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.” Read more

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.) Read more

Our neighbor, Kathy, called to tell us to come over for prom pictures.

We had no idea what she was talking about. I told Melissa I was too happy reading Little Bee in the sun. “But,” I said, “Kathy is so nice to us. One of us has to go. We have to be good neighbors.”

Melissa said, “Then you go.”

“Let’s do rock scissors paper.”

“No. You want to be a good neighbor, you go. And the lambs are so happy sitting in my lap. I don’t want to move them.”

“Take the lambs with you. They’ll like that.”

“In the car?”

“Yeah. Like dogs.”

Melissa goes. It seems like maybe this would be okay because when my sons walk over to Kathy’s house, the goats follow my sons, and Kathy invites the boys in for chocolate milk and anything else they find in her fridge, and the goats wait outside, like watch dogs who have a big appetite for grass.

We thought the lambs would do that. Maybe. Or wait in the car. I don’t know what we thought. But Melissa was back in five minutes.

“You have to come. You’re not going to believe it. The whole school is there. At Kathy’s.”

“Did you see Zach and Mitch?”

“Yeah. But you have to come.”

We pull up to the house, with the lambs in the car, and there is the senior class, in prom outfits, lining up for photos. We get out of the car and start searching for Zach and Mitch. The lambs follow us.

Mitch and Zach look so cute in their tuxes that match their dates’ dresses. We want to talk with them but the lambs start making noises because they are not close enough to Melissa, and they won’t shut up, and we really just need to get the lambs back into the car.

Days later, when we ask Mitch how was prom, he says, “People thought you guys were nuts wearing those hats.”

“What about the lambs?”

“The hats were more crazy.” Read more

My kids are Generation Z, born between 1995 and 2010. And I wonder: what can we see in those kids now that can tell us what they’ll be like later, at work?

As a history student in college (history of political thought, for all you fans of the Republic) and still an obsessive researcher of generational demographic trends (everyone should start with Strauss & Howe) I understand that to study history (contemporary or ancient), you must study generational shifts in thinking, because the way the generation thinks helps us to understand and explain historical action. And maybe predict future action.

So I think a lot about what Generation Z will be like. I have written before about what Generation Z will be like at work , but I’ve been thinking, recently, that the way Gen Z is educated will change the workplace when they enter it.

Baby boomers changed politics, Gen X changed family, Gen Y changed work, and Gen Z will change education. Here’s how the education of Gen Z will affect us at work. Read more

The idea of paying for a liberal arts education is over. It is elitist and a rip off and the Internet has democratized access to information and communication skills to the point that paying $30K a year to get them is insane.

Ben Casnocha has one of the most thorough, self-examined discussions about the value of college on his blog. He went to college, probably, because so many people told him to. (Here are some good links on Ben’s blog.)

Ben left college. Early. And he’s fascinating, and he’s educating himself through experience, which is what the Internet does not provide. The Internet provides books and discussion, so why would you need to go to school for those things?

Read more

The best writers in the history of the world are graduating from college, right now. So everyone can just shut up about how no one can write anymore.

Newsflash: No one could write in the Middle Ages, when the good writers wrote in Latin and everyone else spoke colloquial languages like French and English, which priests told them were too lame for real writing.

It's the same situation today in that the best way to have a population of good writers is for people to write constantly, in the language that is theirs, so that they are great at expressing themselves.

People do good writing every day, in social media—when they write a note on someone's Facebook wall, when they post a caption to a photo on flickr, or when they post a comment in a group on Brazen Careerist.

The people who are complaining that no one can write anymore are the same ones who are stressed about information overload. This is not a coincidence. Information is changing, the flow of ideas is changing, and written communication is changing with it. Information overload is the feeling of not being able to deal with this change. Young people do not feel information overload, which is another sign that they are excellent writers for the new millennium: They can process and communicate new ideas at the new pace. Read more

It used to be that the best post-college jobs were the ones that gave you a sense of security (law, medicine) or financial windfall (banking). But the finance industry and grad-school route are both dead ends at this point.

The New York Times reports that we're experiencing a sea change in the career department because the former favorites are no longer prestigious, and new choices, like teaching and government service, are rising in popularity. But, as college grads contemplate their options for June, and twenty-somethings watch pink slips fly, here's something to consider: The prestige job of the new millennium is waiting tables and folding shirts. That's right. If you are in your 20s, you should try retail. Here's why.

Retail enables an honest approach to adulthood
Emerging adulthood makes life in one's 20s more difficult than ever before in history. Being lost is important in terms of navigating to adulthood. And the most dangerous thing you can do in your 20s is try to get around the discomfort of being lost by over-committing to a career. You will change careers five times in your life. You will depend solely on yourself to build your own skill set and forge your own path. So give yourself time to figure out what's best for you.

Going to grad school burdens you with an amount of debt that severely limits your career choices. And it's a way to prolong childhood by continuing to have someone tell you what to learn and reward you for doing it. Read more

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

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

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

There is no other way to figure out where you belong than to make time to do it and give yourself space to fail, give yourself time to be lost. If you think you have to get it right the first time, you won’t have the space really to investigate, and you’ll convince yourself that something is right when it’s not. And then you’ll have a quarterlife crisis when you realize that you lied to yourself so you could feel stable instead of investigating. Here's how to avoid that outcome.

1. Take time to figure out what you love to do.

When I graduated from college, I was shocked to find out that I just spent 18 years getting an education and the only jobs offered to me sucked. Everything was some version of creating a new filing system for someone who is important.

Often bad situations bring on our most creative solutions. And this was one of those times: I asked myself, “What do I want to do most in the world, if I could do anything?” I decided it was to play volleyball, so I went to Los Angeles to figure out how to play on the professional beach circuit. Read more

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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