Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Grad School

“I’ve never been an advocate of people going back to school and incurring large amounts of educational debt just to have a degree. [...] I’m very interested in what the long term developments are going to be because I think that higher education has been resistant to really fundamental types of innovation and change for far too long. We’ve seen information technology sweep every other industry and raise productivity and raise the potential of what you can accomplish. I think that in higher ed, they’re still working off a 14th century model. It’s lecture classes and it’s seminars and it’s educational requirements that don’t necessarily match where the jobs are these days. So, I think that you’re going to see a lot more students and families re-evaluating the other options out there; whether that be online education, vocational programming, certification programs, or programs that are run by employers. I think it’s actually going to be a fantastic area of growth for the next decade and a half or so.”

- Anya Kamenetz

“People are going to grad school for stuff that has no bearing on the workplace. It’s not like we have more critical thinking because somebody knows the history of the little War of the Roses, right? And so, who cares? I don’t see any corporation placing a premium on any kind of graduate degree, except a top 25 business school degree. I mean most MBAs are from shitty schools so they don’t place a premium on that. Most law schools are shitty and people have to go into some other profession besides law because their degree is so bad. If you get a Masters in French and then try to get a marketing position, you’re penalized. You’re actually penalized because you look like you don’t have a clue about how to manage your life because you just spent four years learning French and you’re not using it. To me that just screams obsessive with details, scared to go out into the job market, and purposeless. I mean, I just don’t think anyone is placing a premium on graduate degrees.”

- Penelope Trunk

The reasons not to go to grad school:

  1. expensive: tuition, cost-of-living, and opportunity costs (5-7 years)
  2. less prestige than before
  3. because of budget deficits and recession, exit options declining if not totally gone—especially for those in the humanities
  4. not as much academic/intellectual freedom as one thinks; usually you have to research what is in demand to obtain grants and academic sponsorship; thus you may not even get to study/research what you wanted in the first place
  5. have to live like a student for 5-7 years—no thanks!

My proposal:

  1. instead of embarking on a eight-year investment that may not even pay off, take some time off and read and research independently or do it as a part-time hobby if you don’t have the financial resources; this way the only money you’re putting down is the opportunity cost of not working—no $40,000 annual tuition and massive debt load.
  2. the internet, the blog community,, online course syllabuses have made self-education a much more viable option than in the past.
  3. If after this evaluation phase, you still want to pursue grad school, then network and ask those already in your field for their input and get their take on whether grad school makes sense for you (do your due diligence before you are willing to put down a potential half a million dollar investment)
  4. If this WAS enough time to satisfy your academic curiosity and you can continue to do it part-time, jump into the private sector knowing you don’t have hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of debt and seven years you wasted sucking up to professors and writing a thesis with no market value and relevancy to most of the world.
  5. This is all not relevant if you are an undiscovered academic superstar or independently wealthy and/or well-connected.

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