Grad school is overrated

May 4, 2011 · 41 comments

Yes. I said it. Graduate school is overrated. Every once in a while I get asked if I’ve ever thought about going back to school. My response has consistently been “HECK NO.”

Am I the only person that thinks 99% of graduate students are either A) taking classes simply because school is all they’ve ever known and the thought of working scares the bajeezus out of them? Or B) they wanted to work, but graduated college in a depressed economy and thought a little more school would help them stand out from the thousand other applicants just like them?

As I consider looking for a new job this year, I know I’ll be competing against a whole slew of 20-somethings. Many of whom will have some fancy initials after their name (J.D., MBA, etc). Am I scared of them? No way. I could care less how many letters your name comes with. At the end of the day an employer is going to pick the best candidate for the job. Unless your masters is a requirement for the position, you wont have much (if any) of an edge on me. Heck, you might even have a disadvantage since the prospective employer might think you’d request a higher salary than me.

What’s more, while you’ve spent the last three years learning about Keynesian economics, I’ve spent it, ya know…working. In this economy experience trumps education. Go look at Monster.com, you’ll notice many positions say a masters degree is onlypreferred but three to five years work experience is “required“. It doesn’t matter if you meet the preferences, if you can’t meet the requirements.

Quite possibly the most frustrating reason people go to grad school is that they think it will help them decide what they want to do for a living. Excuse me, if your four years of college didn’t do that for you, what makes you think another two to three years of school will? Besides, isn’t grad school a pretty expensive way to figure that out? The only way you are gonna know what you want to do for a living is to go out and get some experience in the field. Work with lawyers before you decide to be one.

I’ve said it once, and I’ll say it again. Grad school is overrated… kinda like the Lakers.

If you actually REQUIRED graduate level education (therapists, physicians, teachers, etc) for your career please don’t think this post is directed towards you.

{ 41 comments }

1 Mo D.

2 years of community college was plenty for me; I’m sure I could’ve gone to university (I loved school), but 25 years ago, there was no career path that fully grabbed my attention and held it long enough to make me want to spend oodles of $$ on that type of education, just to likely change career paths 3 years after graduating. I’ve always felt community college teaches you “how”; university teaches you “why”. I totally agree that graduate level education is required for some professions, but unless you’re ready to commit to that one profession for the rest of your work-life, you’d better be damn sure that’s what you want to do.

2 fizzy-j

this post makes no sense to me – are you commenting on the group of people who pursue a degree that they know for fact won’t be useful to them? If so, I guess you’re right, but that’s a small group. Most people I know with graduate degrees got them because (a) it was a requirement, (b) it was a unstated requirement (as in, all the job postings for jobs I want demand it), or (c) they suspected it would lead to higher earning potential. In fact, it’s been my experience that people with graduate degrees occassionally walk into jobs that people without them have been working in for years, and get a better salary, just because of the degree. Finally, a lot of graduate degrees are not ultratheoretical – many of them provide the practical foundations, and opportunities for professional work experience, that undergrads didn’t, so it’s a bit of a different ballgame.

Obviously, not everyone has to get a graduate degree, and it’s not a key to a solid future. But quite honestly, I dont’ get who this post is directed to, and it kind of sounds like you don’t know what “graduate studies” can mean and are just thinking of that one person you know who got a MA in art theory and now works at Starbucks. Is that it?

3 David

I think it applies to a bigger group than you realize. Pursuing a secondary degree for many jobs is not a requirement (I.E., computer sciences). It is a specialization. A specialization that many people pursue before they’ve worked in the field, which begs the questions

– How do you know it’s what you want to specialize in?
– How do you know it will even be applicable to the field of work you eventually go into?

I think the point of the post is that a majority of people – doctors, teachers, finance industry excluded – have just a good a chance of success without an secondary degree as they would with one. Especially if you consider that you’re missing out on two years of income and experience, while taking on additional loans, to get that degree.

4 Jessica

Just because you’re in grad school, doesn’t mean you’re not working too. It took me 2.5 years to get my Masters degree and I worked full time (9-5 job with a salary and benefits) the entire time I was in school. So I have the work experience and the “specialized” degree as you call it.

Oh, and the masters degree has already managed to help me earn 10k more per year just for having it.

5 Finding My Way

I agree with you about grad school Ninja. Especially since more than a graduate degree, employers are looking for work experience and your ability to obtain certification to one of many professional organizations in your field, more than the graduate degree.

I myself have gone back to school to upgrade my college diploma to a University degree, but I’ve done it without sacrificing my work experience. Yes it takes a little longer, but initiative whilst fully employed is often a bigger feather in your cap than grad school without work experience. Plus, since I’m in the field I love, and I’m upgrading to a degree in said field, my worth to a company goes up as well.

6 Alyssa

I’m still in school (only one more semester to go – whoo!) and with my majors, everybody asks if I’m going to law school or grad school. I just tell them “Heck No.” The only way I will ever go to grad school is, after working in my desired field for a while, I realize that it actually will help me reach the next level and/or my company will help me pay for it. I see no point in going to grad school to specialize in something with the hopes that it will get you a better job after you graduate, even though you have no idea if that’s actually the case. I can put $40,000+ to better use.

7 Rafiki

I’m with you on this post, especially option A. I know at least one person who did it and I think a lot people actually just continue school because they don’t know what else to do. Then they end up switching majors and or dropping out. I think you should go get a little experience first and if you find that you really love what you are doing and you have an interest in learning more then you should attend graduate school.

8 psycharah

You’re lucky you added that disclaimer at the end Ninja! I was about to school you necessary grad school training!

9 slug | sunkcostsareirrelevant.com

Rather than write a response as inflammatory as your post, I’ll simply say I disagree. An advanced degree is not required for my field, but getting my MBA basically tripled my pre-MBA salary. If you plot that trajectory over 30 working years, you’ll find the difference is meaningful. In addition the network of my fellow alums has the possibility of opening doors for me should I ever need it. A graduate degree is what you make of it plus a little bit of luck in terms of the timing of when you graduate.

10 tom

BUT… if you have a graduate degree AND experience, you automatically become the best person for the job (all other factors not withstanding).

It all depends on the availability of graduate degree funding. I am fortunate enough to have an employer that will pay for everything, up front! So, I am working and going to classes at night. Most of my colleagues are doing the same. So when searching for jobs within my company, you almost need to have a masters. In fact, the job requisitions within my company say “Bachelors and 7 years experience OR Masters and 5 years experience”. So we count a masters as 2 extra years of experience!

I wouldn’t brush it off just yet. Think about 10 years down the road when the economy is improved. If you are looking for a job then, you might be the odd man out as all of your peers now have their degrees and experience.

11 Kevin @ Thousandaire.com

I’ve thought about getting my MBA, but the only reason I would do it is if I could get a full ride scholarship and do it internationally in Spain. Basically I was looking for a way to get a free ride for a year at a school so I could learn Spanish. Needless to say, I haven’t seriously pursued it.

12 Melissa

If your employer is paying you to do it, then I wouldn’t say it’s a bad idea…

13 Ninja

Of course. I’ll take a free masters any day :)

14 Joe C Skrizel

i see your points Ninja and there are many circumstances where a graduate degree isnt the right move. However my girlfriend got her job at an accounting firm because of her Masters degree. Also, in the future Engineers will be required to have a masters degree to obtain their Professional Engineering license, so it makes sense for me to look into it. Plus after graduation and a few years of working i realize that i want to work in a different sector of engineering than i am currently qualified to work in. this would require a masters in the engineering specialty (or at least really help) to get a job in said specialty. Alot of engineering/math/science programs have grants for free schooling also which makes the decision even harder. All that said i have a friend with a 2 year computer networking degree and he works in student loan bankruptcy analysis and manages several people, in this case work experience matters more than education. Careful analysis if your situation and where you want to go is a good first step before the idea of graduate school is completely blown off

15 Jen

Agreed – about the usefulness of a graduate degree when it comes to “specializing” in a certain field of engineering. My undergrad civil engineering education was great, and I had a very good, broad foundation for engineering – but after taking some traffic courses, some structural courses, some water courses, some environmental courses – I didn’t really know enough about the field I wanted to work in – specifically water and wastewater. I’m finishing up my master’s right now and I know much, much more about my field of interest than I did before the master’s degree. But I’ve also been working full time while going to school, so I’ve been able to apply what I learn to real-world projects and get job experience at the same time.

I don’t think getting a master’s degree is the right time to figure out what to do with your life – that should be done as an undergrad. But a master’s degree is great if you’ve already figured out your career path and want to become more knowledgeable in that field.

That said, I’m glad to be almost done – 20 years of school and I’m finally almost free of homework!

16 Allison

I am someone from Group A. After college I just wasn’t ready to stop being a student. However, I went to grad school with a full ride and an assistantship that paid me. I would never have gone if I would have had to fork over $40,000 to continue being a student.

It wasn’t necessary for my field, but I learned a lot, got to do a lot of cool things, and when I did come out and get a job, it bumped me up a couple of GS levels, so that’s not bad. I don’t regret it, but I didn’t need to do it.

17 natasha

Wow. that hurts. I am currently going to grad school. But, your assumptions are dead wrong. I’ve been working full-time ever since I graduated in 2003. I have been steadily promoted so in no way am I hurting in the standing out in the crowd thing. Oh, and I am actually working so this isn’t about me not being able to find a job. I have a full-time career that pays well with real responsibilities AND I am going to grad school part time. Unlike you, I actually think that education has a purpose and you can learn from it. In the end, it will help me do my job better. Do I need it? Probably not but you know what…I think it will help me more than not going.

18 natasha

oh yeah, and my employer is paying for half of it plus giving me some time off when I need it.

19 Ninja

I didn’t say grad school was worthless. Just overrated.

20 CityFlips

Well, I have to laugh a little bit on this one. I’m getting a PhD right now and it’s a necessary gig for me to be a professor some day. Mostly I’m laughing because of the initials thing. I get teased a lot for all the initials behind my name. In professional situations, I write MSc, RD behind my already ridiculously long name. When it’s all said and done the letters for my degrees/certifications that you don’t care about, but I’m going to tell you anyway are in order BS, RD, MSc, PhD, MPH. That’s 13 letters and “Over Achiever” only has 12 letters!

On the up-side, I got paid to live in Europe for 2 years! I’m getting paid now too, and I get all-expense paid trips to places like Taiwan and Australia to present my research at conferences! Thanks…you’ve inspired a blog post idea for me!

21 SP

Absolutely disagree. I do think an MS (or similar degree) without additional experience is a risk in most fields. I got my MS while working, and I definitely covered more advanced stuff (that I do use), so I got experience and a degree simultaneously. On my companies dime. And they pay me more because of it.

Anyway, it is the blanket statement that I disagree with. It is overrated, sometimes. Maybe even half of the time! Which is a lot! People should think long and hard about it, but it is not a waste of time for everyone. And honestly, if you can get funding, getting a MS is better than spending a year or two unemployed or working minimum wage jobs. You also (typically) need a PhD in your field to do research or be a professor.

22 Ana

If you can have a full scholarship, then I wouldn’t say it’s a bad idea…
And besides you can try and do both: study and work. Thats what I’m doing to get my MBA :)

23 Lindy Mint

My husband got his masters so he could teach college. It was expensive and we’ll probably be paying for it until we turn old and wrinkled. He can teach as an adjunct professor with this degree, but he’s finding that a doctorate is now the norm if he wants to be competitive for the full time college positions. It’s a conspiracy.

24 Bret @ Hope to Prosper

Ninja,

You forgot the third category: C) teachers and other public employees who get paid more for having a Masters.

In college, the worst professors by far, were the ones who called themselves Doctor so and so. While I respect someone who is educated to the level of a PHD, if they aren’t prepared to operate on someone, I don’t consider them a doctor. And, a PHD was pretty much irrelevant for the computer programming courses I was taking in community college. The best professors by far taught in night school, because they worked in the computer industry during the day.

Bret

25 Matt

I feel like this post is directed at me and I don’t appreciate it! :) Although I have a masters in gardening, work experience trumps degrees every time. People apply with 4 masters, but no work experience, and they turn out to be miserable in the work force, so we send them back to get another degree.

26 Saa

I work in academia, so we’re all very obsessed with graduate degrees, but since I’m a staff member, I know PLENTY of people with Masters degrees that aren’t using them, or are supposedly using them yet still getting paid less than I am. Even outside of work I know a lot of people who got JDs only to not work in the law field at all. If at some point it is more beneficial for me to get a degree, meaning that I’ll make more money than if I didn’t have it, and be qualified for job(s) that I want, then I’ll do it. But until then, I’m not trying to spend all that money just to get nothing out of it. And a degree for the sake of education?? Go read a book, that’s education as well, only much cheaper. :P

27 krantcents

Certain professions and geographically for some odd reason respects education more than experience. In my former profession as a Chief Financial Officer, a CPA is more respected than an MBA particularly in certain regions of the country. Certain professions (education) degrees are everything. There is no correlation between the amount of education and effective teaching.

28 Rock & Roll Accountant

Ballsy post, Ninja. Ballsy post. I like it. I’m of the type that will require higher education in the near future to get a real job in my field, so I know your post wasn’t directed at me. However, even if I decided to pursue a general bachelor of commerce and NOT specialize in accounting, well … I’d still be left wondering whether or not a graduate degree would be right for me, mainly because I FREAKING LOVE ADADEMIA. I agree with a lot of people that have already put their two cents in here: There’s no way in heck I’d fork over tens of thousands of dollars for a grad degree if guaranteed funding for the full duration of the degree weren’t thrown in to sweeten the deal.

As for anyone who goes to grad school without first doing some extensive research on how in demand those grad degrees actually are within their chosen field of work, I’d say they’ve got more problems than Jay-Z …

29 Ashley

I’d just like to point out that your “99%” of graduate students who only go because they cannot cut it in the workplace is simply not true. I am currently a graduate student and have never met anyone who fits this description. We are where we are because we need to be in order to get a job or a higher salary, or because we love learning and want a job in higher education. And we do get job experience while in grad school- whether it’s through teaching, being a research assistant, or doing internships and practica. It’s not all about just sitting in the library and reading Goethe.

Another thing that you didn’t say outright, but came across in your post, is that grad school is an easy way out for people who find the working world “too hard.” Let me just say- grad school is the farthest thing from easy I’ve ever come across. We take classes, do research and publish papers, and teach undergrads. This means working 10-12 hour days, even on weekends, just to get all the work done. It’s nothing like what college was. I used to work full time before I went to school, and man, I miss it.

30 Justin @ MoneyIsTheRoot

I couldnt agree with Ashley more. I went to grad school while working full time… im 30 and I make 6 figures now… that isn’t bragging, just illustrating how valuable it can be.

31 MommaStar

LOL I work in the Real Estate industry and it is soooo obnoxious when a broker who is higher then an agent comes in to introduce themselves instead of as an individual they feel the need to say such things as Hi I’m so and so Broker Associate, GRI with a BA. It’s a must according to certain “brokers” that they make aware of their title.

32 Tina

I just stumbled upon your blog….best post I ever read!
I completely agree!!

33 beef

My wife decided to go back school for a grad degree, even though she was bringing in over 60k as an RN in the midwest. Her grad program will assure her wages from 120 to 220k. I would say it can be worthwhile.

34 Wealth Artisan

I totally agree with you Ninja! You can have the degrees and titles you want, but if you don’t have any experience, a potential employer will pass on you for someone with work-place experience.
Thanks,
Timothy

35 zade

Graduated top of my class in 2007…did not get a job :(. Got a full scholarship to the best school in the country for my profession with a decent stipend (no work in exchange) to get my Masters…got a job with the firm I always wanted to work with DURING the one year it took to get the Degree through on-campus recruiting. I’d say I’m in group B but it was exactly what I needed!!

36 Stephanie

I keep thinking about going to grad school, mostly because it seems like something I should do. Plus most of my colleagues have an advanced degree, so I know it would be in my best interest if I want to keep advancing in my career. I’ve gotten this far with just a bachelors, but if my company will pay for it, and they really want me to, I’ll do some more schooling :)

37 Financial Samurai

I deifnitely think those without grad school degrees tend to think they are overrated, and those with grad school degrees think they are very helpful. If you are in an organization with all grad school degrees running the show… best to do the same. IF not, who cares.

Sam

38 Justin @ MoneyIsTheRoot

I suppose it depends on what field you are in. If you are in education here in Michigan, the union is required to pay you considerably more for having your Masters, and even more for having your Masters +30 credit hours. I have my MBA, and I command a considerably higher salary than someone with their BBA only. You can be any analyst your whole life with just your bachelors, but to be a controller, manager, supervisor, or even senior analyst, you need your MBA to be competitive.

39 Jacob @ My Personal Finance Journey

I definitely agree that experience is better than education. Personally, I went back to graduate school after working for several years because I wanted to qualify for a specific type of research position. However, most of the people in grad school came straight from undergrad, and many of them came because they weren’t quite sure what they wanted to do with their life yet.

40 Dvddesign

I really think you need to do a better job examining the thought process of when and why someone chooses to pursue a post-undergrad degree.

I’ve been working in my field for six years before I pursued my degree last fall. It’s a lot of work and a lot of commitment, but I feel I need it. I need it because despite me working in this industry for six years, I had no formal schooling on how to do it. I can wing it all day, but I’ve been shut out of potentially lucrative job opportunities because didn’t have a degree. At least twice that I know of.

I am employed now, but I don’t plan on being here forever, and this degree will earn mea bit of solid backing in what I beIieve to best best practices. Had I decided to just spend the rest of my career being a peon, I could, but the MBA affords me executive level opportunities that really only happen through accident without an MBA.

41 Trina

I don’t agree, but I do see where you are coming from. We are a household with (almost!) two graduate degrees. Hubby walks June 11th-whoo whoo! Yes, it was a lot of time and yes, it was a lot of money (they are both paid in full!). Mine qualfies me for my dream job when I go back to work and hubby literally just got a bomb new job during his last quarter. Grad school was an excellent choice for both of us.

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