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Don't Rush to Grad School

Don't Rush to Grad School
January 11, 2009
(Also appears in Mama PhD)

Can't find a job? Don't go to grad school.

The economy's tanking! Should I give up looking for a job and just go to graduate school?

This seems to be the question of the moment, and everyone has an opinion. Few of the folks giving advice, though, are acknowledging a tough fact of life: as investments and state budgets dry up, so does education funding --which affects both admissions and employment.

In short, no. Grad school is no guarantee of a job.

Now, judging by a recent story here in IHE about GRE registration,young people might be figuring that out on their own. Yay, young people!

On the other hand, though, one year does not a trend make, and it's quite possible that grad school admissions applications will start to go up next year. So listen, ye, to the voice of experience (I started grad school during the recession of the early 90s): only go to graduate school if you are getting a master's degree, and only if you are doing so in a limited number of subjects.

If you're a social worker, or you work for a non-profit, or in human services, then yes: I believe a master's in social work or public policy or urban planning or what have you will probably help your advancement. If you're a scientist, then there are industry jobs waiting for you--although my sense is that you might be better off working in the field for a while before picking a subfield. If you're a teacher, then a master's in education can help you move into administration and the higher salaries that go with it. I suppose MBAs might be useful degrees, though I confess, academic-by-training that I am, I haven't really the foggiest notion, except that there seem to be an awful lot of boring middle management types with MBAs. If you want a solid, dull, respectable 9-5 job, become a dentist or a self-employed lawyer. (If you want to become partner in a huge firm, you might as well get a PhD and aim for a job at Harvard: you'll go crazy either way.)

But if you're like most people at whom the "go to graduate school" advice is aimed--that is, if you're a recent college grad with a humanities major who seems only to be qualified for clerical jobs--then for god's sake, don't bother. Spend the years you'd spend in graduate school working your way out of entry-level jobs into having actual work experience and figuring out the kind of work you really want to be doing. If you want to teach, get a teaching credential. If you want to teach adults, get a terminal MA and teach a couple of community college courses. If you love and adore it, then I suppose you could go ahead and get a PhD, but why? If you're adjuncting at a community college, you're already doing the same work as thousands of PhDs; while your peers are slogging through their dissertations, you're acquiring seniority.

Unless you want to become an engineer. Which I totally recommend. Go Obama's "green job creation" plan.

Have a question for the Career Coach? E-mail her atmamaphd@insidehighered.com

 

 

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