Getting It: Five Reasons I Didn’t Go to Grad School

by Rachel on June 14, 2010

I coach a lot of people my age or a little younger and a lot of them are stressed about their lives. They followed the steps: went to college, got good internships, worked hard, got a degree…and then couldn’t find jobs.

It sucks. It really, really sucks.

So they are stressed out about what to do next and they often come back to, “Maybe I should go back to school.” I can’t really blame them. I thought the same thing when I was ready to leave ELLE and had no clue what my next step was going to be. I thought about becoming an RD. I thought about getting a degree in exercise science. I thought about getting a life coach certificate. But ultimately, I decided to skip any more expensive schooling and here are the reasons why.

I have friends who have known that they wanted to go to grad school for years; it’s why they worked so hard in undergrad! But now the programs they are so passionate about are being flooded by people who basically just got bored. I would feel really uncomfortable walking into classes with the attitude of, “Oh hey, people-for-whom-history is your life! I’m just here killing time till the job market turns around!”

If a few weeks of post-grad unemployment makes you decide to just up and get a higher level degrees, know that when you graduate, you’ll be even more qualified…but so will all the other people who decided to do the same thing. And when you do finish, you’ll be competing against the people who graduated a couple years earlier, worked, and then got laid off. So you’ll have more education, but no real work experience.

Some programs are totally worth the money and you know that if you do them, you’ll be able to make more money in the long run. But that wasn’t the case in really any area of study for me — and I also started to get really frustrated with the realization that so many degrees mean nothing. Even a lot of cheaper-but-still-kinda-expensive certificates mean nothing. So…what are you truly paying for? And…is it really worth it?

That’s a really common justification for going to grad school. “Even if I don’t get a job, I can always just teach.” Um…nope. This op-ed from the New York Times nicely explains how grad schools are actually just creating too many qualified people for too few faculty positions.

If you’ve read my posts on how to use blogging and Twitter to get a job, you know that I truly believe you can do and learn pretty amazing things with the Web and other cheaper resources. And seriously, I’d rather my only debt be owed to the library for late fees…not to Sallie Mae.

And if you don’t believe me…take a look around at the young entrepreneurs and thinkers and movers and shakers who are doing this already. This article on 25 Entrepreneurs Under the Age of 25 is super inspiring; I’m sure some of them went to grad school (uh, three years ago, when it helped more)…but I’m willing to bet their second degree wasn’t the tipping point for most of them.

So before you drop $1,200 on a Kaplan course and start planning to be a student again, ask yourself one question…

Seriously. I know it seems ridiculous to think about that, but if someone said, “Here’s $50,000 to put toward your career; use it as you see fit”…what would you do with it? (And that’s $50,000 per year — grad school is more than a year long!) You could get a small business loan for $25,000 and start a business now instead of waiting until you’re already way in debt to your MBA program. Or pay a designer $1,000 to make you a sweet Web site and start the non-profit you’ve dreamed about your whole life! Want to be a writer? I bet you know how to write. Use your cash to travel the world for a year to get material and then pitch your first novel. Take the $10,000 you’ve saved for grad school and use it to support yourself while you live in L.A. and try to sell your screenplay instead of spending it on NYU’s film school.

The state of the economy is a bummer, but I hope that it inspires people to find a new method and discover their entrepreneurial spirit. The whole “nothing to lose!” mentality could mean huge wins for all of us.

{ 24 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Rachel Marlena June 14, 2010 at 8:22 am

Love this! I actually fall into the category of “people-for-whom-history is your life,” which can be a little ostracizing, but I get so annoyed by people who are just going to grad school because they have nothing else to do, getting a J.D.because it seems like a good next step, or my personal favorite, getting a Master’s in elementary education (for real!?). I think you are right in saying people don’t necessarily NEED graduate degrees, but I also think (at least where I am from) that it is drilled into our heads “to be competitive you need at least a Master’s. to be competitive you need at LEAST a Master’s. No one stops at a bachelor’s anymore.” Which is even more frustrating for people who do not want to do graduate school. I think you should get backers and just broadcast stuff like this on television all. the. time. You’re cute, people will listen!

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2 Nicole June 14, 2010 at 8:33 am

Thanks for this article. It makes a lot of us feel better about our decisions. I took a year off after college to decide what to do, and if I wanted more schooling. I ended up continuing on with my schooling after that year off, and it was the right decision. I just needed that time to figure it out.

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3 MelissaNibbles June 14, 2010 at 9:01 am

Great post! I skipped grad school as well and don’t have any regrets.
I really want to work from home. Any tips on making that happen?

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4 sarah @ syrupandhoney June 14, 2010 at 9:01 am

I was *this* close to going to grad school and part of me is sad that I didn’t (I love love love academia) but another part of me is glad I don’t have two useless degrees (instead of just the one). Ultimately, grad school is a means to an end. Like, I would love law school, but I don’t want to be a lawyer.

I’m finding it both exciting and challenging to think outside of what I’ve been trained to think of as a career path. What do I have of value to offer the world? I don’t have a plan yet, but I’m not lacking in ideas. Just gotta find a way to put all these crazy ideas into a beautiful, savvy package.

Basically, thanks for making me feel like less of a loser ;)

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5 erin June 14, 2010 at 9:01 am

totally agree! i have people always saying, why don’t you go to grad school. Please, i think i learn more on the job than i do in school. Simple as that! I get that some people feel it’s necessary to have a master’s. but i’m a strong believer in if you have a degree, and you have the ability to learn quickly on the job and show off your skills in a good way!

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6 Rachel June 14, 2010 at 9:13 am

@Melissa — I think a lot of working at home depends on what you want to do and what you’re willing to give up! But I will def be getting more into that in posts going forward.

@Sarah — “Thanks for making me feel like less of a loser.” HA…you know that’s pretty much my blog’s mission statement.

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7 VeggieGirl @ Barley & Me June 14, 2010 at 9:56 am

Rachel – great link to a forward-thinking article. Some of his points are well-taken, especially the idea of interdisciplinary collaboration. I think that there are lots of things someone with a PhD can do, but you can also do some of those things without a PhD; so its all about your end-goals and objectives. I also like his idea about making the dissertation more reflective of today’s products rather than a more historical document (i.e., writing a 200 page book because that is what everyone has done to get a PhD).

As someone who has spent the last five years of my life in graduate school, I think that it is so important to be well-informed. I was, and I have not regretted a second spent in graduate school – it was the right decision for me. But, it is not the right decision for everyone. Whenever someone asks me about whether or not they should do a PhD, I always encourage them to work in the field for a few years prior to making that decision to make sure they know what they are getting themselves in to. There are plenty of research assistant positions that allow you to do so in my field (psychology).

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8 Alli June 14, 2010 at 10:31 am

So many good points, won’t even try to go through them all. I actually have the opposite problem – when I finished my undergrad I was like, whoohoo, no more school, let’s get some work experience! What with the economy I took the first job offer I was qualified for, which is in a field I’m really not into, and am one of the few people in the office who didn’t go to grad school (and has no plans to). In fact, now that I’ve been there for almost a year, it’s been subtly hinted to me (more than once!) that I should REALLY consider a MBA if I want to advance in this field and I’m like, bish plz, first sign of economic upswing and I’m off like a prom dress.

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9 j@nycandlove June 14, 2010 at 10:48 am

This might interest you. When applying for a US visa, specifically an O visa, part of the consideration is your education and qualifications. The US government considers an undergraduate degree + three years experience equivalent to a masters degree.

Most of the successful people I know have never been to graduate school and most of the people I respect most in business never even went to college, but they’re the exceptions not the rule I suppose.

I think for many the choice to go to graduate school is an excuse to procrastinate in choosing a career. Well guess what, the average person changes their career 5-7 times over their lifetime.

Procrastinators… leaders of tomorrow.

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10 christine June 14, 2010 at 10:51 am

Rachel, have you done any posts in the past about how to find the right major and/or career path? I don’t remember you doing one but I’m a fairly new blog reader so I might have missed it. as a lost undergrad that doesn’t even have a “this is the job I’d do if I could do anything in the world!” job in mind…it’d be appreciated. I have no idea what to do with my life. I hate my current major but am pretty deep into it so will probably stick it out to at least have a BA, but then what? I’ve volunteered, taken classes in many subjects, worked jobs, asked for advice, etc and ended up with: I have no idea what to do with my life or how to eventually be happy and support myself financially.

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11 Katie June 14, 2010 at 11:46 am

I’ll have my master’s in chemical engineering in 2 more weeks and believe me, not any easier to get a job now. Totally thought grad school would help me decide what I want to do next or start me on a path but unless you know what you want to do the rest of your life (or at least the right field) I would not recommend more school. It’s like being stuck in a job you hate if you aren’t passionate bout it… except it looks worse if you quit without a degree! I would love to post more thoughts but gotta go write my thesis!!

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12 Ashley June 14, 2010 at 12:04 pm

I’ve talked about this recently with my fiance and one of my best friends, and you are right, if everyone has a master’s … I guess bachelor’s are the new high school diplomas? It’s like as long as you can afford it, you can have any degree you want … and it shouldn’t be that way.

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13 Eunice June 14, 2010 at 12:13 pm

Rachel, I swear you are writing my life’s story as I’m living it, girl. So much of what you’ve posted are things that I hope to accomplish or that I’m living at the moment!

I got a 2 year degree in dietetics and started to work. I’ve been working in the field for 5 years and I’m one year away from getting my bachelor’s and becoming an RD. I took the extra long way to my degree, and many times I’ve wished that I would’ve just sucked it up and gotten my bachelor’s years ago. What I love about the path I took is that I have the experience that someone coming out of school right now doesn’t have. Yea, I’m an old ass chick just getting my first degree, but I don’t regret it.

Grad school is not even a thought right now, and I honestly don’t think I want to go that route. I love your question about what else I could be doing with 50 grand. I’ve never thought of it that way, but it just encourages what I’ve already been thinking about. Thanks for another great post!

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14 Emily Lawler June 14, 2010 at 1:13 pm

Love this. I look at people going to grad school for journalism and think, “Aren’t you just literally buying yourself time?” Especially in a field where experience is everything, transitioning from undergrad to graduate school without a healthy dose of the real world seems borderline ridiculous.

For the record, the best teachers & professors I’ve ever had are ones with real-world experience. In high school I had teachers that worked for companies like GM and NASA before teaching me about business and physics, and their lessons were so much more valuable than those of people who went from school to college to school and had such a limited scope of experience.

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15 katie June 14, 2010 at 2:51 pm

grad school is one of those things that i always said i’d do, but now 5 years out of college [and gre scores that have already expired] i still have no idea what i’d go for…and the cost aspect of it makes it seem less and less appealing as time goes by. especially since i know i wouldn’t be going into an area where it’s likely to be paid for.

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16 Bonnie Bucqueroux June 14, 2010 at 8:28 pm

Rachel, this ought to be required reading for EVERYONE who is even thinking about getting a master’s as a way of hiding out until the recession ends. Congratulations on writing a profoundly important article. I will assign it in every class I teach. Your peers should thank you for such solid analysis and advice.

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17 Diane June 14, 2010 at 8:41 pm

I definitely agree w/what Emily said about grad school for journalism. My Master’s program was six months of school and six months of full-time internship at a newspaper. Without the work experience portion, I wouldn’t have applied to the program. For me, those six months (for better or worse) were the equivalent of a first job. I learned so much, and I know it helped me land my new job.

This is great advice, and it’s definitely something fellow recent graduates need to hear!

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18 Allison June 14, 2010 at 9:05 pm

Rachel- I love this! I’ve always wanted to go to law school, and I always knew I wanted a career where legal education would benefit me, but I’m currently at a school that overbooked themselves by about 200 students this past year. I’m so disappointed with the class sizes and the student to faculty ratio. Even worse, so many of the students here will say if asked, “I’m only in law school to wait it out until the job market turns around.” There are students in their late twenties who are using going back to school as an excuse to relive their undergraduate career and party, financed by their student loans. It’s impossible to find summer legal internships, the market is completely saturated by all these people who have no interest in a legal career and used law school as a “fallback plan.” They should have read your blog first – most of them will drop out or end up in a career where they don’t use their degree!

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19 Whitney June 15, 2010 at 3:36 am

In general, I agree with everything you post. I hate to admit I don’t agree with this and let me, briefly explain why: I went to grad school right out of undergrad. Yes, I was stuck in classes with the exact people you explain (whose parents probably footed the bill). However, being the person (dork?) I am, I graduated early from Grad school and as a result was entering the job market as a skilled and educated candidate. The first job I got was the job I wanted. As a result of that choice, I am pleased to say that I was able to land a management position job at age 24. I’ve been in that job for a year. I am making great money (able to pay off the loans as a result). I think it all comes down to one fact: if you know what you want to do, then make the decisions to follow the path to get there.
I also think, at least as far as my career path goes, I have been following it well since undergraduate studies. Always seeking out experience. I would not be in my job today if it weren’t for a combination of those things.

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20 Rachel June 15, 2010 at 7:28 am

@Whitney — I think you’re an example of the first reason: grad school is for people who want to go to grad school. It wasn’t your fallback. Also, if you graduated early and are only 24 (or 25) now, you were still a bit ahead of the game in the job market. So I think you’re a good example of how grad school CAN work but my point is that all these confused people shouldn’t count on that model anymore.

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21 Tara June 15, 2010 at 10:37 pm

Wow, so much to say. I guess I differ most with the comments in that I don’t know anyone and have not encountered people in grad school that are just killing time. I am not at all saying there aren’t people out there with a disposable income who are willing to waste their days, but I have not come in contact with any such people. In fact, the program I came from had less than 20 grad students and the expectations were so high that you wouldn’t make the cut if you were just coasting along. Honestly. And for thinking anyone can get a degree who has money, I am really surprised by that statement because for the most part, you have to work to earn a degree. I mean reading 500+ pages of research and writing 50 page mini-theses weekly. So, I’m not sure how money buys you that.

The most important factor for me with both undergrad and grad is doing more than just going to class. Yes, you go to class, get decent grades, and then you get a degree. And people who do nothing else will come out of it with no experience. But, people who work and/or intern do come out of it with an education and experience. I am not at all saying it always works out this way, or that it is easy.

Of course, I may be biased because I have a Master’s degree and graduated within the past year. For me, I taught undergrad while I went to school and worked an outside job gaining seriously legitimate experience. It was tough and I had a non-existent social life, but I also didn’t want to become a jobless statistic so I went balls out. Yeah, being lame sucked, but now out of school I’m having a blast and getting paid! No, I don’t have my dream job as of yet, because the screening process for that job is 7 months to a year, but in the meantime, I’m really working it out doing something I love and something I put a lot of time into. That’s another thing though, I love what I studied. And I knew that going in. I wasn’t just taking a chance on a hobby, this isn’t knitting class, I mean I was committed to what I was studying. So, hey, if you don’t know that’s what you want to do then don’t go back to school. I mean, undergrad is an entirely different story- yes, I went through 12 boyfriends, 5 best friends, and 3 majors in 4 years! If only I could do that over!!

Graduate school can cost a fortune, but you can also minimize your cost. I went to a state school and worked off my tuition by teaching. I also overloaded and graduated early so my entire grad education cost less than $10,000. Again, not all programs offer such opportunities, but that’s just another reason to choose your school and program wisely. For me, it all comes down to making the right decisions. If you can make bank by skipping school- DO IT! If you can’t, then make educated decisions about where and what to study. And get motivated- only you can make yourself succeed. A degree does not make one successful; it never has, never will. Only you can catapult yourself into such greatness. And for the record, I totally love and promote making your own way and creating your own path in life, but I also think that academia can be a dependable resource in life.

I do, however, totally agree with Rachel in that some professions just don’t lend themselves well to a degree, of any kind, nor is it even necessary. The same way were Twitter and social media can really give some people a platform in their profession, but it may be looked down on in other fields (particulialry confidential/governemnt work). I am a total asset for many employers, but I mean, I can’t just be showing off all of my assets! Dang!

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22 Patrick Green June 16, 2010 at 6:01 am

Excellent, I’m reading this even though I can barely keep my eyes open. Superb….

Thank You;).

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23 ~RoB June 15, 2011 at 10:29 am

For months I’ve been working on a blog post about this exact topic. I just dropped out of my PhD program at UCLA in January. I was one of those people that have wanted to have an advanced degree for as long as I can remember. However, after finishing my second master’s degree (how worthless is 2 master’s degrees…) I was so burnt out and poor and I felt like I was treading water instead of succeeding. I truly didn’t feel like I was going to get out what I was putting in, so I called it quits before wasting another 2-3 years.

You eloquently stated some of the key things that I was going to bring up; most importantly, “You don’t always get what you pay for.” I was also sick of hearing people say, “The job market sucks, so I’ll just go to grad school.” If you would have spent one week working my hours and living in the only neighborhood I could afford in L.A., you would have changed your mind. Thanks for summing up my life.
~RoB

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24 Dujhan Brown August 11, 2011 at 11:52 pm

I really enjoyed your ace personal trainer information and the top reasons as to why you didnt go to grad school as well. I’m in the process of trying to nab a web designer who will A) create my website for me and B) teach me how to work and eventually create my own website in the future. All the while I’m pursuing these goals I am trying to become ASE certified so I can eventually branch out from my current employer. I wanted to ask if you had any references as far as website designers and more information on the pt cert because those are the routes I want to go. Thanks for reading and I know your time is limited but your truly an inspiration and you speak “real talk”. Thanks!

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