money-in. Social Media Bootcamp = money-out.

  20. Greg
    Greg says:

    So, what you’re saying is, you had no job skills, no work history other than volley ball and graduate school, and you landed a job running a website for a fortune 500 company!

    Yet, you attribute none of this amazing success to the fact that you were given the opportunity to present at a Dartmouth conference?

    Do you really think that a fortune 500 company is going to hire a C student who never went to a graduate school for English the job of enforcing AP style guidelines? Most graduates from college are lucky if they can get a job in data entry.

  21. SV
    SV says:

    Wow, this seems just a bit too well-timed for me…..a bootcamp just in time to be presented as an alternative…

    I think I should now start taking posts here with a pinch of salt…upfront or otherwise, there seems to be some pitch happening….
    Sad to see this go this way…but hey, am surely in the minority, so doesnt matter!!!

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      Newsflash: There’s a pitch in almost every post on this blog.

      For example, every book I have linked to in the last two years has had an Amazon affiliate tag attached to the link.

      Another example: every time I link to someone’s blog from my blog, they are my friend for life, because they are so happy to get so much traffic. So that is sort of like an ad, too. Because, after all, a friend for life is worth way more than anything I could sell you for cash.

      You know what I think, though? That you are smart enough to read the post and figure out for yourself if you agree with what I’m saying or not. You don’t need to know if I’m getting paid to say it. You need to know if it is interesting to read.

      If a blog doesn’t make you think, you shouldn’t read it. And if something makes you think in a new way – even if it’s a TV commercial — you are probably a better person for exposing yourself to it.


      • Anna
        Anna says:

        You don’t need to know if I’m getting paid to say it.

        When I take advice from someone, then I need to know whether the person is being paid to sell me something, or if the advice is ‘neutral’ and take into account my interests only.

        When reading this post and the previous post that recommends the ‘Social Media Bootcamp’, it is obvious that marketing the seminar is high on the agenda. To nurture a fierce aversion against grad school (presenting the seminar as a better alternative) definitely push towards that objective. In comparison with grad school, $275 for an online seminar seems very cheap.

        However, what you can learn in a social media seminar, you can find for free in a multitude of places on the Internet (and sometimes good social media seminars are offered for free by Chambers of Commerce … if not in the US, then look overseas). Social media learning tends to be free and does not present a massive amount of complicated theory which requires painfully strong self discipline to get through… like a postgraduate degree does. So the cost comparison is a trick … the cost of the seminar should be compared to finding free information on your own, not to paying grad school fees.

        That doesn’t mean the discussion isn’t interesting. The marketing flash is quite obvious, so I just factor that in when I read the post. I hope everyone else is smart enough to do the same.

  22. Juana
    Juana says:

    Penelope, I really want to take the bootcamp course but is it amenable to a person who is deaf? Would I be able to obtain transcripts for everything?

    • Whitney Parker
      Whitney Parker says:

      Hi Juana: Yes, All of the online conference sessions will be transcribed withing 72 hours, the Q&A phone calls will be transcribed and posted within 72 hours, as well as any videos we produces for the course will have a transcription available when we post it. If for any reason you find material inaccessible to you, please let us know and we will do our best to help and accommodate you! If you still want to register, I’ve extended the registration period for another 24 hours here: Cheers, Whitney

      • Juana
        Juana says:

        Whitney: Looks like I was too late to sign up but I did sign up for course materials after bootcamp ends so I’ll go that route. Thanks!

  23. BD
    BD says:

    You’ll appreciate this–as a fellow former Ingram associate. I earned my MBA (and got it paid for) while working for one of the Ingram brothers’ companies–and then left immediately after I graduated to work for another Ingram brother/company. Small world. I have to admit that I didn’t really learn much business in business school compared to what I had/have learned by working…but it did open doors for me and exposed me to opportunities that I wouldn’t have had otherwise. One of which was an opportunity to teach undergrads (all of whom I advised to go to work for at least three years before even considering grad school).

  24. Catherine
    Catherine says:

    I have to respectfully say that I disagree with some of the assumptions you have made in this discussion of grad school after college. Are you open to thinking about it a little differently? (instead of assuming that everyone’s experience is similar to yours?)

    I think the best reason to go to grad school is that you get to take different courses or specialize in something that may be interesting to you for a career – all in a more focused environment (no football games, Greek parties, messing around, etc). While doing this, you get to grow up a little bit, become more mature and more focused yourself. Not only did my subject matter (Industrial & Labor Relations) impress the hell out of people who interviewed me, I was exposed to some good learning in how to view organizational development….KEY to my work in being part of organizations, starting 2 companies, etc.

    To be fair, what I think it doesn’t teach you ….is how to be an effective and outstanding member of a team….which is what everyone is asked to do in his/her first 5-10 years. For that, I think exposure to great mentors and outside professional development (like I did with Vistage) is a real gift to becoming an effective business professional. (I can state that we a good bit of certainty as I have been coaching CEOs/Pres of companies now for 8 years and you can’t believe how many of them really need it – do not seem to know how some of their leadership hold them back…to both greater success and, I think, happiness. I think what is key here is that to “become”, you need to be a lifelong learner (lots of more possible discussion there).

  25. hispanic professional networking
    hispanic professional networking says:

    I have to say, degrees are the most important thing to have to start your young life carreer, now in this days without a college diploma chances are that you wont get a high payed job and end up working in a retail store or something similar.

  26. u4112342
    u4112342 says:

    Penelope, I love your blog but please stop using it as a marketing tool (use your website for that or use the side panel). You are undermining your integrity and insulting our intelligence by doing otherwise. Most people here are dedicated blog readers and so if we wanted to sign up, we would. The ones who won’t sign up will just start getting pissed off at the shameless sales techniques and stop reading.

  27. primo
    primo says:

    Yes life should be a process of learning and doing, learning and doing. And having a degree aside from your college will give you a more competitive edge in the corporate world. Whether you have found a job yet, are looking for a new job, or hope for a promotion, and it can give you the added credentials to your resume that may help it rise to the top.

  28. Chloe
    Chloe says:

    People are funny. I suppose they want you to write your little heart out everyday for our entertainment, but don’t clutter up our mind candy feed with your little marketing schemes, okay?

    I’m an L&D RN who was looking at graduate school in nursing a year ago because I just can’t imagine being a bedside RN for another 20 years.

    The two tracks for nurses are Hospital Administration, but that’s impossible because I’d have to swallow too much kool-aid to even consider doing THAT for a career, or Nursing Education. If I spent $20K for a graduate degree in nursing education I can expect to earn about $20K LESS a year than I do now as a bedside nurse and have to work a lot more hours. Not much incentive for that, is there?

    So now I’m blogging full-time in addition to working full-time as an RN. The hours are terrible, the pay is nil, but at least I’m doing what I like for now. I have no idea what else an RN can do in this economy and still make this wage. So for now I blog because I don’t know what else to do. But if I ever find anything to sell on my blog I hope people will understand that I have to eat too and won’t rake me over the coals for it.

  29. Steve C
    Steve C says:

    Necessity is the mother of invention. And it is way more fun to learn while you are getting paid to do it. I think it helps to motivate as well.

  30. Liane
    Liane says:

    Some people are upset with this and yesterday’s post, claiming Penelope doesn’t know what she is tlaking about. However, just today on CNN they ran a piece on this very notion that college in general may be a waste of money for many people – low return on investment, don’t have the skills needed despite the piece of paper, unaffordable, no jobs in areas chosen…

    An idea being explored? get the knowledge and experience by doing. Hmmm…where have we heard that idea before?

    Penelope, some people don’t get you but the many of us who do respect your experience, insight, honesty, openness, intelligence and humor! Thank you!

    • Steve C
      Steve C says:

      Apprenticeships, and especially internships are very valuable programs. The trouble with apprenticeships is they usually cost the business money. One way or another, somebody has to pay, even it is in foregone earnings while interning.

  31. Anna
    Anna says:

    The photo with the farmer cutting the grass in top of the post is a good illustration of why and why not education is useful. True, you don’t learn doing the job in school. You only learn it when you sit in the tractor and do it.

    However, people who have only practical know how tend to do things in a specific, repetitive way ‘because it has always be done like that’ and not consider long term risks and impacts that they can’t see, because they don’t believe that things they can’t see are real. They are often good at going about the daily chores but can’t see the bigger context they take part in, and so may take small decisions that put them at odds with big social trends/concerns (like animal welfare or concerns about pesticides and N surplus drain into water resources) or be ignorant of marketing opportunities (I think Penelopes brings a lot of inspiration to the farm in that regard, plus great marketing via the blog).

    The Danish Skilled Farmer’s Certificate consists of modules: 1A) 2 months school + 12 months of work, 1B) 4 months of school + 18 months of work, and 2) 6 months of school.

    The contract jobs in the work periods are normal jobs with normal salary, but must live up to standards in terms of variety (plants + animals) and learning progress, and the employer has to be certified (most farmers are, unless they have been banned from the system) and tick off task types as the ‘student’ learn them.

    Such a mix of theory and practice is perfect… it should be applied to any education.

  32. Courtney
    Courtney says:

    I’ve been a long time fan since seeing you at a PRSSA conference in Boston. I regularly read your blog, usually even putting time aside so I can focus while reading, and I completely agree with your thoughts on grad school. After not getting into my top choice I thought it was the end of the world, then I realized I would be wasting money learning about something I don’t want to do. Not to mention I would be paying to create a network when I do that for free already.

    The reason I wanted to comment (normally I’m a silent reader)- I really did enjoy this post, I thought it brought up some great points about grad school and really made me agree with my decision (even though I’m currently going back and forth while watching all of my friends head off to new schools). The only complaint I had was how pushy you got with the social media bootcamp. I get it, you want to push it, you want people to do it and the deadline is approaching. But the way you presented it was how most people present grad school in this: Grad school or death kind of way.

    Anyway, I really do enjoy your writing and advice. Keep up the amazing thoughts.


  33. Senior IT Mgr
    Senior IT Mgr says:

    I manage 50+ software professionals. My best people do not have four year degrees. What they do have is a high level of energy, ability to learn on the job, and common sense. They also try harder before quitting.

    IMHO, many people are better off getting an industry certificate, ie CCNA or Oracle Certified DBA, then getting an entry level job then working their way up, rather than going to college.

    I do have two people with Master’s Degrees. One is an MFA and the other is an EE with a PE. I look to them to do the high level brain work, ie requiring very good logical thinking of an original nature. Unfortunately, they get paid just a little bit more and still have student loans the others do not.

    The MFA and EE do have excellent written communication skills, but they probably had that prior to college.

  34. tyler
    tyler says:

    Ok, since people like “calling it what it is”, here it goes.

    1) “learning it on the job” instead of in grad school only works for basket-weaving degrees like History, Literature, Education, Web page design, etc. Does not work for Electrical Engineering, Mechanical Engineering, Aerospace Engineering, Computer Science, etc.

    2) If you are good, like me, you don’t pay for grad school, you get paid to go to grad school. Again, does not work for basket-weaving degrees, but does for the others. Note: if you score in the bottom 20% Quant. in the GRE, you are not good at all. Not even average. You are well below average and yes, you do not belong in grad school. In that case go to basket-weaving school and pay up, or get a job.

    • Mike Brendel
      Mike Brendel says:

      I support Tyler. Both of my graduate degrees (MSEE and MBA) were paid for by my employer.

      Believing that everything can be learned on the job or in an autodidactic fashion is the high-risk approach. One may learn something; certainly a great deal of scar tissue will be accumulated.

      Professionally, I work developing medical devices. We *all* have degrees, and the majority of us have graduate degrees.

    • Valerie Moore
      Valerie Moore says:

      The author of the article has Asperger Syndrome, which is why she scored the way she did on the GRE. I think it would have made sense for her to at least make a passing reference to that in order to help put the statement about the GRE score in a context that wouldn’t make her look the way she did to you – like someone who isn’t smart enough or didn’t work hard enough to make it to grad school – because she clearly is not an idiot.

      You have a point in that learning on the job doesn’t work for every profession. That’s undeniably true (imagine that happening in the medical field), although there is no field in which learning ends at graduation from school; there is always on-the-job learning.

      Finally, “soft” degrees like History, Anthropology, English, and the others you mentioned may not be engineering, but to call them “basket-weaving degrees” is insulting, period. 

  35. Jeff Cook
    Jeff Cook says:

    Another vast generalization based on limited personal experience. So help me understand…there’s no difference between grad school in a technical field or a masters program in English? My daughters at a large state university are both in science programs (Forestry and Elec Engineering) and both have professors telling them to definitely get at least a master’s and no, you should never have to pay for grad school. Maybe it depends on how smart you are to begin with. Maybe.

  36. willem
    willem says:

    Interesting how many miss the ontology of this post. I benefited from my spin through grad school, but that was nearly two decades ago when the quality of the professorate and institutional academics in general was not the morass of duplicity and ceremony one finds today.

    The postmodern anti-scholar appears to seek grad school for affirmation; for identity. It’s a Vo-Tech degree without any real materiality of skill or craft.

    If one wants the life of a corporate mule; if one wants the day-prison life of government employment — then one must have the institutional creds that certify the free thinking has been beaten out of you, and that you are prepared to submit, obey and assume the identity provided for you, whatever the degree of psychotic break required to conform to the arbitrary constructs of your superiors. And do they not need the most impressively credentialed inferiors to play monkey to their “superior”. Now THAT’s something they teach in grad school! Hell, that’s the entire paradigm of modern “education”.

    That’s also why we seldom here the term “scholarship” used in those lofty circles.

    But there are those who are unfit for such lofty institutionally-mandated obliterations of the soul. And what are they to do? And where are they to go?

    How does one exist is such a state? To see a picture of a tractor amidst its work and contemplate the engineering, the mechanics, the metallurgy, the harmonics… and then the dynamic metabolic systems that surround it, and the sensoral metaphor of the human senses and the infirmity of cognition that imputes the likeness of the image into thought.

    And that is less bizarre than the mythologies of concretization that masquerade as reality and “hard logic” in the self-serious workplace of today’s institutions and governments.

    Penelope’s advice is good. Go find your bliss. Your death is coming soon enough. If you are lucky, your life’s meaning will come from within. The magic of each day will touch you, and you will find gratitude and marvel in nearly all that you see.

    Devote yourself to scholarship and authenticity, and what promotion you deserve will come with the growth of your mastery in how you conduct each day. Immerse your life in a swamp of institutional sociopaths if you like. That would reduce me, but another might prosper and perhaps heal the pathology that grips that particular workplace.

    I am getting old. Many of you posting here are merely getting not so young anymore. It’s best you learn to take good measure of yourself. We must master that. Avoid the choices in life that reduce you. Embrace the mitzvah that greets you every day; the mitzvah most will ignore.

    But realize, the universities of today have mostly gone septic. They are riven with insider dealing, duplicity, mediocrity, and the academic equivalents of serial racketeering and fraud. This is the crisis of our modern corporations be they government, non-profit, philanthropic or publicly-traded.

    If you see your bliss on the other side of that swamp, then go for it. For real.

    Either way, you pay with your life. You are the primal trustee of you life. How many today hide from that by attempting to preside over the liberties of others as authoritarian-in-chief.

    Don’t squander what life you have left by pretending for others just so you can more frequently strike a favorite flattering pose of “I am better than you because.”

    And that social networking plug looks worthy. I may yet spot for that tuition.

    Kudos for the honest ask. I hope you make a bundle.

    • Steve C
      Steve C says:

      “then one must have the institutional creds that certify the free thinking has been beaten out of you, and that you are prepared to submit, obey and assume the identity provided for you, whatever the degree of psychotic break required to conform to the arbitrary constructs of your superiors.”
      I really think that everyone should read this statement twice. I love it. It defines our education system today. It also explains part of why a bachelors degree is the new HS diploma, and the masters is the new Bachelors.

      Anyway, thanks for the comment. Nicely written.

    • MDee2
      MDee2 says:

      You are an idiot, despite your flowery language. All areas of life -have always been- filled with scoundrels and buffoons. This in no way invalidates the societal value of the credential which a grad degree represents. As such, that credential may have use, if one chooses to navigate paths which cannot be entered without such a ticket.

      It’s better to decide where you want to go, before you buy a ticket there, though. And this is a point which seems lost in this discussion.

      If you have no great drive to go one place or another, then sure, wandering around is a fine way to pass the time. But life is short. And those of us who are getting old, know only too well, that some paths will be closed to those who don’t get their ticket punched early enough in life to join the select cadre.

      Not everyone is selected, of course, and this is as it must be. There is a path for everyone, even those who are unable to stomach Academe.

      But to me, it seems particularly ill-advised, to take career earnings counseling from someone who is so demonstrably deficient in quantitative reasoning skills…

  37. PJ
    PJ says:

    Yes, jobs are not about learning and fulfillment like school. Read Megan Usted’s How to be Useful for a humorous take on that. Wish I read it 20 years ago!

    As a worker in higher ed, I see most people in grad school doing it because their biochem or school employer will give them a raise once they graduate. That’s reasonable. The history and anthro and Comm students? Lost…

  38. nazia21
    nazia21 says:

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  39. Steve C
    Steve C says:

    Honest, as I sit here commenting, CNN is running a segment on older adults returning to college to upgrade their job prospects. They just said 1 in 4 college students are over 30. I’m betting we are going to see a surge in older unemployed workers gong back to school. When things are this bad, it’s one the only things most adults will think of doing. Volunteering is nice, but it takes a lot of your time(no matter how much you have) and it doesn’t even have an implicit payoff, no matter how shakey that may be.
    When things are this bad in the economy, and they really are bad for a lot of people, upgrading your toolbox is the reaction of choice if it is in the realm of possibility.

  40. Tom H
    Tom H says:

    Instead of going to grad school, I took advantage of a curriculum offered in collaboration between my company and a an accredited university to provide a degree program in exactly what my company does. I’ve been working on this for two years and I am in my last class (of 12). I will finish with a second bachelor’s degree, and there’s no question it will help me in my career.

    Since my first degree was earned in a more traditional venue, I think I’m able to say that the state of distance education today is surprisingly competitive from a perspective of imparting information to students. I though it would be too easy to cheat, but frankly you have to spend the time doing your assignments, and there’s no way to cheat that unless you want to get your spouse to do it for you. There aren’t many tests, primarily because the quality of the student’s learning is apparent in the quality of their work.

    The idea that the most valuable education you can get is one that you’ll use is fundamental to making sound decisions about where you invest your limited resources.

  41. Jesse Mulert
    Jesse Mulert says:

    Psh. True, grad school deserves to be knocked from it’s cure-all pedestal, but “this thing I’m selling you” is hardly the best alternative. “Brazen” is apt indeed.

  42. ed
    ed says:

    Just came across this, and am getting tired of the cry babies. Ok, here it is; the hard truth. When you get a degree in NOTHING, and compound it by getting a masters in NOTHING, you get what sought—NOTHING! Get a degree in SOMETHING, a real skill. And be honest , you were partying at school while the electrical engineers and nursing students were studying. Your english, marketing, philosophy, literature, and history degrees are degrees in hobbies. I love history but realized a long time ago their were no jobs. 125K degree in agronomy (agriculture).

    • Steve C
      Steve C says:

      Ed. You may be right, but I think the real problem here is that Universities were never meant to be job training programs to begin with. And since the 50’s, maybe earlier, we have been obsessed with college degrees as an essential component of the “American Dream”.
      So people who have been going after degrees in “nothing” as you put it, have really just been brainwashed. I say it has been done primarily by corporations, but clearly there were other forces at work here as well.
      That said, we are where we are. If you don’t do the due diligence before you pull the trigger, the results you get are likely to be different than what you imagined they would be.

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