The Irreverent Professor

Unvarnished realities about life, teaching, learning, and change in this wild, wild world

Should You Go to Graduate School? Probably Not.

Every few months I get an e-mail from a former (or current) student and the uncomfortable exchange goes like this:

Student: Dear  Dr. Tyra, Would you be willing to write me a recommendation letter for graduate school?  I really enjoyed/learned so much in (insert other flattery here) your class and now I want to go back and get a master’s degree in (usually the same field).

Me:  Dear Student, I would certainly consider writing you a letter for graduate school if I didn’t think that by doing so, I would be doing you a terrible disservice.

Student: …..?

I know it’s not what they are expecting to hear and it’s probably not what they want to hear, but for 99.9% of them, it’s what they need to hear.  Too many people go to graduate school (a) to extend the period of time “in college” before they have to deal with the real world or (b) they can’t get a job and so they figure they may as well stay in school.  Bad, bad, bad reasons to go to graduate school.  Plus, in many instances, this strategy just results in being over-qualified and under-experienced for even an entry level job.  Not to mention further in debt.

UA graduate 2012

One of my recent rock star students who graduated and who is (wisely) working for a while post-graduation.

Don’t get me wrong, I am all for higher education.  I didn’t get three graduate degrees for nothing.  And I’ve used every one of them…although not always in the way I thought I would use them (but that’s for another post).  Grad school is not a summer camp for the Peter Pan set and it’s not something that should be undertaken lightly.

There are exceptions, certainly.  In some fields a master degree is the minimum education needed.  Those fields are not the ones I’m talking about here.  I’m talking about the liberal arts, hospitality, marketing, whatever majors.  The fields where the combination of education and experience are necessary to even get in the game.

My advice for undergrads and recent grads is: stay out of school after graduation. Work a few years, figure out who you are and if what you think you want to do really is what you want to do.  Then find out what skills/knowledge you need to do it better…and then consider graduate school.  Ideally, not at your alma mater, where you may have some of the same professors you had for undergrad (and in some cases, the same classes plus an extra “graduate level” project – snort!).

It’s also important to choose the right graduate degree.  My husband got his MBA several years ago because…well, that’s what people with IT degrees who weren’t going to be IT guys did at the time.  He was told it would open all kinds of doors for him.  It didn’t.  So he went back and got a Master in Library Science (MLS).  And despite frequent ribbing from me about being married to a librarian, it’s been just what he needed.  But he didn’t know it until he knew it.

Carpe education (or not)!

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11 thoughts on “Should You Go to Graduate School? Probably Not.

  1. William R. Host on said:

    Thank you Dr. Tyra for speaking truth! In a system that often places the emphasis upon putting “butts in seats” and generating as much tutition revenue and credit hours as possible, your advice is a breathe of fresh air.

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    • Thanks, Bill. The system is broken and for the most part, doesn’t do what it’s meant to do–prepare students for jobs. School has become an extension of childhood for many instead of an entry into Grown Up Land. Thanks for reading and commenting!

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  2. Great, if unappreciated, advice. I almost made that decision, but economics made me go another way. Now, mumble mumble years later, I think it would make sense. What do you think, Dr. Tyra?

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  3. Well, it’s sad, but true. Given the world of work now and just how fast the world is moving, you can’t back on a degree to get you the job. Here’s to learning and growing and connecting to work we all really love rather than waiting for “the man” whoever or whatever that might be! Let’s live more empowered lives. Great post!

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    • “More empowered lives!” Yes! And there are so many atypical educational programs available for the working adult who has found his or her passion–online programs, graduate certificates, professional and continuing education. The trick is letting the education be a means to an end and not the end itself. Thanks for commenting.

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  4. Kudos to speaking the truth! My spouse thanks you as well. He “preaches” this message constantly. Unless there’s a 5 year combo program (biz degrees), we are firm believers in finding out what makes you tick in the biz world before specializing with a grad degree. I had to wait 15 years to finally get the grad degree that was always my dream. But in waiting , I learned my strengths, subject matter that made me excited to go to work every day, and finally a graduate program that wasn’t actually in existence 15 years prior. Yes, it was hard to go back in my 40’s, yet I’m grateful for life experience and where the degree has led me!

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    • I went back at 25, 30ish, and 40ish. My oldest student ever turned 70 before graduation. It’s never too late and it is SO much more meaningful once you can relate it to “what makes you tick.” (More fun for the prof, too. I’m just saying.).

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  5. Bill Knight on said:

    Well said. I was think this exact thing last semester while teaching at GW. Why are these kids here because it certainly isn’t to learn any thing.

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  6. I think the same argument can be made for high school students considering higher ed in general. Not everyone needs a bachelors degree. There are some options outside of going straight into a traditional undergraduate experience. Career Technical programs at community colleges are excellent choices for some who want to get to work fast and make good $$, but aren’t necessarily committed to a long term educational plan.

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    • I agree! I have a couple of family members who are very tactile and spatial. They are both very skilled but would be bored out of their gourds in college. And would come out maybe with better cocktail party talk, but not with the kind of learning they need to move forward in their chosen careers. College is unfortunately geared almost exclusively to a certain kind of learning. Unless it changes, I expect more and more people to find alternative educational options.

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