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April 11, 2024

  • Poetics of April
    As we enter into the poetics of April, also known as national poetry month, here are four voices from well to lesser known. The Tradition – Jericho Brown Winner of the Pulitzer Prize, Brown visited the last American Association of Writers and Writing Programs (AWP 2024) conference, and I loved his speech and humor. Besides […]
  • Barbara Marie Minney in Perrysburg
    Indie bookstore, Gathering Volumes, just hosted poet and (transgender) activist, Barbara Marie Minney in Perrysburg To celebrate Trans Day of Visibility, Minney read from her poetry book – A Woman in Progress (2024). Her reading depicted emotional and physical transformations especially in the scene of womanhood and queer experiences. Her language is empowering and personally […]
Spring Housing Guide

Graduate school is expensive and tedious, but worth a look anyway

The No. 1 difference between hell and graduate school is that you would never tell a friend to go to graduate school.

At least that’s the impression I have gotten from my graduate student friends.

On the other hand, I was talking to my mom on the phone last week, and she said, “I hope you’ve started thinking about grad school. A bachelor’s degree doesn’t mean anything on the job market these days.”

There is a lot of conflicting information about the value of advanced degrees, even when it’s not coming from burnt-out graduate students or concerned moms.

Graduate school does sound a lot like hell: inordinate amounts of reading, writing and playing lackey for a grouchy professor who holds the weight of your academic career (your only career) in his hands.

Up to 11 years of your life dedicated to producing – to exacting standards – a 300-page document that only a small community of people will read and judge you by. And after all of that, you may still end up with no job, $50,000 in debt, with kids who have grown up eating nothing but Ramen noodles.

Graduate school, especially programs in the humanities, used to be the bastion of elite, well-bred men from distinguished families with trust funds to match. For these bright men, graduate school was a step to becoming tobacco pipe-waving academic luminaries on the equally dignified subjects of Sophocles, Beethoven and General Custer.

Gradually, these men have been replaced with the slightly moldy-smelling, overworked and hungover teaching assistants we have come to know and love.

An increase in graduates has created a slack job market, which financially pressed universities have taken advantage of to hire more “casual labor.”

Casual laborers, which include graduate teaching assistants and adjunct professors, get paid lower salaries with little or no benefits and have none of the job security benefits awarded to tenure-track faculty.

Over half of class time at major universities is now put in by casual labor. This is detrimental to both the working conditions of graduate students and their future job prospects.

While earning an advanced degree will get you, on average, $16,000 more per year than someone with a bachelor’s degree, this is becoming less attractive as the cost of graduate school continues to rise.

Graduate programs are not subject to fixed tuition rates the way undergraduate fees are. Students at the University of Georgia’s master of laws program, for example, will pay almost 65 percent more in tuition for fall 2007 than they did for the same period last year.

For those who receive federal aid, the cost of graduate school is hardly less prohibitive. Even if you qualify for the maximum amount, it is most likely that paying for housing, books and living expenses will still be left up to you. That labor you put in grading papers starts to look a whole lot less casual on a measly paycheck.

Then there is the debt. Fifty-three percent of M.A.s, 63 percent of Ph.D. holders and 69 percent of those holding professional degrees are more than $30,000 in debt. The average graduate degree holder will spend 13.5 percent of his or her income paying back loans. Eight percent is what is considered manageable.

This may sound all gloom and doom, but we all know mothers are never actually wrong. Graduate school might not be for everyone, but it still may be for you.

For those passionate about a particular subject and excited about research, the opportunity to join a community of scholars in your interest area and be treated as a peer may indeed be worth the flames of hell.

Exciting new research is being done every day in the sciences. Voiceless and historically marginalized minorities are being heard for the first time in various refreshing new disciplines. Future world leaders are being produced in both famous and little-known institutions.

Depending on the particular job market you wish to enter, getting work experience after graduation may be more valuable than immediately embarking on those extra years of learning.

For those in the business field, you may be relieved to know many prospective employers consider an M.B.A. education more valuable after a few years of work experience.

So waiting a couple of years before you make that decision is not a terrible idea.

If you are still confused, and you probably are, talk to your adviser. She may have some good advice for you. Mine did, and I will paraphrase her here for you: A graduate degree may be important to your career, but so is work experience. How you arrange these components in your life is up to you, not your mom or your disenchanted graduate-student friends.

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