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Wednesday, May 26, 2010

grad school is not your escape

From a Monday New York Times article on the job market for new grads:
Liam O'Reilly, who just graduated from the University of Maryland with a bachelor's degree in history, said he had applied to 50 employers -- to be a paralegal, a researcher for a policy organization, an administrative assistant -- but he had gotten hardly any interviews. While continuing to search for something he truly wants, he has taken a minimum-wage job selling software that includes an occasional commission.
"Had I realized it would be this bad, I would have applied to grad school," Mr. O'Reilly said.

Grad school is not a way to prolong the day of reckoning. 

You go to grad school if you want to pursue a career that requires it. You do not go to grad school for the hell of it, or because you don't know what else you want to do, or because the job market is bad and it's somewhere to hide out for a while.

Liam isn't alone in thinking this way. I see countless job applicants with freshly minted masters degrees that they're not going to use, and I see countless people making plans for grad school when they can't explain why they need to.

Grad school is expensive. It's time-consuming. And it generally will not make you more marketable, unless you're going into a field that specifically requires a graduate degree. What it will do is keep you from getting work experience for that much longer, meaning that when you're done, your peers who have been working full-time while you were in school will be more competitive than you. It might also limit you by requiring you to find a higher-paying job than you might otherwise need, in order to pay back those loans (without actually increasing your earning power). And if you apply for jobs that have nothing to do with your graduate degree, employers will think you don't really want the job you're applying for, since it's not in "your field."

Being a new grad entering this job market is scary. I can understand why staying in the warm bosom of academia a little longer would be appealing. But using grad school as an escape isn't a good answer. 

P.S. 50 applications isn't that many for an entry-level candidate, especially when it apparently produced some interviews. Keep persisting!


Tera said...

I completely second this. It was almost a complete mistake and a MASSIVE waste of money.


Sabrina said...

Do you remember that FedEx commercial from a few years ago where the guy is there on his first day and someone asks him to help with shipping some stuff and that it's really easy? He says "But I have an MBA" and she says "Oh OK then I guess I'll have to explain it" Yep. I know a lot of MBAs like that. It's like they traded brains and common sense for those three letters.

Claire said...

Wow. Like Liam, I graduated from college with a B.A. in history and applied to be a paralegal, a researcher for a policy organization, an administrative assistant, etc.

Except I graduated in 2009. I don't even WANT to know the number of files I have in my "Job Applications" folder on my desktop, because it is flat-out depressing.

I kind of want to tell him that it is way, way, WAY too early to already be complaining.

However, a year later and a couple BS jobs in between, I finally got an offer for a great job!

I reiterate what you said, AAM: keep persisting, because 50 for an entry-level job really is not a lot at all. Oh, how I know.

Interviewer said...

See, I think this is Liam's real problem - he's not applying for entry-level jobs. Sure, sometimes admin assistants can be entry level, but 99% of the ones I've hired have loads of relevant experience, and the hiring manager required it. I can't hire a paralegal without a certificate from an accredited program and at least a few years of experience in a law firm. Researcher at a policy institute probably needs at the very least significant project work with a professor during school.

College grads don't get these jobs with just a piece of paper, and yet they're being sold on this dream in high school. Then when they don't get a job, they think they need "more education." Ugh.

Laura Y. said...

Hang on a sec -- I totally agree that going to grad school is not the way to solve your (un)employment woes...but "just for the hell of it" is a perfectly legit reason to go, especially if you're doing it in a field you love.

I dearly want to get a Ph.D. in Art History (focusing on weaving technology in western Europe). I want to do this not because I particularly want to be employed in this field, but because I'm interested in being better educated on this subject that I find incredibly interesting. Yes, I can read books and articles about the subject, but there is no substitute for a well-structured program of study that encourages critical thinking about the subject at hand and offers feedback and discourse with peers in the same field. Also, there are limits to the materials I can access without some sort of academic association.

Discouraging grad school because it won't make you more money devalues what grad school should be about: becoming better educated. And that's never a bad thing.

GeekChic said...

@Sabrina: I LOVED that commerical.

Anyway, I agree that Liam is giving up way too early. I sent out over 200 resumes after I graduated from grad school (required for the work) before I got so much as an interview. And that was more than 10 years ago!

@Laura Y.: It's fine to go to grad school "for the hell of it" if that is what you're really doing (as opposed to hiding from a bad job market). But that also presupposes that you have enough money / scholarships to make such a move worth while.

De Minimis said...

Heck, I'm one of those who went to grad school as part of my career goal, and I'm starting to wonder if it was the right move. I can't imagine someone going to school for no reason other than wanting to avoid the job market for a while longer.

I agree, if he's at least getting interviews he must be on the right track. That's way better than many in his position are doing.

Anonymous said...

I'm in grad school (just finished up a semester taking 9 credits) AND I work full-time in my field. My wallet and my career cannot afford to take time off from work to go to grad school for a few years.

I'm in grad school for a few reasons- 1) to fulfill a personal goal, 2) to eventually run my own (large) business, and 3) to get a better job in a field that's closely related to what I do now but directly related to the graduate degree.

Grad school isn't just about seeing dollar signs and thinking you can delay the real world. Many working adults are in grad school. I do agree, with AAM, though, that if you do not have a clear direction for your career or you just want to delay the job hunt, grad school isn't necessarily the best choice.

Anonymous said...

@Interviewer, are there really such things as "entry-level jobs" anymore. Because I only ever see postings that require a minimum of 2 years of experience. I graduated from college several years ago and had an awful time getting a so-called "entry-level" job because they all wanted experience. I did have a few years of internship experience, but that wasn't good enough for most of them.

The jobs I was applying for were things like, "Marketing Assistant" or "Communications Assistant." Those sound pretty entry level to me. There is no way now, with my 5-7 years of experience that I would even touch a job like that (but some of them say that's what they want) and yet, I see "manager" jobs that require 3-5 years of experience, so really, it's just a crapshoot in the big career lottery.

Evil HR Lady said...

Heh. I went to grad school because I didn't want to get a job. Plus, I love teaching adults and wanted to be a professor.

I agree with AAM. Even if you're 95% sure you want an advanced degree in whatever, get some real life experience under your belt first.

Kelly said...

@Anon 2:30
Agreed that there are no traditional entry level jobs anymore. Employers know that with the large number of people looking for any type of work they can add any requirement they either want or desire and they'll find someone in most areas who fits their ideal candidate profile. The entry level positions that might have gone to recent graduates before the recession are now going to older applicants with more work history and maybe less education.

The one good reason to continue onto grad school is insurance. My sister graduated this year and is going be be cut off from my parents' insurance end of this month. She'll get back on it end of September as part of the health care reform if they can enroll her then, but more more than likely it'll be around January 1, 2011. She's had health problems and needs some form of insurance to pay for doctors' visits and prescriptions.

She's planning on taking a year off and applying to med schools to start in September 2011. I told her she should have taken the GRE in addition to the MCAT and applied for public health or biology grad school programs. That way she could stay in school and on my parents' health insurance.

Anonymous said...

@interviewer @anonymous 2:30 @evilhrlady
Do ANY entry jobs exist anymore? Do 'transferable skills' exist in ANYONE'S MINDS ANYMORE? Or is that some career advice column line? In three years no temp agency I've signed up with or any employer I've talked to seems to believe in transferable skills. Even internships want a several years of experience.

Yes I know you're supposed to talk about how you can learn things quickly, know similar programs/skills/body of knowledge, write about how x skill is applicable to y situation by using specific examples in your cover letter.

I see all these employers who advertise for $10/hr 1099 ENTRY LEVEL jobs (which conveniently isn't disclosed in their ads) which isn't even living wage in any U.S. city that want 2-5 years experience in another field like SALES. I am not a recent graduate so I really really can't afford to keep doing work for other people for free (aka VOLUNTEERISM). I've moved several thousand miles, taken on a temporary door to door job , and got a paralegal certificate, joined additional organizations, horned in on law school guest lectures, researched every single organization I've applied to that wants to be identified, etc. I have no idea what else I can possibly do. I'm getting really tired of living with my parents, as nice and as generous as they are.

Anonymous said...

Add me to the list of people going to grad school 'for the hell of it'.

I always wanted to go, just to sate my own thirst for knowledge. I never thought I would get the chance, because I couldn't afford to. Then a year ago I decided to at least apply, and to my surprise was offered full scholarships to all of the universities to which I applied.

I don't think there is anything wrong with going to grad school simply for the love of learning. Especially if you can get a scholarship or are willing to afford the burdens of the tuition.

~Me said...

50 applications? HA, try 500+ in 10 months, which produced 6 interviews. I think you can try harder Liam.

Anonymous said...

Some people are professional students. One day they wake up and say "I think I'll get a Ph.D. in [insert area of study here] today." Others above have said it right - to better educate themselves.

I don't see a right or wrong in this debate because everyone's situation is different. It will continue to be debated for as long as grad school exists and isn't mandatory. I do believe, however, grad school will become today's college degree; if you think about it, today's college degree is yesterday's high school diploma- necessary.*

*Please don't jump on me so quickly. I do understand there are people have done quite well in the real world without a college degree, and there are those who just can't handle college for various reasons. But in many areas, college is necessary; you can't get around it.

Anonymous said...

I also believe there's a fundamental issue here that's not being addressed. It's not popular, of course, but let's get it out here:

A B.A. in History is worthless unless you've planned all along to become a Professor of History, a HS History teacher, or perhaps, want an entry-level job at a museum as a docent. There simply isn't an other entry level job that needs "history" knowledge as a skill.

I should know - I have a BS in Psychology and Philosophy. The ONLY thing these degrees qualified me for was to go to grad school (which I did). But had I tried to start work with these degrees, I would've been in awful shape.

So what I don't understand anymore is why there are respectable colleges and universities allowing individuals NOT interested in: teaching, grad school or fields related to their stated major; to actually major in these irrelevant topics.

Said topics include: English, History, Foreign Language, Psychology, Philosophy, and virtually every other liberal art.

Yes, yes, I know... not gonna' happen. OK, then fine. But perhaps Universities should require some quantity of valuable/usable work-related skills courses as well. You know, to actually prepare a history major for being a paralegal, a researcher or an administrative assistant.

De Minimis said...

I keep reading this as "Grade school is not your escape" and am expecting to see a plea for new grads to stay out of elementary ed.

Ben Eubanks said...

I always tell people to lay off grad school until they know for sure what they want to do. If you couldn't make up your mind about what your passion is with the first 4+ years of college, you probably won't after an equally expensive 2+ more. I've considered it, but there's nothing that I can see at this point that I'm lacking (that an MBA would help with). :-)


New Hire said...

Thank you for this. My career field doesn't require it and after I left school, I took several internships to get me experience. When I finally went out for the full time job, it came down to me (with experience) and a girl with an MBA. I got the job. And I keep getting jobs because I've a ton of experience.

There were times where I thought I should have gotten a masters "out the way" but I really couldn't justify the cost since I was paying for it myself and still quite marketable without it!

Bridget Brandt said...

I am always sadden to see people devaluing a college education. I agree experience is necessary to land a "good job", but experience and education should never be a give and take. They should work together...that's what employers today are really looking for. We are all truly blessed to live in a society that has tremendous access to education, and we should be proud of it.

Ask a Manager said...

I agree that if you're going to grad school because of a love of learning and you can afford it, go for it. But not if the reason is to hide out from the job market. (Also, you need to be willing to pay the price I talked about in the post -- employers who will think you really don't want jobs outside your field, etc.).

@Anonymous 8:02, on the subject of history, English, philosophy, etc. degrees being worthless: I think there are tons of employers who want to see that you have a degree and don't much care what it's in. They want to see that you made it through college. So those degrees do serve that purpose (as well as the purpose of further educating you, of course), but I think your point is that for the job market, they just let you meet that sort of baseline requirement -- they don't do much beyond that to qualify you for a particular job, in a lot of cases. That's where work experience comes in.

@Bridget, I don't think anyone is devaluing a college education. We're saying that grad school is for when you need an advanced degree for a particular reason, not when you're using it a an escape.

UnderemployedCanadian said...

I have mixed feelings about this post; I find myself agreeing with it about 70% and 30% against. The death of entry level jobs (and employers that offer training programs) is very frustrating but quite a few exceptions exist: the Canadian civil service, some provincial governments, some banks, some accounting firms and some law firms will happily recruit newly minted graduates all the time without any problem. I do think they are a minority though.

Credential inflation is a very real trend and I think that explains some of the reason that people are going to grad school.

Predicting the job market outcomes of undertaking a particular educational course is also very difficult. Computer science was hot in the late 1990s but it has declined. Finance has been very hot for most of the last decade but just underwent a collapse. Though the so-called "practical subjects" are a bit more predictable than the liberal arts, they are still far from a sure thing.

I wish that graduates could have some data to guide them in the job hunt. How many applications is too many? I've submitted about 80 applications in 2010, which has led to about 6-7 interviews. I have been job hunting full time for about 9 months. How many applications and how many months of job hunting are too much though? Is there a a good rule of thumb out there (e.g. a year of job hunting in a specific field without success means you should change fields).

My situation:
I'm a librarian by training and I have three degrees (BA and MA in history and a library master's). In some cases, my education has opened doors regarding interviews but I think it is far from enough to land a job.

Anonymous said...

I have a Ph.D. in physics and graduated approximately 1 year ago. I have been working as an Adjunct Professor for the last year while searching for a permanent position. I have applied to hundreds of positions in industry, government, and education. So far no luck.

An advanced degree does not guaranty you a job when you finish. I agree that 50 applications is a small drop in the bucket these days.

Rebecca said...

Education is beneficial in general. Loving learning is good. Debt that will hold you back for decades is neither of these things. Don't ask me how I know this.

Anonymous said...

Another reason grad school is not your escape: You are not the only one who has this idea. I'm a full-time grad student right now (a master's being the entry credential for the health care profession I'm going into). We're not one of the top-flight schools in the field, and we only have partial funding for a few students a year, but we still saw applications TRIPLE between last year and this year. I have plenty of friends who applied to a dozen grad schools last year and were left with no plan after getting into none of them.

GC {God's Child} said...

30K in debt thanks to grad school. . . couldn't get a job after. Sank deep into depression. Out of desperation worked part time for a total bastard who screamed at me. Sank deeper into depression. Took me 3 years to climb back out. Now making about what I would have made five years ago if I hadn't detoured to grad school. My job doesn't even requires a bachelor's degree!

Class factotum said...

A B.A. in History is worthless

Not true. I was an English major. Got a job before my engineering friends. Paid less, but in five years, I was making a lot more.

The liberal arts, if one does them well, teach one to think, to analyze, to understand hidden motivations, and to communicate. These skills are all essential in business. The technical problems in business are easy to solve, but the real problems are working with other people and getting them to implement those solutions.

Anonymous said...

It's actually not too difficult to go to grad school for free and be employed by your program in exchange for the tuition waiver, stipend, and benefits, thus also getting work experience. Nearly all the top PhD programs offer this kind of work-for-us-get-a-free-PhD program.

I went to grad school for free for two years, got some valuable skills along the way that were not strictly related to my degree (time management, networking with professionals, teaching, organization, etc.) and more importantly, it gave me two years to be ready to enter the working world. When I was fresh out of undergrad the idea of a 9-5 job horrified me and I had little understanding of how to navigate the professional world. By the time I'd been in grad school for 2 years I was eager to get out of school and take on a "real adult job". Even if I never take a job requiring the Master's I acquired, grad school allowed me to mature a little bit before entering the adult working world.

And I am quite certain that when the position only required a BA and I was the only candidate with a graduate degree, I certainly stood out as a more attractive candidate. It may not have increased my earning power, but it made me more competitive and actually landing an entry-level job pays the bills a lot better than just being qualified for one.

Shelley said...

This is encouraging. I recently quit my job as a television reporter to spend time with family as they went through a rough spot. While things have gotten better on the home end, I can't even get employers to respond to my request for an informational interview. A lot of people have urged me to return to college, but I can't stomach the student loan debt. Plus, I worked hard for my undergrad degree, landing great internships and an even better first job. Perhaps patience is key.