The Case Against Graduate School

Posted May 10, 2011 by Marcy Twete in Life After Five
One of my favorite career bloggers, Penelope Trunk from Brazen Careerist was recently a commentator on NPR on the subject of graduate school educations and namely, are they worth it? (Check out the full NPR recording from Penelope’s blog here.) Ms. Trunk listed a number of compelling reasons graduate school is not, in fact, a path to make you more money or give you more clout in your field. Unless, of course, you want to be a specific type of doctor, psychologist, etc. But in general, the topic pertains to those who want to earn a graduate degree to further their current career.

This topic led me to tell my readers about my reasoning for choosing to forgo graduate school (at least for now):

  • The Cost: Anyone who says they’re 100% comfortable with taking on $50,000-100,000+ in debt to get an advanced degree is out of their mind. Anyone who goes to graduate school worries about the debt they are accruing. So I asked myself this. I would need to spend 2-3 years in graduate school part time, paying approximately $75,000 to do it, which equals out to $25,000 per year.
    • 1. Can I afford that?
    • 2. Will I recoup my $75,000 within 5 years with a higher paying salary?
    • 3. Could I make $75,000 more within 5 years without accruing the debt?
    • For me, the answers to the third question was the most effective. If I climb the ladder in my career, five years from now, could I make $25,000 more per year without a graduate degree. For me, the answer is yes. Count one against graduate school.
  • The Time Commitment: If you’re in your career already, chances are you’re looking at a part time program. The program I looked at this Spring would have been two nights a week, and would take up most of my weekends with group work and presentation preparation. I had to ask myself, “Would this make me a bad employee?” If the time commitment associated with graduate school would significantly decrease your commitment to your current employer or position, I’d rethink the decision.
  • Over-educated, under-worked: Having worked for multiple nonprofit organizations, I’ve seen a large number of volunteer and interns who are, frankly, over-educated. These individuals come to work for free for a nonprofit because they simply can’t get a job? Why? Because they’re a 27 year old Ph.D! In my generation, I see countless peers who went to graduate school immediately out of college and then a second or third degree on top of it and by the time they’re done with school at 27 or 28, they have effectively no work experience. So they’re buried in hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt and I, who didn’t get a graduate degree, have 7 years of work experience under my belt. Though they might make more money than I do when they get a job, in the long run when you weigh out debt with cash earned and experience, I’ll take my path any day.

So there you have it – a few reasons I chose not to go to graduate school (at least not right now). These are my reasons and no one else’s, but I wanted to share them because I think we have a level of pressure on young people to get more and more education that is somewhat inappropriate, especially in today’s economic climate. There are thousands of paths to success – millions, even – and not all of them include another degree. Who knows, maybe next year I’ll feel differently, but today, that’s my case.

About the Author

Marcy Twete

Marcy Twete is a career fundraiser turned corporate responsibility executive, a career and networking expert and the author of the book "You Know Everybody! A Career Girl’s Guide to Building a Network That Works."