I am a grad student now, and wish someone would have had this talk with me in a way that was comprehensible a year and a half ago.
I’m not even going to get into the cost of applying to grad school- the exams, the exam prep, the application fees, the cost of sending your scores and transcripts to different institutions. It can easily cost you $500 for a very sexy batch of rejections. Nor am I going to warn you that applying means days of your life and plenty of stress- getting letters of recommendations, establishing (and kissing a**) with professors at different institutions, writing a personal statement and getting together a coherent writing sample. I will save that for later.
I simply want to ask you WHY you are applying to grad school- really think about it. I too often have heard people tell me “I’m going to grad school because the economy sucks,” “I don’t know what else to do with my life, “more schooling will make me smarter/more competitive in the job market,” or “If I don’t get it done now, I’ll never do it.” These are all really common, but really stupid reasons. Let me tell you why.
-Going to grad school because the “economy sucks,” is not an economically sound strategy. If you are trying to “ride out” the current economic downturn, you’d be better off getting a less-than-stellar job and earning money to put away in a retirement fund. Not only will you most likely not get funding unless you are accepted into an awesome Ph.D. program or are accepted WITH funding (which is difficult for most master’s candidates), but let me tell you, EVERYONE ELSE HAS THE SAME IDEA! Most of my rejection letters were peppered with this remark: “This year we saw an unprecedented number of applicants. While your application was promising, we were unable to admit you to the program.” Kids, it’s a numbers game- unless you have an unusually strong application and strategy, you are a small fish in a big pond.
-If you don’t know what else to do with your life- that’s OKAY. It’s scary not to have a “plan” but I assure you- going the grad school route only seems like a plan on the surface. Many people who claim their idea for a post-baccalaureate education was the “best idea ever,” are using it as a security blanket. You don’t need another degree to prove you’re smart, nor will getting accepted better to prepare you for “the real world.” How do you prepare for the real world? Just jump in and do your best. Though it’s comforting to know your next 2-6 years are accounted for, the feeling of purpose and accomplishment is a thin veneer which doesn’t hold up well over time. I admit, I was one of these people- I am just now getting confident with my newly formed “adult brain,” and this courage came from an array of other scary choices I had to make outside the classroom.
-Getting a graduate degree will not make you any smarter, and it will not make you more competitive. A piece of paper is a horrible measure of aptitude. You want to know what will ensure you are smarter, stronger and more competent? Stepping into the world and forging your own path, a path outside the academic institution. I thought grad school was what I needed to really be “better.” When I got there I found that my first semester was nothing but a glorified reading list, and an expensive one at that. I was disappointed- I could have gone on Amazon.com, got the books and discussed them on my blog FOR FREE. When I went to apply for jobs, I found that many of them required skills that I hadn’t learned in school. I went online or asked friends for help and strengthened my resume on my own, for free.
Getting another degree will not make you smarter if you’re not learning outside of the classroom- that responsibility rests upon you and you alone. If you have a master’s degree in literature and writing but don’t have work experience and know some handy computer programs (Photoshop, HTML/CSS, Excel, whatever), you just won’t be competitive in many of the jobs that are out there.
-If you’re worried you’ll “never get around to it,” perhaps you never should! If you have doubts, put off applications for a year, and go talk to people. Try some internships. Read some blogs and do some research. Being in school another 2-6 years is expensive, consuming and stressful. If your heart isn’t in it, making those sacrifices necessary to graduate will make you hate life. Life is too short to be a martyr for education (unless you’re damn sure you want to be)!
If you think getting a graduate degree will enrich your life, or is a well-proven path to success in your given career field, by all means- GO FOR IT! But if you’re meandering around, and you’re thinking graduate school will be an easy solution to your worries, do not let yourself off that easy- it will cost you more in time and college loan debt than you can imagine.
A year and a half ago, I was insecure and unsure about the future, grad school was totally a cop-out for a girl without a real plan of her own. I have learned from that mistake, capitalized on it, and learned to find my voice now with those choices I have made. For me, graduate school brought me to Chicago and challenged me in unimaginable ways- almost to my breaking point at times, but I am secure now in my decision. For me, the choice to go to graduate school was also a choice to relocate halfway across the country, start over and build a new life- and it is the summation of those choices that are what I’m most confident and proud of now, not necessarily the program I’m in.
I hope your choices will be forged with critical thought, and the following of your own heart, and I hope I can help you in that process.